Home Bots & Business Automation: Business Needs to be in the Driver’s Seat

Automation: Business Needs to be in the Driver’s Seat

We are now giving back around 60 to 70,000 hours per year to the employees

by Marco van der Hoeven

At Hyperautomation 2024, Gagan Sharma will present the automation case of coffee vendor Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE). Preceding this event, media partner Rocking Robots sat down with him to discuss the lessons he has learned about C-level buy-in, breaking down silos, and fostering automation champions.

Gagan Sharma, as Global IT Head of Intelligent Automation and Quality, is responsible for robotics, RPA, and automation at JDE. The automation success story of JDE started small and then expanded. “I truly believe in the power of starting small because it gives you enough time to understand what is in it for you. It allows you to define your roadmap for the future. Additionally, once you have that start, you can build a business case, present it to the business, and get approvals. This approach helps in building a strong business case.”

As with many other automation projects, it all started in finance. “Finance was a logical starting point because it involves a lot of reporting and auditing, particularly since we are a publicly listed company, subject to heavy annual audits. Finance is one of the most critical areas. Over roughly two years, we built a lot of cases in finance, giving back 15k hours to JDE employees. Subsequently, we expanded further and now giving back around 60 to 70,000 hours per year to the employees”


Initially, JDE started at the  Benelux region. “The plan now is to expand to other countries. We have built an engine that can operate efficiently, and with our accumulated experience, we know where automation is most needed and which business cases are most successful. This makes it easier to expand to countries with lower budgets, as scaling up is less costly than the initial build.”

Scaling within a large organization like JDE requires a strategic approach. “Once we proved the concept in finance and achieved significant time savings, we began identifying other areas with similar repetitive and time-consuming processes that could benefit from automation. We engaged with different departments to understand their pain points and potential automation opportunities. Building a strong business case for each new automation project was crucial, highlighting the expected benefits and return on investment.”

Flexible Infrastructure

Gagan also focused on creating a scalable and flexible automation infrastructure. “This involved developing a robust governance framework to manage and monitor the automation processes, ensuring they could be replicated and adapted to different functions and regions. Training and upskilling employees to work alongside the new technologies was another key aspect, fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.”

To succeed, it is crucial to get buy-in from the top level, because these projects are very disruptive. “One of the lessons learned here is the importance of breaking down silos within departments. Within IT, different departments often operate as silos, each with its own ‘silo protector.’ When you propose automation, the typical response is, ‘No, we have automated everything; we can’t do any more.’ These defenders are there to protect their territory, making it difficult to challenge the status quo without top-level support.”


So, what Gagan did was build small, successful cases within the business that demonstrated significant savings in FTE. “We spread this knowledge gradually and accumulated more cases. Once we had a compelling proof point—around 15k hours in savings—we built a comprehensive business case. We discussed this case within the Business and Technology board. These discussions, which took about a year, covered what the project entailed, how to scale it, industry standards, and more.”

After receiving approval from the BNT board, he presented the business case to the CFO, who had some questions. “We worked through these questions and sought assistance from our CIO, who was also very interested in automation. Once the C-level executives gave their approval, it set the wheels in motion, and everyone started to align with the initiative.”


“I always emphasize that it shouldn’t be an IT-only initiative but a company-wide effort involving the business at every step. This shared responsibility is essential for success. Involving the business ensures that they are also accountable and invested in the outcomes. That was the most important lesson we learned: to succeed, you need top-level buy-in and business involvement throughout the process.”

AI is also on the agenda, but it depends on the case. “For some situations, this expanded capability is especially useful. Sometimes we can automate the entire process: sorting emails, reading PDFs, and completing the full end-to-end task. This is very interesting for the business because it can help save on external costs, such as those from third-party vendors, or reduce the workload on the internal team, effectively reducing costs.”


“However, in many cases, you can’t automate a full job by itself. In such situations, it becomes less interesting. If you cannot use the technology to automate an entire end-to-end process, the business often questions the tangible savings. They may recognize that you are making the process more efficient and reducing workload, but they struggle to see the direct financial savings. From the business’s perspective, it’s more straightforward to justify the investment if you can automate a complete job, but otherwise, it becomes harder to sell the benefits.”

JDE works with multiple vendors as implementation partners and uses the software of UiPath. “Additionally, for citizen development, we are encouraging the use of the Power Platform, which is proving to be a good solution. So, we are experimenting with different solutions, and UiPath is a significant part of our strategy.”


There are three main lessons he wants to emphasize. “First, addressing silos within the organization is crucial. To penetrate these silos, you need top-level buy-in. Second, do not make automation initiatives an IT-only effort. Involve the business at every stage of the project. Include the business from the start. Inspire and teach them about automation. Many people in the business are interested in new technologies and want to learn how they can be applied.”

“And finally, create business champions within each department to identify what needs to be automated and maintain regular communication with you.” He concludes, “The business needs to be in the driver’s seat, with IT as the supporting partner. When the business leads the initiative, it adds significant value. When the business talks, everyone listens.”

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