The specific outcomes of digital transformation may vary by sector. Companies in the pharmaceutical, insurance, and hospitality sector are newly able to offer paperless processes with an online, mobile-first mindset. In the financial sector processes are integrated more seamlessly into our everyday lives via mobile data plans and mobile banking (enabled by fintech). And in the retail sector, companies offer incredibly rapid order fulfillment processes. But from a philosophical and technological standpoint, there are many commonalities in the digital transformation process across verticals.
The initiatives involved in digital transformation:
- Meeting rising customer expectations for mobile service
- Leveraging cloud applications, AI, and automation
- Innovating processes to stay ahead of competition
- Empowering employees with better systems
The concrete steps to be taken toward meeting theses initiatives:
- “Always-on”, multi-channel customer experiences
- Empowering less technical employees with integration and automation tools
- Automated API-driven ecosystem
- Real-time customer 360
- Digitized processes
- New business models such as as-a-Service
- Using automation to transform internal processes and improve CX
Digital transformation, at the core, is about shifting innovation from accelerating existing processes to orchestrating automated processes. As organizations look to realize this transformation, they’ll find that automation today is a confusing space. With the diverse range of cloud and on-prem applications, systems, and tools that are available, and which now power facets of the modern enterprise, organizations need both a strong foundation of iPaaS connectivity and a robust automation solution that can orchestrate processes across these disparate applications and systems. What’s the right approach to enterprise automation, and what are the practices and paradigms that leaders should rely on in the process of implementing enterprise automation and digital transformation at their enterprise?
To begin, it’s important to understand the key differentiators in integration and automation and shifting paradigms in business technology. There are three primary types of automation:
- Data flow automation (like syncing records between apps)
- Business process automation, like employee onboarding across apps.
- Requires strong foundation of iPaaS
- Automating digital workers’ processes (removing app-hopping from the digital workflow).
The Automation Market
The entire category of automation is in a major flux right now; there’s different types of players. Though automation is an on-trend topic and business owners and CIOs know that it’s important, there are so many different types of automation that it may be challenging for decision-makers to discern what the right solution is for a given situation.
Understanding levels of automation
Applications could be isolated sets of automations; applications like Marketo or Salesforce automate facets of a job function.
At a more abstracted level, you have automated business processes. Automated business processes, like employee onboarding, or order-to-cash, are generally conducted across many applications and departments. Individual applications only cover fragments of these processes, and these applications have information in them that’s siloed by department. Business process automation orchestrates this process across the many applications that are involved.
An enterprise automation platform exists on a yet more abstract, birds-eye level. An enterprise automation platform makes it possible to create broader, more overarching automations between or across applications.
But first, integration.
Before any automated processes can be designed between apps, the applications need to be integrated. Integration is like a type of automation, but it’s also the connective capability that makes it possible to create business process automations. The integration tool understands the metadata of the application, and the semantics of the data from the API call. Enterprise application integration is foundational to automation.
The tangible benefit of integration, as a business leader, is that your applications no longer function as discrete sources of disparate information, but as facets of a unified enterprise throughout which processes can be automated.
From Plumbing to Processes: Progress in Automation
The scope of automation is quite broad now, compared to the past where it was kind of a “plumbing” problem (connecting applications to facilitate data flow from one application to another). Data flow automations really handle the “plumbing” issue now, and the scope and vision for automation is turning to orchestrating automated business processes and workflows across the enterprise.
Originally, apps were king for businesses. Business leaders could turn to apps to solve inefficiencies in business processes. ETL and iPaaS played a secondary, supporting role. However, these promising apps turned into a sprawling ecosystem with little connectivity between applications and departments. In a modern organization with a SaaS ecosystem, you have multiple sources of truth for different functions. For example, you’re looking at Salesforce as the source of truth for customer information. These disparate, unintegrated sources of truth are data silos. If you want your organization to become like an Amazon- an organization that exemplifies full-scale digital transformation- the magic isn’t inside the apps. Apps and microservices can only do so much intrinsically. (What are microservices? The microservices model is a software development architecture in which loosely coupled, independently deployable services comprise a complex program. An API approach is a microservices approach. Salesforce is like 50 microservices that can be composed in tandem with microservices from Workday, or other applications).
