Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer something that would be “cool” to have in the workplace – it’s a differentiator. According to Gartner, AI augmentation will create $2.9 trillion of business value and 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity globally by 2021. Organizations working with AI and its subset Machine Learning (ML) have on average four AI/ML projects in place, with 59% of them deployed today.
The future of technology in business is clear, and it’s calling for digital transformation. But how can you start the journey of transforming your business systems? This topic was discussed in detail by pioneers in the industry at Biz Systems Magic, the first and only conference for System leaders. The panel, moderated by TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney, included Josh Foure, Application Engineering Manager at Google, Monica Wilkinson, Staff Application Engineer at Slack, and Pranav Shahi, Head of Business Systems at Atlassian. In it, they discussed productivity wins achieved by these tools and how ML-driven bots and automation can make business processes faster.
What You Should Do Before You Adopt Automation
While going digital-first can seem like the right thing to do – and all of your competitors are doing it – it can be disastrous if you rush into implementation without a plan.
Here’s how and where you should start:
1. Create A Business Goal
Before you embark on anything, according to the panel, you need to come up with a strategy and determine why you’re doing this. Having a strong business goal ensures that each decision or implementation you make has a positive impact that benefits the company. Foure of Google shares that the end goal for automation should be to complete work and save FTE(s). Wilkinson added that for Slack, specifically, their goal is to help drive success for its business partners. How they’re accessing their tools and using Slack should happen without friction and increasing mobility.
By establishing a business goal for your automation processes, you are able to determine if the adoption was effective. Wilkinson provided an example with Slack’s Quote-to-Cash (Q2C) process: by implementing automation, finance was able to close the books in half the amount of time. Execution from functions along the Q2C continuum – including Configure Price Quote (CPQ), Contract Management, and Revenue Management – is no longer siloed or handled by different custom or point solutions with more of a movement to the cloud – thereby increasing efficiency, eliminating bottlenecks, and improving visibility into the entire sales cycle. With business objectives, you can hold your automations (and the people who drive them) accountable to tangible metrics. Thus, you can work toward achieving substantial ROI and not automating just for the sake of doing it.
2. Find the Right Use Case
The next step of your transformation is to determine which business processes to automate. Not everything needs to be automated – you don’t want to cause bloat or chaos – so you should focus on the processes where you can save the most time and resources.
Shahi explained how Atlassian made sure each of their core processes met a stringent 3-level fit test: business, technical, and operational.
- To determine business value, you need to ask yourself what you can do with the automation – what is its purpose. This circles back to the initial business goal you decided upon.
- The technical fit is dependent upon which platform best serves your automation. What applications are necessary for the process? What needs to be integrated? What platform interface works best for your team?
- The operational fit refers to process maturity. You need to ensure that whatever process or task you are automating will be robust and scalable. You don’t want to implement a process that will need to be constantly updated.
With this 3-prong approach to fit, you can ensure that the tasks that you decide to automate have real value to your business systems as a whole and how it can fit into the bigger picture.
Redefining the Rules of Business Execution: Taking Automation to the Next Step
According to Forbes, “Combining workflow automation and data-driven machine intelligence supports the ability to manage work while dynamically adapting the steps of a process according to an awareness and understanding of content, data, and business events that unfold.”
Long story short, every business wants to work more intelligently and efficiently. In adopting workflow automation, it gives teams the power and ability to streamline processes, increase data visibility, and save valuable time – allowing employees to focus on more value-added tasks as opposed to the mundane.
So, how do companies successfully introduce automation to their workflows? Each of the panelists shared some insights into their companies’ unique approaches with integration platforms, bots and other tools.
1. Don’t Pass Up on iPaaS
Wilkinson at Slack says she witnessed first-hand the power of iPaaS. The advice she would offer startups is: “Bring in an integration platform, and offer it as a service.”
Having an integration platform allows for ease of use, data visibility, and scalability that is much more complex and comprehensive than other solutions, Wilkinson said. Slack uses over 800 automated workflows with their integration platform for a variety of processes including Q2C, sales, data-driven marketing campaigns, and for Slack bot app integrations. Additionally, Wilkinson highlighted how with pre-coded connectors allows the entire company, not just developers and analysts, to leverage the automations.
Added to her argument, Shahi explained that you can gain powerful insights into entire processes from beginning to end. With open visibility, you can conduct process mining and understand how the processes are getting executed.
The third benefit of an iPaaS, the panel agreed, is being able to establish a “checks and balances” system. Wilkinson noted that job monitoring within automated workflows is built into their integration platform, so Slack can keep track of their statuses. Shahi added that automated technologies can help you keep track of technical due diligence – very important for startups to monitor prior to outside investment and funding rounds. With increased visibility and reporting, you can evaluate the technology, processes, and architecture of your business.
2. Establish Best Practices for Bots
Are bots really necessary for your business? That may seem like a laughable statement, but it appears true. 75% of customers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences. 62% are open to the use of AI to improve their experiences, including bots – up from 59% in 2018. In other words, it seems like AI and bots are the way.
Each speaker reiterated the importance of aligning your technology decisions with your original business goals.
- Slack decides if a bot would be beneficial by aligning it with their goal of delivering impactful decisions for the business. Askbot, a conversational bot, for example, helps Slack’s IT team manage online tickets. They also had a bot that helped employees sign time-sensitive documents prior to launching their IPO.
- At Atlassian, they focus bots on operational efficiency. Shahi says bots at Atlassian helped them remain GDPR compliant. The company had 40+ apps that were taking customer data with zero APIs. With the help of bots, Atlassian was able to create support cases and ensure that their vendors abided by their contracts for finance teams. In addition, Atlassian also implemented bots on the technology front. They introduced conversational bots to help with PeopleOps and customer operations, automating app integrations, and utilizing basic robotic processes.
- Foure explained that for ticketing, he adopted a 3-tiered approach for bots at Google. He and his team used bots to route tickets to the appropriate team, tag them by skills, tier and subject, and send an automated response or provide augmented data for the agents to review.
Aligned with your business goals, AI, automation and bots allow you to increase workplace productivity and keep both customers and internal teams enthused by receiving resolutions faster and making cross-functional data and processes easier to conduct and view. According to Forbes, “providing customers with instant responses, answering basic questions, helping with common order questions, resolving complaints quickly, and providing a consistently friendly and on-brand voice” are all reasons why these new technologies and tools can vastly improve your processes and encourage brand loyalty, both inside and outside.