3×1 Interview with Ian Barkin, Co-Founder and Head of Strategy, Symphony Ventures – 3 automation questions, 1 automation expert

ianIan Barkin is Co-Founder and Head of Strategy at Symphony Ventures, the leading RPA-specific services firm – offering consulting, implementation and managed services. He is a serial entrepreneur and experienced innovator who has built several Innovation Labs and has been at the forefront of trends including Internet of Things, supply chain BPO, Design Thinking, and Robotic Process Automation.  Ian’s focus at Symphony is to enable positive disruption for clients, by identifying and maximizing the impact of ‘Future of Work’ platforms including Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence.

In the following 3×1 interview with IRPA AI and OI Founder Frank Casale, Ian shares his perspectives on RPA first movers, taking a tactical vs strategic approach to RPA, and who should drive these efforts within an organization.

Frank Casale: What we’re seeing among our members is that the first movers adopting RPA are often motivated by cost savings.  Anything wrong with that? 

Ian Barkin: There’s actually nothing wrong with that.  And while cost savings is important, it’s only one of seven benefits we identify when working with clients. Making a case for RPA with just cost savings fails to tell the whole story, or highlight what I believe are some of the most impactful and exciting (dare I say sexy) benefits of automating work.  I often draw comparisons between RPA and the Green movement.  Enterprises are passionate about being green, reducing their carbon footprint and being responsible corporate citizens.  But, if it comes at an increased cost of doing business, the initiatives often die on the vine.

RPA is no different. Enterprises are eager to employ automation of all types, but there must be a compelling and crystal clear business case. For many, that still comes in the form of cost reduction. However, the story is so much more rich and nuanced than that.  That’s why we urge our clients to do a full assessment before embarking on a PoC or Pilot.  They can then assess what we call ‘Cashable’ and ‘Non-cashable’ benefits.

Cashable benefits include headcount reduction and other direct and concrete costs are a first-order result of automating tasks.  CFOs care about these almost exclusively.  Cashable benefits can be as high as several hundred percent ROI – savings so compelling, it would be crazy not to proceed.  But, the Non-cashable benefits are where things get interesting. These have the potential to become orders of magnitude more impactful to an organization and include improved user- and customer-experience, re-assigning employees to higher value work, reduced attrition rates, reduced fees and fines, increased operational insight and more.  An enterprise can unleash untold benefits by enabling stable delivery in which data is fully accessible and open for mining.

Put your cost-saving business cases together but don’t set out on your RPA journey with that as the planned destination.  There are many more interesting places to go.

Frank Casale: How would you differentiate between a tactical approach to automation vs. a strategic approach?

Ian Barkin: Both serve their purposes.  Tactical isn’t bad.  There are pains, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies that exist right now in every organization.  There are SLAs missed, fines paid, errors made, overtime worked, etc. Any number of these challenges are candidates for automation.  (Automation of many sorts by the way – macros, agent assist, autonomous, chat bots, and more).  So, what are you waiting for?  Automate them!  Take a tactical approach, hone in on the candidate processes, and get it done.

You’re missing the forest for the trees however if that’s where your full attention is.  There’s a much bigger transformation afoot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing new.  Enterprises have been doing strategic change for as long as there have been enterprises.  And Strategy.  And Change.  The only difference is that the toolkit has a few more tools in it.  This is classic ‘combinatorial innovation’ – bringing a lot of good things together to make a new and better thing.

I spend a significant portion of my day helping global enterprises put their automation aspirations into perspective, and design a strategic approach to transformation. We built Symphony on the principle that the ‘Future of Work’ is evolving, and companies need to have a strategy around how to leverage a rich set of tools and work types.  As it relates to automation, the pillars of a strategic approach include (but are not limited to):

Buy, Build or Borrow –
–   Do you want to buy in experts who’ve earned their stripes through countless deployments to help you create your captive digital labor? OR
–   Do you want to build your own team from scratch so you are eventually more self-sufficient, but also have to ride a learning curve? OR
–   Do you want to have an existing BPO partner digitize the labor you ‘borrow’ from them already.

Choose a Home –
–   Where is the best place to house your automation efforts?  This is usually dependent on internal politics, power and influence – so, consider these.
–   Centralize or distribute – is there to be only one CoE, or a federated distribution of teams across an organization?

Have Perspective –
–   Automation already exists within your organization.  Find it, leverage it, amplify it (and the teams working on it).
–   Some tools are enterprise grade and here NOW, other tools are fun to write and read about but they’re not ready for prime time.  Focus on what’s real, but don’t forget to plan for what’s coming.

Frank Casale: Who should drive these efforts within the organization?

Ian Barkin:  It should be led by business, and supported by IT. The most successful initiatives I’ve seen to date are owned and led by passionate business leaders in shared services or global business services units.  Alternatively, another good champion is an internal transformation or consulting group, charged with driving measurable impact within an organization.

Ultimately, RPA is about 1) making it possible for businesses to be better/faster/cheaper at what they do today, and 2) establishing a launch pad for transformation and change so businesses can achieve greater heights tomorrow.  Business users have grown accustomed to the traditional route of achieving these goals with large technology platforms and costly (long) roll-outs.  They are impatient, impassioned and ready to get going.  The RPA-class of automation is well suited to make change happen.

Successful RPA initiatives are a collaborative effort between Business and a cast of characters including IT, Infosec, Enterprise Architecture, Technology Risk Offices, or whatever other groups you have.  It makes it slower and sometimes more painful, but it’s the right way to proceed, and the only way to ensure RPA is seen (and used) as a legitimate enterprise tool and catalyst for transformation now and into the future.

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