You’ve probably noticed this trend of automating tasks, processes, and even complete departments. Maybe, your company is also considering implementing an intelligent process automation solution, but you still haven’t found the answer to the following questions:
  • Do I build a custom system or opt for an off-the-shelf solution?
  • Do I need to prepare my organization for a digital overhaul? If yes, where do I start?
In this article, ITRex CEO Vitali Likhadzed explains what ready-made and custom enterprise automation solutions can offer and which might better suit your business needs. Vitali also gives tips on getting started with automation and warns of challenges to expect on the way.

What is enterprise automation, and how does it help your company?

Definition and terminology clarification

Enterprise automation means performing a continuous review of an organization’s processes to achieve optimal performance while searching for manual processes that can be automated. For the sake of terminology clarification, robotic process automation (RPA) and business process automation (BPA) are technologies one can use in enterprise automation. BPA focuses on streamlining complete processes and workflows across the organization, while RPA is responsible for automating individual tasks. Here is what these concepts mean: UiPath, one of a prominent RPA vendors, defines enterprise robotic process automation (RPA) as a software technology that makes it easy to build, deploy, and manage software robots that emulate human actions when interacting with digital systems. Software robots can do things like figuring out what’s on the screen, completing the right keystrokes, navigating systems, identifying and extracting data, and performing a wide range of defined actions. Gartner defines business process automation (BPA) as the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities, usually through the use of advanced technologies. BPA focuses on “run the business” as opposed to “count the business” types of automation efforts and often deals with event-driven, mission-critical, core processes.
Intelligent enterprise automation enhances the traditional RPA’s capabilities with innovative artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies, such as natural language processing (NLP), and computer vision.
Intelligent enterprise automation can use one or a combination of these technologies to offer complex, innovative solutions.

COVID-19 accelerates enterprise workflow management efforts

Deloitte and McKinsey, both reputable consultancy firms, conducted surveys that proved the pandemic forced companies to rethink the way they work. McKinsey research shows that the percentage of respondents taking action on automation has increased from 57% in 2018 to 66% in 2020.
enterprise automation chart
Source: McKinsey & Company
During the same period, Deloitte questioned 441 executives from 29 countries to find that 73% of the respondents had already deployed automation technologies, such as machine learning and robotics. This number is up from 58% in 2019. Enterprise automation will continue its steady rise throughout the following decade. For example, according to Statista, the global robotic process automation market is predicted to surpass $13 billion by 2030.
enterprise workflow automation
Source: Statista

Enterprise workflow automation benefits

In one of its enterprise process automation projects, ITRex helped digital networking and booking services company to build a healthcare RPA solution. This product synchronizes patient appointment data between the company’s booking service and the electronic medical record systems (EMRs) of the company’s clients. Before deploying enterprise automation solutions, doctors wasted valuable time entering their availability data into various EMRs to give patients an accurate overview. This caused errors and frustration. To resolve this, the client employed ITRex to develop an automation healthcare system that would synchronize the client’s booking service with eClinicalWorks (eCW), one of the most popular EMR solutions in the US. Even though this automation effort was limited in scope, it already brought the following benefits:
  • Making the client’s booking service consistent with the eCW without modifying its internal code
  • Eliminating human error
  • Freeing up doctors’ time to take over more appointments instead of wasting time on data entry
  • Reducing costs, as the client didn’t need to hire specialized eCW developers, who are relatively expensive. Neither did they pay eCW API fees

