This generation represents the end of an era for business. Workforce expectations have radically changed, and new advances in AI promise major upheavals in how work is performed. Less appreciated, though just as impactful, is Thailand’s dramatic and accelerating dive toward an ageing society.
If current demographic trends continue, Thailand’s low birth rate will mean 24 million fewer citizens by the end of this century — a loss of more than one-third of the country’s population. Averaged out, this population decline translates to 311,000 fewer people each year from now until 2100. Moreover, the remaining population will be considerably older than at present, and have fewer advanced degrees within the workforce.
Automation is facilitated by the rise of remote work and AI, and is the only realistic tool that businesses can use today to make up for the coming decline in talent and expertise. Yet as we will see, applying this tool successfully requires a delicate touch. Up to 50% of all robotic process automation (RPA) projects end in failure, and other forms of digital transformation lead to similarly uncertain outcomes.
Many companies, wary of committing to a transformation process whose prospects for success are uncertain at best, may decide to keep their heads down and forge ahead as before, putting off such changes until sometime in the indefinite future.
Though understandable, this instinct to stay the course flies in the face of two important facts. The first is that successfully automating work processes results in radical quality and efficiency improvements across the board. The second is that every business has competitors, and some of those competitors are inevitably going to use automation to their advantage. Even if your company were to somehow sidestep the demographic issue and recruit all the best talent moving forward, it would still be unable to compete with a fully optimised rival whose software accomplishes complex tasks 24 hours a day, and is trained to constantly seek out opportunities for competitive advantage.
Rather than avoiding change, companies should learn from organisations that have already made RPA work. By applying the right lessons learned from experience, businesses can avoid common transformational pitfalls and focus their attention on the processes that can benefit most from automation. Our brief guide below will highlight some of the issues worth considering.
Some processes benefit from RPA, others don’t, and in many cases the steps needed to automate a given task would be cumbersome and complex. Businesses beginning their automation journey should consult an outside expert who can determine which processes to automate first, and which are best saved for later.
Their analysis can help your organisation determine the proper routes for each process — including how to improve, automate, outsource, digitise, analyse, and augment each element of your workflow, as appropriate.
This discovery phase should also identify one process, which will be treated as a proof of concept. Ideally the automation of this task should be of high value but low complexity, to serve as an example — for company managers as well as employees — of what this transformation involves, how it is achieved, and the benefits it will bring to everyone in the organisation.
On the heels of this first successful RPA project, the company and RPA consultant should finalise an extended automation roadmap for the coming period. This roadmap should again target the easier processes first, to keep the learning curve manageable. It should also include firm plans for communicating with, and training, all affected employees regarding the upcoming changes.
Expanding and strengthening this new automation engine will enable your business to reach its medium- and long-term goals. We recommend the following initiatives, under the guidance of an expert consultant:
- Spend 6 to 8 weeks developing an Automation Operating Model (AOM) to serve as a master plan for automation.
- Set up a Centre of Excellence — a multi-stakeholder project that should include HR, Marketing, IT, and an Executive Sponsor. Perhaps counterintuitively, automation often fails when left in the hands of the IT team alone; they tend to think that RPA is a nice-to-have, but not essential, and they soon turn their attention to more habitual tasks.
- Use an automation scorecard to track KPIs, such as the number of working hours recovered, employee attrition, and customer satisfaction.
- Outsource initial proof of concept and subsequent processes to be automated, but always with an eye toward building expertise in-house in parallel, to let your organisation begin automating more and more independently.
- Work towards setting up a Citizen Developer Programme. This specialised system will enable your employees to automate their own jobs within their own departments on an ongoing basis, thereby unlocking continuous, internally generated operational improvement for decades to come. In Thailand, for example, AIS created 1,482 RPA-knowledgeable Citizen Developers, who in turn have thus far conducted over 1,000 projects to improve the working process.
Naturally, the success of these initiatives requires complete clarity of vision, the full and enthusiastic cooperation of employees across the workforce, as well as close coordination between upper management and external consultants.
Everyone involved must understand what will happen, and how the changes will benefit them. For business leaders, RPA goes a long way toward future-proofing the organisation amid a brewing demographic crisis. Moreover, with high-powered software handling routine tasks, both quality and efficiency will rise. The data collected by this software can also be analysed and turned into recommendations for improving the enterprise as a whole.
For employees, the dawn of true automation means an end to many monotonous tasks, enabling a greater focus on creativity and engagement in the workplace. With busy-work a thing of the past, employees in all departments can contribute meaningfully to the direction of the organisation, bringing their unique expertise and perspectives to whatever challenges and opportunities the future may bring.
Grant Thornton can guide you through every step of the automation journey. Contact us today to get started.