Fortunately, with APIs (application programming interfaces), the integration and automation world is looking different again. Modern automation solutions use API connectors to integrate the ecosystem of disparate cloud and on-prem applications, databases, microservices, and systems and automate business processes throughout the enterprise. Transformative progress happens when organizations shift their innovative energy toward organizing and orchestrating the recipes to complete work harmoniously and in synchronization. Innovation lies in the compositions.
Thinking Beyond Integration
Integrating Salesforce to Netsuite is one thing, but integration should just be the beginning. An individual action should kick off the rest of a multi-step workflow. Business processes operate across departments, for example, with order-to-cash you’re going to involve Sales, Finance, and more. The paradigm for integration is to move data from Point A to Point B. Automation is about dynamically instigating many series of actions across applications and departments, the way that real business processes operate. Business thinking is event-driven; it happens dynamically, in real-time, across many applications and departments, and business technology should support and mirror this reality.
The role that integration and automation play in the digital transformation initiatives
Fintech is disrupting financial services, and automation plays a key role in re-envisioning processes such as credit applications, risk & compliance, improving data accuracy in your ERP, and streamlining internal operations.
Logistics companies need to orchestrate large quantities of data across disparate systems, and pull data from retailer portals– which may be disparately designed systems, with data in different formats. Organizations can use an enterprise automation platform to accelerate the process and improve the accuracy of the data being pulled into the logistics management system. An enterprise automation platform can automatically identify and instigate the resolution process for missing shipment information, de-dupe data from retailer portals, and escalate any major errors to the retailer.
Retailers can use enterprise automation to improve the competitive wage research process, reduce internal data silos between SaaS applications, unify a fragmented martech stack, and improve personalized sales and support processes, by empowering sales and support representatives with real-time customer 360.
New Age Companies
Netflix was an early example of a company that redesigned its service model to meet rising customer expectations for mobile service, personalization, and subscription models- eg, shifting customer expectations away from going to a brick-and-mortar movie rental store, and instead providing individually tailored DVD-by-mail service on a schedule. Netflix further prioritized digital service by adding its popular streaming service in 200. Amazon can also be looked to as an example of an organization that prioritized a digital-first strategy, with accelerated automated processes for rapid customer service, and an as-a-subscription membership model.
Thinking Beyond False Dichotomies Surrounding Platforms
In addition to thinking beyond the “Point A to Point B” mentality, leaders need to see beyond the false dichotomies that seem to exist in the integration and automation space. Technology vendors tend to create categories that are artificial and exclusionary- a platform can either be robust or user-friendly, it’s either an integration tool or an automation platform. In reality however, business requirements do not exist along these dichotomies. Organizations require many different types of functionality, and they need to have a comprehensive solution in one platform- not a range of integration solutions that just add more silos on top of a siloed SaaS ecosystem. Fortunately, this solution does exist.
Enterprise automation transcends these false dichotomies by offering enterprise capabilities for both integration and automation in one platform. It was designed to support all of the core use-cases for digital transformation- not to offer power in one facet of the process and lackadaisical capabilities in another. Real business requirements mandate a solution that’s both versatile and strong, for all use-cases.
An Expansion in Scope for Digital Transformation
This new category of tool, enterprise automation, is arising driven by an expansion in the scope of digital transformation and shifting business needs. Enterprise automation is different from iPaaS, which primarily provides on-premise data integration and API management without robust workflow automation capabilities. Businesses’ use-cases for enterprise automation are increasing. Lines of business do not have simplistic requirements; they require an elegant, unified solution that meets their complex needs and creates order and ease-of-orchestration.
New paradigms for IT’s relationship with lines of business can facilitate elegance and ease-of-orchestration in the design and deployment of automations across the enterprise.
Factory v. Service Model of IT
The factory model of IT is the traditional view that IT “makes things” for lines of business- ie, “ask them for it and they’ll make it.” By contrast, the service model of IT is that IT helps lines of business do things, or that IT facilitates the realization of overarching goals in tandem with lines of business. To make this a reality, there needs to be a shift toward more common design and development tools between business and IT, to facilitate understanding, speed of execution, and time to value. This breaks down the barriers between IT and lines of business, and makes the service model of IT possible.
