By Jennifer Hoover, Director of Digital Transformation
How do you make digital transformation work for your agency? Before you put a digital transformation strategy in place, you need to consider what it is you want to accomplish and how it will impact existing workflows, systems, and processes.
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we talked about the difference between IT modernization and digital transformation and how to make digital transformation work for people. This time, we’ll focus on the process.
Taking the Robot Out of the Human
Digital transformation—as opposed to mere IT modernization—has the potential to vastly improve agency effectiveness and efficiency. Rather than simply modernizing existing systems, a digital transformation process actively looks for new opportunities to optimize and/or automate workflows.
I like to think of this as “taking the robot out of the human.” Nearly every workflow includes tasks and subprocesses that take a lot of time but very little thought or judgment. These tasks tend to be rule-based, repetitive, and transactional, making them ripe for transformation using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or other artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools.
For example, it’s fairly easy to automate simple Help Desk tasks like account creation, account deletion, and password reset using RPA. Automating these tasks frees up IT support staff to spend their time on issues requiring human judgment, empathy, or creativity. Adding AI to the workforce allows humans to be less robotic and more effective.
Optimize Before You Automate
Before we start automating processes, we first have to understand them. And that’s not always as easy as it seems. Each process, task, or subtask exists within a complex matrix of other processes, systems, and human behaviors.
The focus of RPA is simply finding tasks suitable for automation and automating them. But digital transformation looks deeper. What other systems and processes does this task connect to, both online and offline? How does the process fit into the workflows of different people or departments? What (and who) else is impacted if the process is automated or changed? What other processes are affected? A single task such as adding a new employee to the payroll system may have other touchpoints across the organization, such as IT or security.
If we automate the task without looking at all of the other touchpoints, we can break things unintentionally. This is especially true when parts of the current workflow are offline, manual, or informal. For example, perhaps the person currently in charge of manually adding the new employee to payroll routinely sends an email to the person in charge of distributing laptops as a heads-up that a new device will be needed. This may be a longstanding informal arrangement rather than a documented process. Automating payroll account generation without capturing this informal process is likely to cause problems with resource allocation.
That’s why the focus needs to be on process optimization, not just automation. A pathway to optimization might look something like this:
- Fully document the process from start to finish, including all of the touchpoints with other systems, departments, and individuals. Be sure to look at offline and informal touchpoints as well as formally documented ones.
- Look for ways to streamline and integrate existing processes before you start to automate. What tasks can be eliminated or combined? Where can workflows be made more efficient? Tighten up the existing process as much as possible before you start to automate.
- Within the optimized process, identify the best opportunities for automation. High-volume, repetitive tasks that require substantial human time to complete manually generally provide the greatest return for an investment in RPA.
- Identify and fix touchpoints in other processes that have been “broken” by the RPA solution. These may be fixed by additional automation (e.g., adding an automated email to departments that must be informed when a new account is created) or by updating manual/offline processes.
- Measure and monitor the results of automation. Look for unforeseen issues at both the system and the human level.
- Continue to look for additional opportunities to streamline and automate processes. Remember, digital transformation is a continuous process, not a one-time project.
Empowering Digital Transformation
NCI uses a holistic approach to digital transformation and automation, which is supported by NCI Empower. The NCI Empower provides a platform and structure for AI-based digital transformation, so you can easily identify where AI can best be deployed to support your human workforce, monitor the development and deployment of AI tools, evaluate their effectiveness and adoption rate, and evolve your AI workforce.
NCI Empower is part of our AI as a Service model for digital transformation. We call our methodology ShaiPE: Scaling Humans with AI and Process Engineering. ShaiPE is a holistic, people-centered approach to process optimization and development of AI tools. When we bring people and technology together, we can create tools that truly are transformative. At the end of the day, it’s about the people and making it easier and more meaningful for people to do what they do best: think and make decisions.