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5 top pitfalls of automation and how to avoid them

Working in the frontlines of artificial intelligence and data, I meet and interact with a many people involved in automation, from those allocating the funds for projects to the engineers, coding and project managers orchestrating the show. I have also seen millions of dollars wasted on projects that yield little-to-no return on investment. The few projects that do succeed, have no scope to scale beyond a certain time span.

The interesting thing is that these issues could have been averted with some careful planning and by avoiding certain common pitfalls in the automation lifecycle. Just like an experienced travel guide would know to avoid the paths that are a dead end or tracks that get submerged after a rainstorm, with a bit of guidance and help, you could also avoid the traps and snares of an automation journey.

Here are the top five pitfalls of automation and what companies can do to avoid them:

  • Embrace a culture of automation

Build a culture of continuous learning through digital change management. Automation is not a series of projects, it is a change in the mindset of the organization. An automation lifestyle should be the goal. When planning automation projects be transparent, communicate, document the steps and have a clear idea of the expected outcomes.


Also, play off the innate talent of multi-generational employees. For example, adopt a pilot-co-pilot approach wherein a Millennial (who is a strong coder) partners with a Gen x colleague (who might be more adept at navigating the bureaucratic landscape to drive change). Another way to build a cultural shift is by creating Automation Ambassadors. For example, celebrating automation successes, while documenting lessons learned from failed or aborted projects. And most important: communicate, communicate, communicate!

  • Develop the right talent within the organization

Once a culture of automation is created, focus on sustaining it by developing talent within the organization. Seek out candidates who have a passion for automation and nurture them. If they are senior, let them mentor new hires. Create a repository where the organization can share projects, seek expertise or host learning sessions.

  • Maximize ROI by selecting the right processes to automate

Selecting the right processes for automation is crucial for success, as is ensuring the process is optimized for automation. Seek processes that are highly repetitive or have high volume, such as data entry and back office functions. But avoid the trap of selecting tasks employees don’t enjoy doing, unless they are the right processes. Also, seek out quick wins instead of long and complicated projects when first embarking on an automation journey. These initial steps, and shorter projects, are more likely to succeed quickly, leading to organizational confidence.

  • Connect islands of information

I have seen this happen in many organizations, particularly the bigger ones, where a team working on an automation project is unaware that some other group is working on something similar, or in one case, the same job.

For example, the finance team of a large manufacturing company purchased an automation package for finance and accounting process automation — outside the governance process — and the CIO team also purchased software from a rival vendor to do the same job! The company could only retain one vendor. In the end the procurement team stepped in to remedy the situation.

But imagine the time and resources wasted! That’s why connecting these internal islands of information is so critical. To avoid this issue, consider senior executive sponsor, who could truly help break down barriers by creating a robust governance process that can mitigate oversights. Next, create a collaboration platform for sharing and learning— and encourage people to use it through various tools such as progress scorecards, contests and gamification related to the culture of automation.

Sometimes automation projects can get complex. In such cases, get a team to police the project and help streamline technology spending; ensuring the process being automated provides true value to the customer and organization.

  • Choose the right technology

Another crucial problem that I have seen is “build vs. buy.” Organizations need to make this decision wisely and consider the various forces at play — including the investment required, timeframe, technology debt, security concerns and an ever-changing market. Building software is a major commitment that requires deeper pockets and more resources notwithstanding the complexity.

If organizations choose to buy software, they must make sure it aligns with their enterprise architecture and roadmap, is easy to install and has strong user support services. In my experience, buying software is the better option if speed is important for your organization and/or if it’s too expensive to replace legacy systems.

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