A Better Way to Automate Operations
As service operations use IT to become more efficient across all processes and workflows, they will need to align their work practices with the strengths of automation.
July 2010 | by Daniel Burk
More and more service operations are turning to IT to reach the next level of efficiency and quality across all service venues—distributed, mobile workforces; centralized workforces; service supply chains; and back-office workflows. Investments in automation across service operations can raise productivity and quality a good deal. However, CIOs, COOs, and other service executives should have a clear game plan to avoid wasteful investments in technology. Before they act, they should consider the following:
- Identify value drivers. Determine the areas—across service supply chains, back-office workflows, mobile workforces, and centralized workforces—where IT automation is likely to produce marked improvements.
- Form a sharp perspective. Determine how automation will help capture enhancements in productivity and service levels in these areas, as well as what changes in working processes will be needed to make that happen.
- Model the impact of change. Admittedly, the sheer number of factors affecting the impact of changes can be large. However, state-of-the-art computing systems and software can evaluate millions of options quickly. Develop the ability to model the impact of all these factors, with the goal of producing scenarios for piloting.
- Pilot carefully with IT. Use field tests to mirror your proposed end state accurately. To enable your pilot, take advantage of inexpensive IT, supported by rapid-development teams for fast application development and by solutions based on software as a service (SaaS). Go light on IT. In the move to full implementation, more features and functions are not automatically desirable. Use only those that have demonstrated benefits in your pilot.
- Phase in the IT implementation. Embed the new work processes and policies through robust training. Make sure employees understand that the system is meant to optimize results across the entire organization. Once the changes are accepted in the workplace, roll out the IT implementation. This approach will capture the benefits more quickly and effectively than any other.
We recommend that companies take a disciplined approach before committing themselves to significant technology investments. As we have indicated, that kind of approach requires companies to align their working practices with the strengths of automation. To do so, they will have to gain a clear understanding of the expected improvements by modeling and piloting new processes with light IT and by changing behavior with effective training that highlights the interrelationship between work practices and IT.