Eric Nguyen shares his thoughts on Service Automation in context of the global pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is still fresh and relevant to every of us right now in 2020.

Emotionally exhausting and challenging to deal with Uncertainty around an Invisible enemy, we have to unlearn Yesterday’s Best Practice and commit Actions of Today’s Survival Mode. I will frame my observations and thoughts around Service Automation in context of “Covid-19 Current time” and “Post Covid-19 Next Normal”.

The good news is, Service Automation is a pragmatic concept that you can gain business values, with the people you have right now and with what tools you have at hands. Quick wins in short-term and Transformational changes in long-term.

1. What is the first time you heard about service automation?

In January of 2020, after coming back from a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) conference in London, I was introduced to the concept of “Service Automation” and the comprehensive “Service Automation Framework”.

The introduction came out of my conversation around “Automation at Scale from Business Perspective” with an Agile thought leader and practitioner in Australia, Harold Petersen. It turned out that a lot of my key ideas shared across RPA conference keynotes were already part of the framework and strategically aligned to the big picture of End to End Business Operations.

Since then, I have turned myself to be an advocate and a practitioner of “Service Automation” throughout engagements of Robotic Process Automation with clients.

2. What is your opinion on the impact of service automation on technology and people’s lives?

Thanks to Self-Serve automated services, our daily life is still manageable despite the setback of Covid-19 pandemic. The “Covid-19 can normal” can be broadly summarised as: Contactless payment, Zoom conferences, Work From Home at Scale and Social Distancing. We adapt and utilise more “Self-Serve” services than ever: self-checkout at shopping, back to back online meetings from home office and online grocery shopping. These Service Automations which businesses / organisations have invested over years make these behavioural changes possible and seamless.

From these convincing values and benefits, Service Automation will transition to be a Mainstream practice of business, beyond the perception of “New Technology” or “IT projects”. There are three major impacts on Business and People’s live:

  • The rise of Value co-creation: Self-Serve services as a platform, where users and business can create new value added benefits from available data, optimised process and automations
  • The Reset / Re-Imagination of Business Operations: Self-Serve services and Automations will blend in well with the next Distributed but highly Orchestrated workforce
  • The emerging of Value-driven metrics, apart from static Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Self-Serve services and Automations open up operation gaps / business assumptions and inefficiencies and potential value-added offering

3. What kind of structure or framework do you use to design and deliver automated services?

To design and deliver automated services, I utilise a six phases frameworks modified from classic Software Development Life Cycle: Preparation, Discovery, Design, Build, Test and Business Ongoing Operation (BAU) Support.

The two phases of Preparation and Discovery set the tone, direction and measurable benchmark for automated services. I work closely with key stakeholders to gain Clarity of business context – pain points, current challenges and mitigation options. Pain points are gathered from listening to Voice of Customers and Feedbacks of staffs and executives. Challenges includes high level details of Service offering, Business Operation and Technology constraints.

Data and Business Insights are critical at these stages for Visibility of impacts from automated services. So from very early days, I go through workshops, interviews, customer end to end journey, value stream mapping session, data analysis, and collaboration sessions with key stakeholders.

The three phases of Design – Build and Test automated services will challenge and validate business assumptions from Preparation and Discovery phases; and open the window of opportunity for Changes and Business Optimisation. Things might get tough during this period of time, but it is critical to understand the Reality and act accordingly.

The last phase of Business Ongoing Operation (BAU) Support decides real impacts, benefit realisations and longevity of automated services. Apart from arrangement for documentations, training and support channel, Data gathering from Feedbacks and Insights are things that I keep key stakeholders in the loop to adjust and adapt to changes in a timely manner.

In short, regardless how you structure or arrange the design and delivery of automated services, all key stakeholders must be on the same page of Visibility, Clarity and Next actions.

4. What are key lessons that people need to think about when designing automated services?

I can quickly point to three common and costly lessons when organisations designing automated services.

  • The Transition from Proof of Concept stage of “Start small, Quick wins” to Enterprise Program of Works Scale: the common root cause is the lack of alignment with strategic goals and business’ values from those who drive automated services program. Recommendation: business led program with clear set of strategic goals assigned and owned by the top executive level.
  • The lack of Opportunity Pipeline: the common root cause is due to the over simplified “Volume driven” approach. Business values include Tangible and Intangible values. Recommendation: listening to feedbacks, aligning pain points with strategic goals and putting everything into an end to end perspective to track and measure real values and impacts.
  • The lack of Visibility, Clarity and Action: the common root case is the Siloed way of work across Functional levels. There might be gaps, assumptions and misunderstanding due to differences in success criteria, business priority, metrics and operations. Recommendation: back to the basic of active listening, clarity of business goals and transparent measurements

5. How do you see service automation developing towards the future?

I can see three emerging trends in Service Automation space:

  • Business Operations – Unified Advanced Technologies: Service Automation will play the critical role of connecting and driving values from digital toolsets and business platform: Cloud platform migration, ERP, CRM, AI-powered solutions, Big Data and Data Analytics, Chatbot, Business Process Management and Process Automations. Service Automation has a set of unique value propositions to business: interactions with both Legacy and Advanced technologies, clarity in design and business logic, and short cycle of implementations.
  • Business Case – Comprehensive Business Values over simple ROI projection: the approach of quick wins / low hanging fruit opportunities is no longer sustainable at the time of Covid-19 business restructuring. Creativity and Agility are in demand to drive impactful changes.
  • People – The up-skilling and cross-skilling between Technical and Non-Technical staffs: key skillsets acquired for key stakeholders are data-driven decisions, value stream mapping, total quality control measurements (e.g. waste, non-value works, rework rate) and Human Centred Design techniques (e.g. Desirability, Feasibility and Viability).
Eric Nguyen
Eric NguyenRobotics and Automation Lead, Datacom

About the Author – Eric Nguyen

Starting Robotic Process Automation journey since 2017, Eric has delivered values to Business Operations through his duties as Business Lead and Developer across various scales (Enterprise, Program of Works to Business Development) in Telecom Customer Services, Project Management, and IT Consulting & Services. With Internal and Business partners, he solves business problems via Automation, Data Insights and Agile ways of work. Over his 15 years in Managed Customer Services space, serving customers from Enterprises, Government agencies SME, Eric knows what drives: Customer time reduction, Consistent Customer Advocacy, Practical Cost saving. Eric holds a Master of Business Information Systems from Australia National University. Eric is currently the Robotics and Automation Lead at Datacom.