The events of the past year shined the spotlight on business process automation, highlighting its importance to every organization. As employees migrated en masse to remote work and internal process demands increased, organizations without end-to-end digital automation found themselves at a severe disadvantage.
Without integration of processes across silos, efficiency erodes and the customer experience suffers. If anything is to be learned from 2020, it’s that strategic end-to-end automation drives consistent process improvement.
In a recent webinar, “Create a Strategy to Drive End-To-End Automation at Scale,” Tom Casey, senior vice-president of engineering at DocuSign and Rob Koplowitz, vice-president at Forrester Research, explored the need for end-to-end automation at scale—and offered strategic advice to support your digital transformation.
The rise of end-to-end automation across industries
Customer experience is now the primary driver of process improvement, edging aside the longstanding priority of cost reduction. In an early 2020 survey conducted by Forrester that assessed the top priorities of 954 global business leaders, ‘improve customer service’ ranked at the top of the list, outpacing the traditional leader, ‘reduce operational expenses.’ When asked about their company’s priorities for the next year, decision makers rated the following factors as high or critical priorities:DocuSign
While COVID changed many things, particularly budgets and business travel, top priorities stayed the same. C-level executives still want better ways to prepare for business disruptions and improve the customer experience—while keeping costs at a minimum.
Faced with shrinking margins in the COVID economy, end-to-end automation of the contract management process emerged as a universal response. Single-point solutions like electronic signatures and searchable contract repositories helped organizations eliminate operational hurdles while cutting the time teams must devote to originating, sharing and completing contracts.
However, as remote work made manually signing and sharing documents an impossibility, the adoption of new, digital solutions proliferated across enterprises, and organizations around the world started to see the far-reaching benefits of automation.
Remote work accelerates digital transformation
The pressure of a global shift to remote work made business leaders realize the importance of developing a digital infrastructure to support rapid change. Working from home introduced the business world to new problems almost overnight, but it also forced leadership to quickly come up with new solutions that will have lasting value beyond COVID.
“There were really two patterns that we saw during COVID,” said Rob Koplowitz:
- Resisting automation: Old-school IT leaders who think their businesses can weather inefficiencies. They’re either slightly concerned from a governance, risk and compliance (GRC) perspective, or they lack the information needed to move quickly toward digital transformation.
- Embracing automation: IT leaders, whose companies are in the midst of digital transformation, who have already vetted their solutions but need to move faster.
“Businesses in the first camp struggled mightily,” said Koplowitz. As for businesses whose IT leaders already understood the value of automation, he added, “Those organizations in most instances were able to move very quickly. We look at this as forcing functions toward the new normal—which is a standardized approach to automation.”
Forrester research conducted just before the pandemic demonstrates that the use of ink-to-paper signatures was already rapidly declining towards the end of 2019. “People were over it,” Koplowitz summarized. “They don’t want to do it the other [manual] way. Enter COVID, and they can’t do it the other way.”
Still, 77% of businesses have processes that rely on paper. Another 63% of businesses depend on desktop tools like email and Microsoft Excel to manage their document workflows—neither of which delivers real automation. A fully automated system of agreement supports not just customer onboarding but other workflows, such as employee onboarding, legal review, and procurement. Even when workers return to their offices, a consistent, digital approach across your entire organization will enable you to get the most out of any automated business practice.
A strategic rather than tactical approach to automation
“The electronic signature is often where folks start,” asserted Casey of DocuSign. “I think that’s wonderful, obviously. But we have also started to step back and think about the systems of agreement that businesses have as a whole.”
As COVID-19 demonstrated, business agility is critical for organizations that wish to survive unanticipated challenges. A reactive approach to automation may keep your head above water but, in the long run, it can also slow your organization down. In other words, there’s only so much that a single-point solution can do. Developing a proactive strategy for integrating end-to-end automation at scale is key.
“Sure, automation will always cut costs—but we want to consider the experience. That’s what’s durable,” said Casey. During COVID, short-term fixes on the ground were prioritized over long-term solutions with high-level, lasting impacts. Now, the tide is beginning to shift. The benefits of full-scale automation—like better customer experiences, business agility, increased productivity, and greater security—are clearer than ever before.
But what does strategic end-to-end automation look like in practice?
How to successfully automate at scale
Automating at scale is both technical science and change management art. For instance, close to 50% of businesses today claim that they are prepared to invest in an automated, end-to-end contract management solution, but simply don’t have the tools or know-how to do it effectively. “The problem is that end-to-end automation requires a lot of technology,” said Koplowitz.
“Cobbling together disparate tools does not leave your business more agile,” Koplowitz continued. In fact, he explained, it solves immediate problems by creating even bigger obstacles down the road. “You have to think strategically about digital transformation—not reactively—to make sure you’re applying the right tech in the right place at the right time,” the analyst added.
The successful implementation of end-to-end automation depends on three pillars of change management:
- Adaptability: As demonstrated by the fallout of COVID-19, the ability to adopt new business practices or workflows overnight is critical when it comes to surviving unforeseen challenges. An integrated approach to end-to-end automation starts with a solution that can adapt and scale with your organization.
- Standardization: Your processes don’t care about organizational boundaries. For technology and people to securely work together across silos, you need a consistent, cross-functional approach to your Systems of Agreement.
- Governance: Upper-level management, IT, and GRC teams must work together and actively involve themselves in the implementation and operation of an end-to-end automation solution. This helps balance tactical implementation with broader strategy and minimizes errors that create risk.
While saving time and cutting costs have always been drivers of digital transformation, the efficiency of today’s digital marketplace is producing consumers who prioritize speed, simplicity, and transparency in all aspects of business. Automation at scale meets rising consumers expectations while also providing a path to increased workplace productivity and reduced operational costs. As Koplowitz summarized, “Automation is the expression of how your business runs.”