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How to create a successful digital transformation road map

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Sairam Bollapragada, Head, Global Delivery Center, Micro Focus Professional Services

Digital transformations have refreshed many businesses and drastically changed business models. Getting there, though, is about more than technology.

The array of platforms, devices, and products that vendors sell IT as digital transformation "solutions" are mere tools, not ends in themselves. They're simply components you can use to build products that deliver customer-focused outcomes.

To do that, you need a road map to get you to your digital transformation destination. There are three keys to creating that map:

  • Propose solutions tied to outcome-focused products by looking at continuously evolving market and user demands.
  • Build solutions and services around those products.
  • Use data-driven decision systems to guide your organization.

Without these three elements, you'll end up with a fragmented pattern of problem solving with your solution or products.

To be successful, you need a product and service approach to digital transformation. Here's what to keep in mind.

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Propose solutions

You can't talk about outcome-focused products without talking about outcome-based automation. While there's a general understanding of automation within organizations—it isn't rocket science anymore—there's a tendency to automate for automation's sake during a digital transformation. That can lead to dead ends and jeopardize the transformation process.

When a digital transformation is driven from the top down, it's not unusual for a memo to go out from whoever is driving the program saying that all business units will start to be measured by how much automation they're doing.

That can lead to process automation without regard to the benefits of the automation. Indeed, the benefits can be so low that the automation doesn't even seem worth it.

By contrast, outcome-based automation focuses on what's important to the business, namely productivity. That type of automation usually targets simple, repeatable processes using software bots. The bots are low in cost, quick to implement, and take boring work out of human hands.

During the first stage of an outcome-based automation program, you need to identify processes that are good candidates for automation. When evaluating automation candidates, you need to determine goals, desired outcomes, benefits, and deliverables.

Typically, standardized processes that operate without deviation are prime targets for bots. So are processes that can produce the biggest benefits when automated.

Build pilot projects

After identifying your candidates for outcome automation, build your bots and launch a pilot program. Although the pilot program should be relatively short in duration, the bots shouldn't be rushed into service to save money by reducing an organization's head count. That can undermine acceptance of an outcome automation program.

It's important to communicate why you're embracing digital transformation and the benefits of the change. Digital transformation shouldn't be sold as something to take away people's jobs, but as something that will eliminate the need for workers to perform low-level, repetitive tasks, and allow them to do something more useful that will move them up the value chain.

Threatening people's jobs with automation not only erodes support for digital transformation, but also saps your organization's talent pool. Once the workforce reduction rumors begin to fly, your best people will begin looking for and finding jobs, while those with less sterling skills and who can't find a new job will remain.

Once the bots are operational, monitor them continuously to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. Build alerts into the bots to flag undesired behavior and interruptions in service.

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Make data-driven decisions

In addition to handling tedious tasks, outcome-focused bots can also make data-driven decisions that can benefit customers—both internal and external.

Internally, bots can use data about processes to offer advice to employees about everything from solving problems that they'd typically fill out a support ticket for to flagging errors in application code.

Externally, bots can help customers find what they're looking for before they know they're looking for it, or alert them to activities they may be interested in based on their browsing history at an organization's website.

When it comes to data, subject experts play a key role in the automation process. Intelligent decisions can be made only with accurate data. Subject experts, not IT staffers, should be verifying the quality of the data used in outcome automation.

The process owners are the experts on data quality. That's why, if you start losing your subject experts because you've declared automation is going to drive a reduction in head count, you've shot yourself in the foot.

Achieve digital transformation success

To succeed at digital transformation through outcome automation, an organization must do the following:

  • Have an automation strategy. Determine your goals for automation. They'll be your benchmarks for the results you hope to see from implementing automation.
  • Identify tasks and processes that will be good candidates for automation. Candidates should create substantial benefits to the organization.
  • Create a road map for automation. Place big wins—those with the most bang for the buck—at or near the beginning of your roadmap.
  • Put a governance framework in place. This will provide not only vital metrics for the automation process, but also clarity within the organization as more and more people are empowered with automation.
  • Appoint a capable leader with a thorough understanding of automation. Such leaders can give persuasive answers to the question "Why?" when changes are challenged. They also need to be forward-thinking and not get overwhelmed by day-to-day minutiae. Other prized qualities are the ability to fix not only what's broken, but what's not quite right as well; to take risks and experiment; and to play well with others.

Even greater benefits can be achieved through pre-automation optimization. Organizations that take that route standardize their processes before they start choosing automation candidates.

This approach can thoroughly wring out unnecessary elements in a process. It can also help avoid the automation-for-automation's-sake scenario where "junk" processes with small benefits are automated and the full potential of automation remains unrealized.

By following these simple steps, organizations can make sure their road map for digital transformation leads to success and not failure.

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