Off-the-shelf enterprise automation software vs. custom enterprise automation

Off-the-shelf (ready-made, packaged, etc.) software is a commercially offered and licensed digital product that you can deploy at your company for a monthly or annual fee. In contrast, custom solutions are designed and built catering to the requirements of a specific client. It is worth mentioning that some ready-made solution vendors are open to working with clients and customizing their offerings to fit into the client’s system. Below are the main differences between the two options. Disclaimer: this comparison is applicable in many cases. However, there can be exceptions, especially when speaking of customizing off-the-shelf solutions.
Off-the-shelf enterprise automation softwareCustom enterprise automation software
Time to deployFaster. You only need to train your employees to use itSlower. Can take up to several months. However, you can roll it out gradually, starting with the core set of features and adding more on the go
Incorporating updates You wait for the vendor to release updates at their convenience You can incorporate the necessary updates whenever needed as you own the code
Fitting in with your internal processesThese solutions are rigid, and you will have to adapt your internal processes to interact with the packaged solutionsIt is designed to fit into your internal processes
Fitting in with your existing applicationsMost off-the-shelf software is open source, making it challenging to customize and integrate with your existing features, such as reporting. Most likely, its look-and-feel will be different from your other applications, compromising on user experienceCustom enterprise automation software is designed originally in a way that fits well with all your applications
Scalability You might need to purchase add-ons or additional license Easier to scale. You can ask your vendor to build it with scalability in mind and take into account your company’s specifics
Feature set compatibility Ready-made enterprise automation solutions are likely to have more features than you need. So, you will end up paying for options that you will never useCustomized set of features. Only includes what you ask for
Competitive advantageLimited. You are using a solution that is available for your competitors also. Though you can develop your own algorithms to distinguish yourself Gives you a competitive advantage as your software is unique
SecurityIn off-the-shelf software, vulnerability is higher due to its standardization and widespread usageHere the vulnerability is lower because a custom enterprise automation solution is unique to one organization
CostsLower initial investment, but it can catch up with its custom counterpart due to licensing fees as you expand and register more usersHigher initial investment but better support along the way
Maintenance and supportIt is likely to be limited. Vendors may decide to stop supporting this version of their product altogether. However, you can arrange for support as an individual service for a feeCustom software vendors are likely to allocate full-time outsourced dedicated teams for client support
Off-the-shelf enterprise automation tools are more suited for:
  • Enterprises operating in heavily-regulated industries. In this case, packaged software might already come compliant so that you don’t have to investigate and apply these regulations yourself.
  • Large companies. If large businesses want to implement enterprise-wide automation, it is best to turn to off-the-shelf solutions. Custom enterprise workflow management software would be too expensive, time consuming, and might not cover all the variable use cases. Ready-made products, on the other hand, are designed for this type of client. Additionally, vendors receive user feedback and improve their systems accordingly. Note: if you are a large enterprise that wants to automate only distinct tasks and use cases, feel free to turn to custom software solutions.
  • Business cases with no special requirements where a standard set of features is sufficient.
Turning to an RPA consultant to build a custom enterprise automation software is worth considering under the following conditions:
  • Projects with limited automation scope, when three to five use cases are considered
  • Business cases that are unique and complex, where off-the-shelf products would need customization
  • Legacy systems are involved
  • Enterprises with rigid processes that can’t be adapted
enterprise workflow automation

Getting started with enterprise workflow automation: tips and challenges

Vitali advises companies considering RPA or enterprise intelligent automation to prepare for this process across three pillars — governance, data and technology, and the human pillar. Companies can do this alone or together with their selected automation vendor. Governance:
  • Identify the problems your company is trying to solve. For example, a bank may realize 50% of their clients who submitted a personal loan application form end up withdrawing before a decision is made
  • Outline use cases for enterprise automation and prioritize them. We can investigate the business problem mentioned above to discover concrete use cases. Here is one way to proceed. Why do 50% of our clients withdraw? Because they must wait for a prolonged period. Why is that? One reason is that our loan application review process requires approval from five people. Human approval is not something we can automate, so we keep searching further. Another reason is that loan officers need to access data from different systems to make a decision, and afterwards, they enter all the information in the bank’s system. Here is a viable use case — i.e., automating data collection and information input processes.
  • Optimize business processes before automating. Make sure the process is as efficient as possible before you automate. In the loan application example, do we need the approval of five people? Maybe in some cases, three approvals are enough.
  • Define clear business goals you want to achieve with enterprise automation. Coming back to the bank example, the goal is to spend less time processing loan applications and give an answer to the client before they withdraw their file and submit it to competitors.
  • Highlight KPIs to measure the value of automation to the business. One example of the bank’s KPI can be making a decision on personal loan applications within one working day.
  • Ensure executive leadership support. This will help you get other employees to cooperate even when the initiative causes inconveniences or fails to produce value immediately.
  • Identify all the stakeholders involved in enterprise automation. These people can come from different departments and vary in their background and expertise. It is best to make sure their views on automation are aligned.
  • Define risks. Here are some examples: (1) decreased loyalty among employees as they start experiencing job security fears (2) integration with legacy systems can take much longer than we anticipated originally, (3) this new automated system might open vulnerabilities from the security standpoint.
Data and technology:
  • Choose the right technology for every business problem. If your company is small, the automation scope is modest, and the use cases are standard, then opt for a small-scale enterprise automation system that covers your needs. Nothing more.
  • Leverage multiple technology solutions to bring end-to-end automation. In theory, it would be nice to have one platform across different departments. But if your business is fragmented, this will not be a viable option. Suppose you have one autonomous isolated (no Internet connection) department with a few straightforward requirements. In that case, a simple custom Python script might suffice, even if your other departments are using more complicated automation software.
  • Select solutions that integrate well with the existing ecosystem. Your ecosystem has its established workflow, make sure the automation tool you choose is compatible with it and can integrate with your applications. Don’t trap yourself with a novel technology that doesn’t fit with your existing tech stack.
  • Pay attention to data quality. Make sure the data you input and generate with this new enterprise automation solution is compliant with your overall data strategy.
Humans and change management:
  • Ensure everyone understands automation goals. The new system will take over repetitive, dull tasks and allow employees to focus on what matters and devote more time to creative and strategic duties.
  • Drive workforce transformation, not replacement, if possible. Automation is expected to eliminate as well as create new job opportunities. Research shows workforce automation can displace 85 million jobs in the coming years, but it is expected to create 97 million instead. Given this situation, it may be a wiser choice to reskill your employees.
  • Invest in employee education. Train users on the new work environment and support them to facilitate adoption.
  • Develop an HR strategy to retain employees and attract talent for critical roles. When a part of their everyday duties becomes automated, employees might feel there is no place for them in your company anymore. But this workforce has other key skills that the enterprise can’t afford to lose. This is where the HR department comes in. They need to find ways to keep these people motivated and interested in staying or quickly recruit a replacement if they insist on moving on.
  • Establish an agile way of working. Employees need to be prepared to pivot within their job role, take other responsibilities, and be prepared to learn.

