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Steve Gentle

When we started our organisation-wide automation project in 2018, there was no way we could have factored in the immense global disruption that the coronavirus would cause.

But in times of crisis, businesses need to do their utmost to protect their employees, suppliers and customers. For us, that means being as prepared as possible.

We believe automation has a part to play here – both in the immediate term, for future crises which may affect businesses, and for long-term productivity and success in the aftermath. It can help support overstretched teams when demand peaks, ensure accuracy and reduce errors during busy periods, and increase productivity when you need to adapt at short notice.

In this blog, I wanted to talk about our automation journey so far, and how important education and awareness have been for Capita and our clients. I hope that the lessons we have learned from our own project will be useful for you too.

Becoming a brain magnet

Our automation journey started with just me and a handful of people on the team. I’d spent most of my career in operations, but automation was a new beast for me – so it was vital that we build our team of experts quickly.

The key learning was that the best way to attract talent is demonstrating ambition. Automation is a growing industry, but it’s not always utilised to its full potential. So by showing candidates that we’d be pushing for big, aspirational, expansive deployments, giving them a chance to stretch their muscles, it built serious enthusiasm. And in many cases, those new hires helped us attract further talent from their own networks once they saw what we were doing at Capita. It’s how we went from 8 to 177 people in under a year.

Learning to drive

I have spoken about how we presented the business case for automation to Capita’s senior leadership in a previous blog. But what I didn’t realise in advance was the scale of education and internal communications that would be needed for the rest of the organisation.

This was not only to reassure people that automation wouldn’t take their jobs; in general, that wasn’t the primary issue. We found that people were resistant to automation mainly because they didn’t understand how it could be applied to their work.

We had built the capability to deliver internal automation projects, but the demand wasn’t immediately there. It was like we’d parked a sports car outside their office, insured it, filled the tank, and left the key in the ignition – but people were afraid to go out and drive it.

It meant that the communications team within our Automation Practice needed to be much bigger than I had anticipated, because building curiosity and excitement takes time and repetition – it has required a massive internal education campaign, which is still ongoing. Getting over this hump might be easier in coming years, as automation becomes more prevalent in the workplace.

It's all kicking off

A lot of the advice about automating your organisation suggests starting with a small pilot. But where to begin? The truth is, not every process is ready to be automated immediately – there’s a fair amount of preliminary work that is sometimes necessary. We put together an internal Automation Playbook at the start of this year to help our managers and leaders understand the steps needed to prepare for automation.

We knew that if we could get those frontline staff to share their ideas, we’d find much more effective ways to automate Capita – after all, they have the subject matter expertise and deep experience of our business processes.

Our approach was to launch a company-wide innovation event series, where teams could pitch their best ideas to a panel of Capita experts. The best ideas would be pursued by the Automation team, as well as winning a cash prize and exposure within the business for the pitching teams. It’s been a fantastic way to generate grassroots suggestions, and to raise the profile of the initiative with the exact people we need to get on board. These events feed into an education stream that also includes mandatory training, webinars, a central ‘Automation Hub’, and much more.

One of my highlights of the journey so far was when we switched on our very first automated process. Success breeds success. Once you have one automation project live, others quickly follow – we’ve found this to be true both within Capita, and for our clients.

Concluding thoughts

I hope the experiences I’ve discussed above are useful as part of your own automation journey. If you’d like to talk to me or one of the experts on the Capita team about making automation work for you, feel free to get in touch.

As I said earlier, I think there’s a very strong case for automation as a safety net for businesses. Although it might be hard to imagine starting new projects at the moment, organisations that are better prepared are better able to deliver vital services and products to customers when they need them most.

Written by


Steve Gentle

Group Operational Excellence Director, Capita

Steve has worked at Capita for over 16 years and is currently running the company’s Automation Delivery Practice. He also leads the global Operational Excellence workstream, which drives quality improvements and efficiencies across the group.

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