Flattening this structure with common design and development tools is about democratization. Lines of business are empowered to address bottlenecks and solve problems when they have the tools they need to do it easily and support from IT.
Empowering Business People without Sacrificing Robustness
In the process of empowering lines of business, the technical power of iPaaS and automation shouldn’t be trimmed down. Some tools are designed to “empower” lines of business but do so by diminishing the power of an IT-focused product for use by lines of business. This exemplifies the dichotomies- between robustness and ease of use, IT and lines of business- that need to be broken down. These dichotomies force individuals within an organization to decide if their fundamental issue is an integration issue that should be solved by IT, or a workflow problem that should be solved with a simpler tool.
In reality, lines of business need simplicity without sacrificing power. Real-world business needs require a tool that can handle duplicates and errors, and perform workflow automation with a strong foundation of iPaaS. It’s an admirable goal to democratize integration, but doing so by offering a diminished version for “business needs” and a robust one for IT to manage simply isn’t going to cut it.
Cloud technology is one of the most significant developments in business technology in recent times. When organizations are unburdened by server provisioning, and can consider new technologies as operational rather than capital expenses, it opens up the realm of possibility on software and computing to a new level; it raises the ceiling.
Organizations should consider the advantages of an enterprise automation solution that runs on cloud-based containers. Containers, essentially the newer version of virtual machines, share the same OS across themselves, making them very lightweight. Containers allow the platform to scale elastically with ease. The cloud allows for peak provisioning, since computers don’t need to be physically provisioned. All the computing is done in the cloud, where supply is virtually limitless. Cloud computing is how business ideas are actualized at scale. It’s versatile, and it’s serverless.
In a traditional on-premise computing scenario, if your server goes down, your process is down. This can result in enormous losses in value. To provide some layer of insurance against a full loss of servers, companies have a redundant server that runs in the background, in case their main server goes out. While it protects against downtime, all this server power has costs of its own.
Serverless architecture offers virtually unlimited computational power and peak provisioning- without paying for unused server capacity- for enterprise automation and digital transformation.
Addressing a Wide Variety of Processes
Digital transformation should provide an enterprise automation solution for a wide variety of use-cases. You should be able to handle a simple process that involves terabytes of data transfer, for something like ETL, as well as a complex, multi-step 300 line automation that performs a sophisticated, persona-based employee onboarding process across multiple applications, systems, and departments. You could have simple or complex bot commands incorporated into this workflow. These many use-cases should be handled in one platform, rather than creating another layer of fragmentation to the enterprise by implementing an array of automation tools to tackle individual facets of automation within the enterprise.
The reality is that an automation solution that’s only best-of-breed for one use-case isn’t equipped to handle the range of complex business requirements that businesses today have. You need a platform that can handle ETL / ELT, API management, work automation, can connect to AI (artificial intelligence) tools to use in automated workflows, and has a strong foundation of iPaaS. To enable transformative change, your approach to automation also needs to be agile.
Agility could be defined as the speed of implementation with an automation platform and the ease with which a solution can be updated and extended to meet changing business requirements. Agility is a key differentiator. In today’s world, organizations can adapt or drop new cloud technologies must faster, meaning that business requirements may be changing very dynamically. We’re not in a business climate where leadership can meditate on an application connectivity issue for the next two years and then design an integration. Speed is of the essence. In order to realize this agility, automation cannot be a process that is designed in isolation by IT and eventually deployed to lines of business; it can’t be a removed process that becomes a bottleneck, where lines of business are sending in business requirements and waiting for integrations and automations.
Strong communication and collaboration between IT and lines of business helps to keep technology solutions on board with processes as they dynamically change. Processes will undoubtedly be redesigned and optimized as conditions change and your business grows. For example, if you introduce new certifications into your employee onboarding, you’re going to need to roll that into your automated onboarding process as well. As departmental applications and systems change, 6 months is too long to go from designing new technology requirements, sending them to IT to be implemented, and finally reaching the deployment stage.
