Don’t underestimate collaboration when scaling automation
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the fastest growing segment of the global enterprise software market. In fact, Deloitte suggests that 72% of organisations will have begun their RPA journey by 2022. And according to a forecast last year by the World Economic Forum last year, automation will lead to a gain of 12 million jobs by 2025. It’s clear the technology is booming. As it does so, it’s important to consider how to achieve the best outcomes through collaboration.
Early-stage automation projects can get off the ground with the work of just one or two champions. These specialists create and deploy simple software robots designed to provide a ‘wow effect’ to stakeholders. Once buy-in is secured and the low-hanging fruit automations are picked, the scaling can begin.
At this stage, these champions will often be established as a centre of excellence (CoE). The aim is to help steer the automation program, house RPA expertise and bring in senior executive support from across the business to identify suitable processes.
However, it cannot fall to either a few specialists, a CoE, business unit, or the IT team to manage the entire roll-out in isolation. It’s vital cross-functional working takes place. According to research from McKinsey, companies that coordinate across business functions are almost three times more likely to succeed with their automation program.
Furthermore, as Paula McKillen, Head of Automation and RPA, Electrocomponents plc puts it, “You can do a lot of work in your CoE but you will not be able to deploy your robots without the strong partnership from IT colleagues.”
This is because automation will begin to touch many processes, applications and data sources owned by IT as it grows throughout the organisation. In addition, the more complicated automations become, the more IT advice and governance will be required to ensure they’re effective.
Collaborating with IT is essential and it can pay real dividends. IT is a natural testing and deployment ground, and the department owns certain specialist skills that other business functions lack. Wherein other employees can provide valuable in-depth insight to help build automations, IT can ensure the automations are efficiently and securely deployed across the enterprise.
There are five key areas where IT can provide support: preparing business infrastructure, assisting with complex builds, providing quality assurance, safeguarding security and ensuring the budget is there to make it all happen. Let’s consider each of these one by one.
The environment in which your automations operate must be primed to host the technology. If your IT infrastructure isn’t compatible with your chosen automation platform, it may be difficult to achieve high levels of performance, stability and scalability. As the IT team is responsible for the underlying infrastructure, its involvement is key.
Of course, this will require a certain level of training to fully understand how to optimise the infrastructure for automation. Once up to speed on the specifics, IT teams possess the knowledge to implement these changes, laying the best foundation for success. As automations are deployed, IT teams will often retain ownership of components of the automation platform, such as the hardware, operating system and the databases. When provisioning operations and support for automations, IT teams may be called upon to maintain this infrastructure as required.
Creating and maintaining sound infrastructure allows for more stable and reliable automations, and consequently a higher level of performance. This is likely to incite greater confidence in the power of automation around the businesses, encouraging more employees to get on board – another key factor to consider when scaling automation.
Simple automations require very little coding expertise. Low-code and no-code platforms allow business users from all departments to create and deploy their own automations. However, when it comes to more complex enterprise automations, IT teams will need to be on hand.
Automation is a team sport. Business users can get the ball rolling on complex designs, but IT specialisms may be needed to push the automations over the line. The code configurability, performance and testing skills already possessed by IT departments are often key to ensuring complex automations are designed to best serve the needs of the business.
This isn’t necessary for every automation and it’s important to retain a level of flexibility and agility within development. However, IT teams need to be brought in to ensure that every process that can benefit from automation is considered.
Once the infrastructure is primed and the automations are designed, IT plays an important role in quality control. In order to effectively scale RPA, you need to be confident that software robots will perform as expected.
Building quality assurance into automation development and importantly, throughout deployment, ensures it can stand the test of time. IT teams will often own the applications in which automations operate, and they can generate reports on how the business is benefiting from the technology.
While system changes may be intuitive for human colleagues, software robots need guidance. IT has a full view of upgrade and maintenance schedules and must work closely with automation teams to ensure any changes are easily adapted so that software robots can continue performing as intended.
When processing sensitive data, it makes no difference which employee is completing the task – the same security standards must apply. Software robots are no exception. Most automations will need access to business-critical systems and sensitive data to complete enterprise-wide tasks, and as a result, security and compliance remain essential.
IT must be involved when building automations so that access systems does not compromise security. As more and more employees join the automation journey, this only becomes more important. Employees will create and deploy their own automations—they become citizen developers—so security best practices must be upheld.
