Operational excellence with intelligent automation

Digital transformation is the integration of digital technologies into all areas of a business.  It generally affects all parts of a business, from the staff, the culture, the customers, the systems, the processes, all the way down to simple interactions.  The push for change and in turn transformation often comes from outside the organisation, for example, from customers who want a better experience or members who want to interact digitally / from home (The enterprisers project, 2020).

Given every business is different (with every human in that business being different), it is very had to define what digital transformation looks like, but it often means walking away from long-standing business processes that companies may have been using for many years in favour of relatively new practices not yet discovered or defined, with an opportunity to adopt intelligent automation.

Intelligent automation is the application of information technology capabilities such as artificial intelligence, cloud services, APIs and automated workflow to business processes in the pursuit of improving customer experience, enhancing productivity and reducing operational risks (Berruti, 2017).

Intelligent (Process) Automation

Intelligent process management is targeted at controlling an organisations performance. Originally, the main objective of process management was to improve process orientation, goal and metrics orientation, methodology support and information technology support (Melchert, 2004). As previously mentioned it is now used to enhance productivity and efficiency, reduce operational risks and improve customer experiences.

Building such a capability for organisations in 2020 is no longer a simple case of sitting down and writing software.

To be successful, an assessment is undertaken before laying the groundwork for any development. This groundwork should be based on using methodologies which improve the user experience (TECED, 2020). These methodologies/approaches Information Architecture, Design Thinking, Agile and DevOps.

For Intelligent Automation to work, the business must first understand the underlying information architecture.

Information Architecture (IA)

The United States government (Usability.Gov, 2020) defines IA as a focus on organising, structuring and labelling content effectively and sustainably.  The result of this is that end users can easily find data and complete tasks that they are trying to perform.  It is critical to understand the processes performed before any attempt is made on automating said processes.

Once there is an understanding of the processes, the following four standard IA methodologies are often used as a starting point (TECED, 2020):

  1. Expert IA evaluation – Evaluating the IA to look for potential problems by doing content analysis, findability analysis and a search (research) analysis of the functions.
  2. Analytics Review – Find where the site traffic goes, and which processes are duplicated.
  3. Card Sorting – find logical groups and content areas – as well as checking users and usability.
  4. Feasibility Studies – validation of how users find specific items or use particular processes.

Once there is a clear understanding of the business requirements, the development can begin. For this to be successful, one (or a combination) of the following methodologies should be used (design thinking, agile, DevOps).

Design Thinking Methodology

Design thinking is a methodology that takes complex problems and solves them in a highly user-centric way – it is a practical and creative problem-solving approach (Stevens, 2019). For it to be successful, it is based heavily on the methods and processes that designers use. As it is solution-based thinking, it focuses on finding solutions, although sometimes these solutions can be “band-aids” to more significant issues.  There are four basic principles of design thinking:

  1. The human rule – which means that any activity is for humans so should be created for a human’s point of view.
  2. The ambiguity rule – which means you should experiment as much as you can to see all the possibilities.
  3. The redesign rule – which means basic human needs are the same, it’s just the way we do things are different.
  4. The tangibility rule – which means that the idea should be able to be viewed (often in the form of a prototype) which helps to explain or communicate an idea.(Stevens, 2019)

Five cyclic phases are used in the design thinking process as per the image below.

Agile Methodology

Agile methodology is a project management process, mainly used for software development.  It is used often in this space as the demands of users and designers often change as the software is developed.  It is used for iterative development and delivery when working in teams, as well as a way to understand, or at least see, that change has occurred (Muslihat, 2018). This methodology stems from the Agile Manifesto – a framework originally crafted for software development

The Agile Manifesto for Software Development has the following core values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan(Cunningham, 2001).

For pure agile development, the following 12 principles are often followed:

  • Ensure that the customer is satisfied, and that development is being delivered
  • Make sure you can accommodate changes at any stage of the development
  • Make sure you provide solutions as often as possible
  • Collaborate as often as possible
  • Ensure you have face to face meetings
  • Measure the success by how much the software works
  • Use these principles to ensure there is a consistent development
  • Pay attention to technical details
  • Keep it simple
  • Self-organise teams
  • Have reflected on what has happened to see how you can become more productive (Muslihat, 2018)

DevOps Methodology

DevOps stands for Development and Operations and is a set of practices used to automate between software teams and Information Technology (IT) teams.  It is used to collaborate between often siloed teams to increase trust, speed up the software release, solve critical issues and find better ways to manage unplanned work.

DevOps uses the CALMS Framework:

Culture – Encourage collaboration between all the functions (business areas) of an organisation

Automation – Find ways to eliminate manual or repetitive work by building systems that work together to benefit everyone and ultimately the organisation

Lean – Use an agile methodology for development so that processes can be continuously improved

Measurement – Improvements should be measured as much as possible so that organisations can see what growth has been useful and so that real targets can be put in place for future development and operations.

Sharing – Encourage a sharing responsibility and finding common ground between siloed groups.  It uses the idea that the same people who build a product should also use the product (Atlassian, 2020).

Figure 2 – DevOps Cycle – (Atlassian, 2020)

Conclusion: Intelligent Automation for Operations Excellence

For a business to obtain operational excellence into the future, they will need to understand their IA, define their processes, engage a methodology for their development and operations teams, measure the successes and failures and embrace the changes as they occur.

By adopting these methodologies, great results can be achieved!

Talk to us on how we can help you to achieve operational excellence by implementing Intelligent Process Automation within your business.


References

Atlassian. (2020, 03 28). DevOps: Breaking the Development-Operations barrier. Retrieved from Atlassian – DevOps: https://www.atlassian.com/devops

Berruti, F. N. (2017). Intelligent process automation: The engine at the core of the next-generation operating model. Italy: Sipotra.

Cunningham, W. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Retrieved from AgileManifesto: http://agilemanifesto.org/

Janik-Hornik, D. &.-P. (2019). What design thinking can do for the integration of migrants and refugees? Itizar.

Melchert, F. W. (2004). Aligning Process Automation and Business Intelligence to Support Corporate Performance Management. Proceedings of the Tenth Americas Conference on Information Systems.

Muslihat, D. (2018, March 02). Agile Methodology: An Overiew. Retrieved from Zenkit Blog: https://zenkit.com/en/blog/agile-methodology-an-overview/

Stevens, E. (2019, December 16). What is Design Thinking? A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide. Retrieved from CareerFoundry: https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-design-thinking-everything-you-need-to-know-to-get-started/

TECED. (2020, March 28). IA Evaluation Methodologies. Retrieved from TECED – user experience, research and design: https://www.teced.com/services/information-architecture-ia/ia-evaluation-methodologies/

The enterprisers project. (2020, March 28). What is digital transformation? Retrieved from The Enterprisers Project: https://enterprisersproject.com/what-is-digital-transformation

Usability.Gov. (2020, March 28). Information Architecture Basics. Retrieved from usability.gov – Improving the User Experience: https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/information-architecture.html