Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation (IA) is leading the conversation in boardrooms around the country and across industries.  Bizmod founding partner Seugnet van den Berg says that while this new way of working is the future and seen to be a cost effective solution, it is often forgotten that the key element that will enable these programmes to generate a return on investment is the human element and not only the technical abilities.

“The crucial capability required to help make these initiatives focus on the human element is Change Management,” says Van den Berg.

A traditional definition of Change Management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome.  Van den Berg says even though the discipline has formalised and matured over the last few years, Bizmod is still finding that organisations don’t have a good enough understanding of Change Management requirements in relation to IA and robotics implementations.  Most clients think it is communication and training, but few clients pay attention to the impact of the changes they are implementing and the effect it has on the company culture in the long run.

“What we are finding is that organisations are embarking on RPA exercises with vastly opposing philosophies about their intent to the human resources.  For some it is simply an exercise to automate and reduce human intervention with the ultimate objective to reduce costs.

“For others, the underlying philosophy is more empowering with a firm belief that those capabilities that are uniquely human like – creativity, innovation, imagination, collaboration and emotional intelligence – are the assets that need to be protected and grown during this process of transformation,” says van den Berg.

Despite being implemented in an agile manner, with definite requirements for stakeholder communication and management, van den Berg says that there is an increasing requirement for change impact with a specific focus on structure, workforce requirement and capacity planning. Implementing an IA could comprise of multiple smaller initiatives that impact the same business area and users over a period of time.

Incremental changes

“Because of the variety of smaller incremental changes, the biggest challenge from a change management perspective is to create a consolidated view of what the end state will look like and then work backwards on a scenario basis. This sounds logical but is easier said than done. The reality is that each project team only focusses on their specific initiative and the end state view across multiple teams and multiple sprints is left up to the business to determine,” says van den Berg.

To avoid reactive communication, van den Berg lists the following elements as key to developing a Change Management programme for robotics and IA projects:

  • Once the business has confirmed what the end state will look like, this needs to be clearly communicated. The impact on processes, skills, positions and structures should be defined and clear.
  • A scenario-based view should be developed that defines not only the changes to employee numbers and roles but is shown over time intervals
  • There needs to be an understanding of not only the technology but also the processes, time and motion studies, roles, competencies and technology
  • An agile way of working, with capacity planning is required to create a view of the impact.

The visibility that these scenarios provide are not only important for the business but are crucial for HR engagement and planning in relation to employee reskilling, team changes, retrenchment, etc.  Van den Berg warns that these interventions should not be based on people being able to adapt.

She also cautions business leaders to be aware of the detrimental impact of retrenchment. There are definite industrial relations elements that will be affected, but in addition there is the passive aggressive element that will most likely surface in the corporate culture.  Passive aggressiveness is a silent killer, sabotaging initiatives and making it difficult, if not impossible, to implement future initiatives.  If the approach is one of reskilling, this has significant time and budget implications and cannot be left until the end of the programme.

“To successfully implement large scale robotics and IA initiatives, there needs to be a key focus on employees and the corporate culture, while relying on Change Management to manage the change impact and build resilience,” concludes van den Berg.

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