5 Enterprise automation challenges to consider and ways to address them

Vitali highlights five main challenges that can cause setbacks in enterprise workload automation initiatives:
  • Struggling to scale: even though enterprises invest heavily in automation, be it process discovery tools or software vendors, scaling is still hindered as a comprehensive automation strategy is lacking. According to Deloitte, only 38% of companies that are implementing and scaling automation have an enterprise-wide automation strategy. As a result, firms automate individual processes in one department but struggle to scale them across the enterprise due to employee resistance or other factors. To address this challenge, you can enlist the C-suite’s support from the start and establish a center for excellence, which would set standards for scaling.
  • Regulations and enterprise-related constraints: if you automate a task that is tied to rapidly evolving regulations, they can soon change, rendering your new solution unusable. Some workflows can’t be automated due to constraints. For example, tasks that require manual approval or processes that need to access data protected with captcha or other tools requiring human interference.
  • Lack of alignment between IT and business functions: this challenge occurs when the IT team has their own goals that are not compatible with those of the business department. They can even be contradicting at times. Both parties can’t understand each other. Businesses want everything to work without appreciating the technical complexity. This creates friction between teams and delays the process. To ensure that everyone is on the same page, you can encourage open and consistent communication, constructive feedback, and collaboration between departments, and remind employees that they are working towards a common goal.
  • Cultural adoption: this is one of the main challenges. While technology-related concerns can be resolved given sufficient time and finances, it is hard to make people adopt a tool when they are not motivated. If you look at enterprise automation as a way to support rather than replace your human capital, making this clear will relieve people from their fears. You may need to prepare and implement a cultural shift. Explain to your workforce which of their responsibilities will be automated and how this will impact their job. Organize training and support people during the learning process. Note that some enterprise automation tools are not user-friendly, which makes them harder to operate and prolongs learning time.
  • Security risks: when you automate tasks, you introduce a new IT system, which in turn will present vulnerabilities and open entrance points for criminals to explore. Also, integration with existing systems will form loopholes for potential security breaches.
To minimize these risks, perform security evaluations and risk management and consider the results as an important factor when making the final decision. For a more elaborate list of RPA pitfalls, you can refer to our article on the top 13 RPA challenges.

Ready to take action?

If after reading this article, you find yourself a perfect candidate for off-the-shelf enterprise automation tools, then go ahead and purchase one. It will be cheaper and faster than building a custom application. But if you want something unique and tailored to your processes and operations, then it’s a good idea to start searching for a vendor providing custom enterprise automation services. Be sure your vendor is familiar with your industry’s regulations and that he is willing to offer continuous support, help you scale, and introduce new features. The ITRex team will not only cover the points mentioned above but can also look beyond the traditional RPA into intelligent enterprise automation thanks to our expertise in AI and other related technologies.
Are you looking for a custom enterprise automation solution that fits into your system? Drop us a line! Together, we can build something really unique.