“Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power—the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments—what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power.”
– Erik Brynjolfsson, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
Enterprises are ramping up their use of automation throughout the company in order to increase productivity and efficiency and reduce human error. And just like how those who don’t deploy automation soon will lag behind their competitors, consultancies that ignore digital transformation and automation within their scope of work put themselves at a significant disadvantage as business focus shifts away from old-world IT models to a more nimble world of standardisation, robotic process and intelligent automation and alternative delivery models (as described by Gartner vice-president and invest analyst Sandra Notardonato).
As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (amongst other disruptive digital innovations), those who rapidly respond to these changes will be ones that come out on top and survive for the long run. This post lists the 5 key reasons why your consultancy needs to ride the automation wave.
Automation is very much on the agenda for companies across industries and geographies and is tipped to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 60.5% through to 2024 - reaching almost US$9 billion.
Finance departments, in particular, are attracted to the idea of automating so that their staff can focus their efforts on analysis and providing business insights (85% of CEOs now believe that their CFO’s ability to gather and analyse data is the surest way to profitable growth). Areas identified as being ripe for automation within finance include billing, management reporting, budgeting and forecasting, tax accounting, business analysis, financial reporting and accounts payable.
NAB, one of Australia’s “big four” banks and a fortune 500 company recently announced they would be eliminating 6,000 jobs and replacing them with 2,000 with “digital skills” capable of automating (among other things). McKinsey predicts that 69% of data processing and 64% of data collection can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.
Needless to say, the growth in the automation sector represents significant opportunities for consultancies who can help companies throughout their automation journey. PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte are actively fighting it out to provide services to their clients around automation. DXC, a company formed by CSC and Hewlett Packard, recently launched a 60-person practice in Australia focusing on automation.
In addition to the technology, organisations will need access to skilled people capable of supporting them on their automation journey.
This includes determining overall readiness for automation, identifying areas of the business that are suited to digital automation initiatives, defining a strategy to deploy at scale and ultimately do the automation. Most automation initiatives are being led by the business, who historically do not have large numbers of resources with technical skills suited to delivering technology solutions.
As noted by Accenture, finance teams must “Reinvent their culture - by welcoming rebels”. Specifically, with automation in place, only 30 percent of the future finance function is expected to focus on “by-the-books” tasks while the remaining 70% become data gurus who connect with the business. Whilst companies are recognising the need for digital skills, a severe shortage ensues during this transitionary period. According to the McKinsey Global Institute workforce skills executive survey, the top-3 areas of skill shortage concern for C-level respondents from over 3,000 companies included data analytics, IT/mobile/web design, and R&D.
Organisations will value your input as a trusted partner who can add expertise in the following critical areas:
1. Automation business case development.
2. Stakeholder and project management (for automation projects).
3. Solution design (to transform manual processes into digital production lines).
4. Technical skills including coding and advanced Excel modelling.
5. Data analysis expertise for example in working with SQL and Business Intelligence tools to turn data into insights.
“I can't tell you how many times I've seen people try to automate an existing process without ever looking at the process itself. Take time to evaluate the process and, where necessary, change it, particularly in areas where automation can streamline it.” - Lisbi Abraham, CIO at Andela (link).
Because automation aims to augment, not replace processes and often is design to wrap around existing procedures and data, it is crucial that the “experts” helping companies to automate take the time and have a passion for understanding the business problems they are trying to solve.
Aligning your area of specialisation - such as tax, finance, accounts payable etc. - with the processes that are to be automated will yield the most impactful and transformative results for companies. That is because:
- By understanding the intimate details of the business processes being automated, consultants maximise the chance of project success - i.e. the automated process actually solving the core problem and providing value for the business; and
- Consultants can use their knowledge and expertise to help re-engineer and optimise processes while they are being automated.
Further to the second point above, we also find that by having experience across multiple industries and disciplines, consultants can introduce new ideas and ways of thinking into a process - for example, taking advanced modelling concepts from the life insurance industry and applying them to companies in the travel industry such as airlines and travel agents.
Engaging with customers for an automation project drives your brand and voice right into the heart of the business teams in each company. It puts you front and centre, engaging with top level management down to the subject matter experts. It builds relationships between you and staff and credibility as you can demonstrate you truly understand their process(es).
Traditionally, organisations implement a system that replaces a whole bunch of processes, forcing staff to adapt and change to the new system. Automation however, wraps around existing processes requiring close consultation with SME’s and an appreciation of what each person in the business does. This translates to stronger relationships and greater visibility into the organisation.
Overall, this builds a form of “stickiness” between you and your customers. SME’s and managers that are happy with the outcomes of an automation project will often tell their friends and colleagues - we have also seen them win internal awards for innovation and problem solving. Naturally, this can then lead to others within the client organisation reaching out in hopes that you can also help them with their own processes.
Automation is rarely a “do it and disappear” type act. Successful automation creates a bond between the service provider and customer - the type of bond that consultants yearn to have, that of trusted advisor and problem solver.
Automation is tackling business problems that have - until now - been overlooked and thought to be too niche or complicated to solve with traditional IT. This means that companies are now spending money (with external vendors) on problems that would have previously been addressed by hiring more staff.
Over the last few years, a cycle of trying, deploying and measuring the benefits of automation has strengthened business cases and ROI’s and increased the propensity for companies to spend on technology and services. As a consultant, there are significant opportunities to add value to a companies automation initiatives (see items 1-4 in this document) and in doing so, earn additional revenue from:
- Software licenses - for example, through commissions earned on recurring SaaS revenue.
- Services such as advisory, strategy
- Ongoing support and maintenance
Revenue earned from software licenses in particular are particularly transformative for small consultancies as it reduces the reliance on “billable hours” and “utilisation” - providing a recurring income stream for the business either on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.
“Previous industrial revolutions have shown us that if companies and industries don’t adapt with new technology, they struggle. Worse, they fail.”
-Brad Keywell, Cofounder and CEO Uptake
Organisations who adopt automation and can quickly respond to these technological changes in the long-term will be the ones who prosper during this period of rapid technological shift. By understanding automation and providing it as part of your solutions, consultancies are in a unique position where they can tap into a high-growth industry with existing niche knowledge to unlock new revenue opportunities. Your area of specialisation coordinated with automation will ensure that projects achieve the most impactful results for your clients.
Now is the time to capitalise on digital transformation - so what next? Through our experience automating thousands of processes and teaching other companies to do the same, these are the top six skills needed to be an effective automator:
Important: You don’t need someone who is an expert in all six of the skills listed above. However, staff should be comfortable in each skill and be willing to learn and adapt as required.
You can also get in touch with us at any point in your journey to discuss how we can support and complement your growth in this area. We are actively seeking partners who have an interest in automation, process improvement and transformation. We have a range of Partnering options ranging from the provision of introductions through to full implementation Partnerships. SolveXia has an excellent reputation for providing great service, being innovative and for solving difficult problems. We strive to preserve this reputation by providing our Partners with training and close support.
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