I write this just a few days after the Government advised all of us to work from home.

It’s the second in our blogs about the UK’s biggest automation project: Capita’s automation of Capita – and it’s safe to say we had no idea how quickly we would need it to help keep organisations running.

Right now, we’re putting AI-based solutions in place to help our clients scale to handle increased calls, work remotely and support their people. Automation will increasingly play its own role, and once Covid-19 passes, it will not only help us deal with disruptions but also provide the bedrock for everyday business.

It all starts with a plan

When we set out to automate Capita, we needed to make a compelling business case. And while I appreciate how there’s now a pressing need to move quickly, automation needs to be done correctly if it’s going to help keep organisations on their feet and deliver value over the long term.

We’re not automating a handful of repetitive processes with simple bots; but hundreds of thousands of processes, across over 177 companies, serving 35 million end users every day. It’s a vast undertaking, and while it was planned in more innocent times, our approach remains relevant. Mark Cook, our Executive Officer at Capita Technology Solutions, has already written about some of our motivations, but here I want to show how we went about getting all of our stakeholders on board – from CXOs to new starters.

The man from the C-level, he say yes

Let’s start with senior leadership engagement. Like any major business decision, there were a host of people within Capita who needed to sign off on the plans. That meant sitting down with each member of our C-suite, laying out what we wanted to do, why we wanted to do it and what we expected to deliver. We talked about money and resources, but more than that – we needed to show that it would fundamentally improve our operational delivery, accuracy and compliance. We wanted to show that it would delight clients with consistent, quality service. And we discussed how our people would benefit and how we would make sure it worked for them. 

That process took three months to define the plan and the value proposition, but what it meant was that there were no unexpected reactions when it was presented to the Executive Committee – we’d covered all angles.

Automation to support people, not replace them

While boosting KPIs was certainly an important consideration, so was improving our people’s working lives. The first priority was to prove that this wasn’t about taking jobs. In fact, we’ve actually created over 150 roles, as we grew our automation practice from eight to 177 people in that time.

The truth is, automation is most effective when it’s augmenting existing jobs, rather than replacing them. For example, in our work with Primary Care Support England (PCSE), we introduced automation to improve the speed and accuracy of calculating pension entitlements for 37,000 GPs. It had previously been a manual process, which was laborious and prone to human error. Now, the automation has halved the time it takes to process adjustments while guaranteeing accuracy. 

Putting our business brains together

Reassuring employees is a great start, but we didn’t want our people to just tolerate the programme – we wanted them to see the benefits and be enthusiastic about it. So upskilling was a key part of the business case, for managers, their people, and for the automation team.

Another tactic has been to set up a series of company-wide innovation events, where people from all levels of our business pitch ideas for what could be automated in their area. We were astounded by the variety and strength of their proposals – from streamlining our recruitment processes, to extracting VAT data more efficiently. The suggestions promised higher productivity, more accurate compliance, deduplication of work, cost savings, and better customer service.

Rolling out the programme

Our aim with this company-wide automation project is to create better outcomes for our customers and ourselves. But we also want to learn what works and what doesn’t, so that we can apply those learnings for everyone. So what have we discovered so far, the bits that are easy to overlook?

Here are three things:

  • You can’t automate until you understand the processes and data first; if they don’t work or are incomplete, your automation will be too.
  • There is no single technology that delivers universal benefits, it will take a combination of solutions to deliver results.
  • You don’t need to transform entire processes from day one. In many cases, automating one essential step can unlock massive value.

We began building our automation capability last year, before beginning to deploy it across our own business processes.

And in the last quarter of 2019, reached the point where we began to talk to clients about what we could do for them. If you’d like to keep track of how the programme is progressing, and to find out about what lessons it’s taught us along the way, we’ll be continuing to publish the ‘warts and all’ details – and begin to show how it can get you through these challenging times and beyond. 

Thinking about your organisation?