Process Automation at Scale: The Promise and Potential Pitfalls

Candace Widdoes | February 28, 2021

Business process automation can deliver enormous benefits for enterprises while also presenting new and multilayered challenges that demand complicated solutions. Organizations able to integrate process automation into a modern technological architecture will position themselves to meaningfully outpace competition, drive revenue growth, and improve efficiency. The work disruptions of COVID-19 have only accelerated efforts to deliver products and services more efficiently while remedying broken and outdated systems and procedures. ICONIQ Growth partners Candace Widdoes and Matt Jacobson recently gathered experts across sectors to explore the intricacies and opportunities of process automation.

The conversation featured Jakob Freund, CEO of Camunda, a workflow and decision automation platform; Ray Grady, CEO of Conexiom, a purchase document-processing automation company; Charles Vaillant, CTO and CDO of Mann + Hummel, a global industrial and automotive filtration company; and Andres Vazquez del Mercado, CDIO of América Móvil and Group Carso, a conglomerate and provider of integrated telecommunications.

From their dynamic dialogue, five key learnings emerged about how to establish enterprise process automation at scale:

1. Act with courage.

Amid the pandemic and a sudden 90% drop in sales early last year for MANN+HUMMEL (even more significant than the 75% decrease the company faced in 2008), Charles made the seemingly risky decision to invest in building a new air purifier factory and accelerating the company’s digital transformation by bringing on a multi-million dollar digital transformation vehicle called DARE (Data Analytics Research Enterprise). Cutting budget in other areas, the company bet heavily on those two initiatives, constructing the air purifier factory in just 38 days while investing heavily to staff and resource DARE. While there was internal contention on making these investments during a downturn, the efforts enhanced the team’s workflow and internal processes during the pandemic and helped the company prepare for a future rebound. So far, the results have been promising, as the factory is now producing in-demand products and the newly developed dashboards have unleashed remarkable unprecedented data-driven insights and capabilities.

2. Preparation is key.

At América Móvil , Andres was also faced with the challenges of introducing contemporary technology and processes to legacy architecture. After acquiring Telmex, his team found that nearly 30% of long-distance calls were manually connected by operators. Within five years, the company automated operator functions and re-skilled the operators to become customer service representatives. However, the recent pandemic re-introduced operational complications, raised new ones, and disrupted overall workflow. The government mandated that schooling move into the private home, causing a massive explosion in broadband demand across Mexico and Latin America. Despite the beneficial increase in broadband usage, the team faced an influx of customer support requests and technician calls. Just the process of preparing service technicians to safely enter a home required new learnings and tools. In order to better serve customers in future unexpected situations, the company required all teams to participate in “crisis drills.” According to Andres, the silver lining was seeing how fast his team could respond under pressure. He hopes the experience will serve as a reminder to his team about the power of urgent innovation.

3. Automation can yield big results, but operating at scale can be challenging.

According to Jakob, Camunda recognizes the demand for immediate solutions for establishing process automation practices within organizations. For example, Deutsche Telekom’s introduction of robotic process automation saved them millions of Euros until they realized they couldn’t operate at scale. At that point, they turned to Camunda’s orchestration platform to support interoperable automations that are effective at scale. Now, Deutsche Telekom is standing up micro services while sunsetting RPA bots one by one, slowly and steadily progressing toward a fully integrated and elastic architecture.

In response, Ray commented that Conexiom’s biggest challenges are supporting customers who have implemented RPA before understanding the implications disjointed RPA solutions pose at scale. Many tried pointing RPA at a problem or using legacy optical character recognition technology that wasn’t completely accurate. Conexiom handles the inherent challenges of automating complex, unstructured data and converting it into 100% accurate structured data that can be imported into a business system without human review and validation employs modern technology in a touchless manner with 100% accuracy, yielding millions in ROI within months.

When the pandemic forced employees to work from home, an unexpected business opportunity emerged for Conexiom. Conexiom offers an easy-to-implement purpose-built document automation platform purchasing automation solution that delivers with 100% accuracy that can quickly reduce costs without the need for costly consultants.

4. Measure ROI in cost savings AND customer experience.

Andres at America Móvil initially implemented an automation solution to build movie posters in their Claro Video service. While the cost was comparable to manual processes, the automation yielded much higher quality, more consistent posters that created a better customer experience.

5. The best time to get started is now.

Despite the investment and time, the world is not heading backwards toward manual processes. Start experimenting, beta-testing, and preparing a several-year roadmap for implementation. The future of process automation is already here.

Thanks to our panelists for sharing their wisdom. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay updated on upcoming ICONIQ Growth Events.