Empowering Business and IT to use the same platform
Aligning business and IT interests is an ages-old conversation. There are actually new opportunities to make this a reality, because with current enterprise automation technology, lines of business and IT can literally work in the same platform. Lines of business are empowered with a low-code or no-code automation solution, they can work collaboratively with IT to design, deploy, and maintain automations. For example, a business person could draft the recipe according to their workflow needs, and IT could fill in the details like schema mapping and data transformation, or add custom code to the recipe. Or, IT could build the recipe, and business could maintain and update it. They could work collaboratively on individual pieces of it. Having a common tool increases the commonality of information between IT and business and creates a common language for designing, deploying, and maintaining integration and automation solutions for business needs.
Working collaboratively without a common tool: communication challenges and protracted development lifecycle
If you don’t have a common tool, the process looks very different, and lines of business need to write requirements for IT. That means concretizing the vision, accurately verbalizing it collaboratively within the department, then creating a requirements document to send to IT. Depending on a given group’s particular predisposition, this could take any length of time. The Declaration of Independence was penned in 17 days, but not all processes move so quickly. Once requirements are agreed upon, written, and sent to IT, IT puts it in the queue. During this time, business requirements are undoubtedly changing. It’s a Kafkaesque bureaucratic picture being painted for all parties involved.
As organizations undergo digital transformation with enterprise automation and design automated business processes, leaders may wonder how tools like RPA (robotic process automation), fit into their enterprise automation strategy. Should you use RPA in automated workflows? If so, when?
What should RPA be used for?
RPA, or robotic process automation, can be a valuable tool for tasks like extracting data from legacy systems on the mainframe, where the UI isn’t going to change. RPA accelerates this process. It’s not usable for automating business processes like order-to-cash or employee onboarding. RPA is a UI-based automation tool, so it uses screen scraping to rapidly perform tasks like manual data entry that would otherwise be done by a human worker. RPA is not a comprehensive automation solution, but it can be used effectively to handle certain facets of your enterprise automation needs, as part of a larger strategy.
To incorporate RPA into your automation strategy, you can connect to RPA tools via API. An API-based automation tool can call the RPA’s API and incorporate it into automated processes.
When scaling automations, it’s important to have a democratic approach to designing and deploying automations and a single platform that handles a wide range of complex use-cases. It’s impractical for companies to have a range of automation tools to cover a range of uses. The complexity of automation needs involved for a range of automation use-cases can be a strong prohibitor for companies that are looking to scale automations across the enterprise; approaching the issue without a unified solution can further exacerbate the issue of siloed data in different tools. An enterprise automation solution should increase the commonality of data, tools, and UIs across an enterprise, and ultimately lead to a more streamlined workflow and work experience. To achieve this vision, it’s important to choose an automation tool that has robust capabilities for all use-cases and can be used by both IT and lines of business.
Making the digital transformation vision a reality
It’s a very exciting era for business technology. Companies have greater access than ever to big data tools and cloud-based SaaS apps. But to create real value from this spate of technology, organizations need to have a cohesive approach to harnessing these technologies so that they work in synchronicity to optimize business processes.
Digital transformation is not about paving the cattle path, it’s about re-envisioning the way work is completed. To do this, companies should shift their innovative focus from implementing more apps and point solutions, to orchestrating automated processes across integrated applications, systems, and microservices.
Business leaders see the vision. They know what the ideal version of their organization would look like. When striving to translate that vision into reality, leaders turn to technological solutions and assess which tools can help them move toward that vision with confidence and velocity. Elegance of execution with a comprehensive solution is the way that companies can move swiftly toward the realization of their vision.
The takeaway for your digital transformation strategy? Elegance of execution. Agility. Versatility. Real-time, event-driven operations. Serverless, cloud-based architecture. Shifting overarching focus on innovation from apps and point solutions to process orchestration. And finally, empowering IT and lines of business with a common platform.
Workato is an enterprise automation platform that offers best-of-breed capabilities for both integration and automation. Workato is designed to enable transformation change and facilitate scaling automation across an enterprise. To learn more, request a demo from our team.