Vandana Khanna, Director Digital Finance Transformation, Unilever
Success in any facet of life or work starts with understanding the goals and the mission statement. Most importantly if we know the answer to “what are we solving for,” half the battle is won, the path becomes clearer to tread on. Once you have established the guidelines how you will be able to define the KPIs to measure success. The key to success in this context is when you deliver on or beat your KPIs.
Same thought process applies to digital transformation, once understood can reap benefits with automation and the change in the mindset of the organization. But it all starts with education first, governance or center of excellence (COE) next and change management all along.
Automation is the most misunderstood and downplayed term. Usually when someone talks about it, they are limiting themselves to a few capabilities for example RPA and AI/ ML, since they are still considered the buzz words. Most of the time people are lost in the acronyms and eventually everything is clubbed as one term without knowing the full picture behind it.
In the spirit of education, let us define it a bit more- RPA is rule based and focuses on repetitive tasks, faster handling time, reduced errors, and decreased costs while cognitive functions are used for predictable decision making. It acquires human like thought and decision-making capabilities and most of the capabilities include NLP and cognitive analytics like chatbots. Both capabilities save time and money and it depends on what is needed when and who can lead it.
Governance is the next step after education, and it is an important one because you are bringing the right people together who understand the automation capabilities and are willing to take it forward. Right governance leads to a successful COE. But starting and sustaining a COE is not easy if we do not have the right players involved.
There are some key fundamentals which everyone should be aware of when establishing a COE and you are not just thinking about running the COE, but the goal should be running it successfully.
Governance is the next step after education, and it is an important one because you are bringing the right people together who understand the automation capabilities and are willing to take it forward
Have a buy in from leadership, stakeholders early on, and this will position you better for the long run. Continue that dialogue and share the metrics to show success regularly. KPIs should be established. Have a group of team members who are accountable, passionate, and driven to be associated with the COE. If they are willing to commit and take it higher then you can scale faster as well. The right vendors/ partners will help you in the journey through out.
Challenges arise when momentum is lost from any of the key players along the way and when you are not able to show success. Always pay emphasis to how you kick start the COE, it is ok if it takes time to lift off the ground but when it is in motion it should be credible, reliable and deliver a trustworthy experience with right accountable parties involved.
You must constantly plug in the skills gaps to sustain the momentum while scaling automation. You can do it in multiple ways. Take help from outside parties to establish the guidance, training, supporting the teams and then letting the teams run it on their own–this is a short duration route. Secondly, get help from vendors/partners to establish the guidance and requirements from the get-go. Lastly a method which will take long but will be sustainable, teach your people the ins and outs of automation. Train them well from within and they will be well positioned to drive success. You can establish Train the trainers during the COE itself so that the continuity is maintained as more people join and some people move on.
Establishing guidance around controls and compliance should be discussed and reviewed when the COE is established. There should be clear understanding of which automation category falls under which umbrella. There might be the capabilities which do not fit that bill, but it should be discussed to ensure there is no miss. A check list should be maintained, and it should be part of the SOPs to ensure there are no surprises anywhere. A SME from compliance or controls should be reviewing the SOP before any automation capability goes into UAT and if something is falling short then a clear SLA should be used to guide the process through. There should be a disaster recovery plan in place in case manual efforts remain the last resort. This process is very effective if followed through from end to end.
The purpose behind establishing a governance body should be to drive empowerment and change management throughout the journey. Once you establish the RACI matrix, you are indirectly empowering the team members to drive accountability forward. But there are challenges when you are partnering with other business units (BU).Priorities collide and commitments come into question and at that point it is very easy to lose momentum and not drive success within the COE. It is very important that rules of engagement are discussed and agreed upon. It is recommended that there is a designated lead from every BU to participate in the governance body and if they have a stake in this commitment, they will be vested in this initiative. If that lead moves on that participation is not lost and still considered very important. During the process, these champions should be nurtured to lead change management and as SMEs they are empowered to do so along the way.
Digital transformation is a journey and every process and step along the way is very important in ensuring the building blocks are solidified and path to success is ensured.