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‘Successful automation requires a balanced approach’

by Marco van der Hoeven

Christophe Bollard is a Global Business Services leader with extensive experience in organizational transformation, technology and the Future of Work. He has experienced automation both at the end user side and as a consultant. In this interview with Rocking Robots he shares some of his insights on successfully implementing automation.

A crucial element in implementing RPA is the role of C-level executives, and especially the way they communicate about the impact of the changes in their organization. Christophe Bollard has noticed a profound shift in the way RPA is communicated, and how it is perceived by C-level executives. “About five years ago the communication started shifting in a way that is important for the users. At first it used to be about ROI and getting rid of people. But the latter actually hardly ever happens. The focus is now on making work more interesting by removing mundane tasks. This way people can focus on value added work.”

He continues: “RPA does not eliminate jobs, it eliminates tasks. That should theoretically remove one barrier to automation. It should improve engagement and curiosity by users who are really keen on knowing how a bot can help them. But in my experience we are nowhere near that view of how end users should embrace new technology.”


The reason is that current perception of robots still stems from past communication. “Buyers, the CFOs, were aggressively told about ROI. Although CIOs were a little bit less excited by this idea, they did push the message around cost and ROI. So that is what people have heard for years. And now they connect automation with the question if they lose their job.”

This necessitates better education, and manage realistic expectations. “By education I mean being informed on the potential of the tools, on what it can and what it can not do. We have this habit of saying that a robot can do everything, which technically is true. But the cost for it to do everything is enormous. When you are digitally born as a company you will have no legacy and you can create everything from zero. But only a very tiny percentage of companies fits that profile.”

He emphasizes again the computer system is not taking over a job, but a task. “A job is a combination of many tasks. And out of those a few qualify for automation. To do this can be a laborious exercise, not always quick and easy, because a large amount of energy has to be spent on change management and education. A lot of people just forget about that, or they don’t want to do that.”


Another important point in automation is communicating the potential of the technology. “This is an area where things are evolving at the speed of light, even to the point which makes you wonder whether you should get on board now, or wait for the next breakthrough. Am I missing the train? Or am I just missing the steam train, but I know the electric one is coming? And the truth is that nobody knows. This is not unique to RPA, because I think it applies to technology overall. But it makes communicating regularly about a going forward, about the scope of what can be automated, important.”

He warns for an often hear bias by leaders. “At the end of the day a number of people are very happy to do what they are doing. That is one of the biases we know from leaders: you see something that you hate doing, and then you assume that everybody does. Some leaders are projecting themselves and think it can’t be that people like doing a job like retyping information from a paper to a system or in between two systems. But a number of users will just find it absolutely fine.”

He tells off another pitfall for automation he has seen happen: “Leaders want to see return on investment, so they tend aim at the most complex process, the ones that take the largest amount of resources. This then requires RPA, maybe in combination with OCR, AI or NLP, to use some acronyms. As a result this project is not small and quick, you need to have multiple vendors, multiple technology, and a large number of skill sets that no one had before. And when you’re months down the road you haven’t delivered anything yet. But at the start you have made a large communication campaign saying ‘it’s quick, it’s easy, the results will be impressive’.”


“In my experience you need to have a good balance. On the one hand you need impactful automation solutions where you have a real return on investment, so the CFO is happy. That’s always important. But you also need to have smaller projects and a more agile approach where you deliver something -every two weeks or every months- so you can celebrate your small victories. Then people start seeing there is something in that can be achieved in a very short period of time. This is something leaders at C-level have take into account when they manage these programs, and when they communicate about them.”

What is usually missing badly in these projects is the quality of the documentation of the processes, even in companies that think they have everything documented. “What they have is just the tip of the iceberg for an RPA project. It’s just the title of the chapter in a book. you need to write the whole chapter. And this is where the readiness of organizations is usually far behind the minimum requirements.”

Process mining

This is where process mining can play a role. “Instead of asking someone to describe the whole process, you can dive into the system and see what’s the truth in it. And that truth can be ugly. An outcome of process mining can be the discovery that there are 155 different ways to process an invoice in an organization. In that case you do not push further with automation, but first make sure you have a clean base. A lot of times results like these are a massive surprise for leaders. RPA triggers the need for knowing the processes better. ”This is why automation and RPA are so popular. “It is about explaining the art of the possible, which is limitless. The market is enormous.”

He has some recommendations for C-level executives to successfully implement RPA. “I think the biggest mistake of RPA is that a lot of people are focusing on the technology, on the tool. You need to support people with these tools. It’s not specific to automation, but it certainly applies to automation. It’s all about what you want to achieve. And then finding the right people who can be the ambassadors, those who can represent this idea of working differently. So communication is a key success factor. And so is having the right balance in the portfolio between really impactful transformation and the ones where we book visible results, so people embrace the change without fear.”

Christophe was a speaker at the recent CFO Automation Experience

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