In order to achieve automation at scale, the resources need to be available. Importantly, you don’t want your automation and IT teams battling for budget. Having both teams collaborate on budget and resourcing cycles leads to more logical and efficient financing decisions. Also, sharing expertise on potential costs will help to avoid any unwelcome surprises. For example, automation teams may not be aware of certain licensing implications when creating automations for certain software. Utilising IT knowledge in these areas can help you to better plan your resources and scale with efficiency.
Automation experts can provide the necessary expertise to run automations throughout the lifecycle. Employees across the business can provide in-depth insights into processes and build their own automations using low-code platforms, while IT provides testing, version control, deployment, maintenance and support.
While scaling automation certainly isn’t just an IT project, without IT’s support you might miss the mark. It is very rare that an organisation will have a dedicated automation IT team and as such, careful consideration must go into how to collaborate with IT – and other departments – to ensure success.
Who Will Be the Next Tech Giant to Back Bitcoin?
PayPal was the first truly major tech giant to throw its weight behind Bitcoin, unveiling a cryptocurrency buying-and-selling service in October. Next was Tesla, which shocked onlookers in February by announcing the purchase of $1.5 billion in bitcoin, as well as plans to accept the cryptocurrency as payment.
Since then, things have calmed down as far as Big Tech and Bitcoin are concerned (although a number of banks have rolled out cryptocurrency investment services for their wealthier clients). This raises the question: when will another significant tech firm take the plunge and back bitcoin?
This is a difficult question to answer, if only because the bitcoin market is in something of a funk right now. At the same time, regulators worldwide are looking to restrict crypto in the name of curbing money laundering and other illicit activities. Nonetheless, rumours continue to swirl through the sector that a few other important names in the tech industry may be on the cusp of embracing bitcoin, with Apple being the most notable.
Is Apple Buying Bitcoin?
If you tend to spend any amount of time on Crypto Twitter, you may be aware of rumours to the effect that Apple has recently bought something in the region of $2.5 billion in bitcoin.
Such rumours were almost certainly a desperate attempt to boost the price of bitcoin. And given that the market didn’t witness a sudden, dramatic rise (but rather a steep loss), it seems pretty clear that Apple didn’t buy a substantial quantity of bitcoin in the past few weeks or so.
That said, there remains a good chance that Apple will enter the cryptocurrency sector at some point, even if it won’t be adventurous enough to buy crypto for itself. Back in May, it placed a job ad for a business development manager for “alternative payments.”
Such a manager would be tasked with cultivating partnerships with “strategic alternative payment providers,” implying that Apple may be weighing up the possibility of launching its own cryptocurrency-purchasing service (à la PayPal) via Apple Pay.
Needless to say, it would be huge for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency if the Cupertino company were to follow through with this.
Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook?
Rumours have also revolved around possible bitcoin interest from Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, although there’s a little less substance to most of these rumours.
Back in October former Goldman Sachs hedge fund manager Raoul Pal predicted that Microsoft (along with Apple) would buy bitcoin in five years. Unfortunately, a CNN interview with Microsoft’s Brad Smith in February (shortly after Tesla’s bitcoin purchase) revealed that the company had no plans to purchase crypto, although Smith vaguely hinted that it might one day change its collective mind.
More interestingly, Amazon purchased three cryptocurrency-related domain names back in 2017: amazonethereum.com, amazoncryptocurrency.com, amazoncryptocurrencies.com. Nothing has been heard since then, while a job listing from February of this year revealed that the retail giant may be planning to launch its very own digital currency.
Facebook is another tech firm with plans for its own digital currency (Diem, formerly known as Libra). As for whether it’s likely to turn to bitcoin, a few relatively respected figures within the cryptocurrency industry (e.g. Alistair Milne) did spread rumours in April that the social media company would disclose bitcoin holdings on its Q1 financial statement. This didn’t happen, although Mark Zuckerberg did reveal in May that one of his pet goats is called “Bitcoin,” fuelling further speculation as to his and his firm’s interest in the cryptocurrency.
Risks and Rewards of Cryptocurrency
Again, it’s arguable that some or most of the rumours are generated largely to pump crypto prices. But if bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do continue to appreciate in value and attract more adoption, it will become increasingly harder for large tech companies to ignore them.
But at the moment, it’s likely that most major tech firms will shy away from actually buying bitcoin, if only because it remains highly volatile and unpredictable as an asset. And as we saw with Tesla, buying a massive chunk of the cryptocurrency effectively turns you into a hedge fund overnight, something which can adversely affect your stock price if bitcoin goes down.
Even so, there’s clearly a considerable amount of money tied up in the cryptocurrency market. And with numbers of holders growing every year, it’s only a matter of time before other big tech firms attempt to siphon off some of this value for themselves.