Published: Wednesday, September 30th, 2020.

Enterprise-Grade Automation Development

In part one, we outlined the first of five areas to consider in order to accelerate your intelligent automation program: a deep-dive with knowledge domain experts. We explained how hiring consultants with first-hand business experience will drastically improve discovery exercises, impact development productivity, and reduce runtime exceptions. In this article, we’ll uncover why enterprise-grade automation development is so important and four questions you should ask to qualify service providers.

Marketing from modern automation platform vendors tells us that any business user can learn, develop, and deploy automation solutions with their low-code/no-code interfaces. You may have even seen or participated in a build-a-bot workshop at an industry conference where participants created “bots” in less than an hour. Equipped with confidence instilled by the vendors, your organization may have embarked on a DIY automation development model. As interest in the program grew, you likely ended up hiring a service provider to ensure and promote quality, successful development.

If your organization fits this description,where is your automation program now?

No matter your approach, based on our experience, we can assume that your organization quickly realized its business processes, systems, and requirements were much more challenging than those bots built at the roadshow. So the DIY model may not have been the right approach after all, but surely your engagement with a service provider has helped you overcome all of these challenges without any issues, right?

This is where it gets interesting. As noted in the previous article, not all service providers are equally capable. This is especially relevant in the context of automation development. While the major automation platform vendors accelerate with rapid innovation, partnerships, and mergers,most service provider ecosystem’s are struggling to keep pace with the changes.

The result? Many of the prospects and customers we’ve worked with at Agilify tell stories of big promises made by their service provider followed by low-quality (and sometimes entirely failed) implementations. However there isn’t always a single reason they can pinpoint as to why the implementation was unsuccessful. Our educated guess: poor process selection, lack of process understanding, little to no design documentation, and untrained/inexperienced developers. That certainly isn’t a recipe that promotes automation program scale.

On the contrary, service providers who are most successful with development—or those with the highest quality results and customer approval ratings—are prioritizing a proven, consistent delivery model spearheaded by effective training, certification, and practical experience for all of their consultants. Put simply, their team members aren’t learning how to develop on your organization’s dime.

A skilled service provider will document the automation design, build a solution following industry standards and best practices (considering reuse), incorporate effective exception handling, and perform multiple levels of testing (functional, user acceptance). They will also keep their customer informed at every step of the delivery lifecycle, sharing their design, showcasing their build, asking questions, and engaging with process experts to ensure requirements are met.

No secrets; full transparency. If your engagements lack transparency, you should be concerned.

That’s what enterprise-grade automation development looks like. It might take a bit longer than the pieced-together solutions you’re used to, but those won’t allow your automation program to scale. With development costs representing between 42-50% of total cost of ownership (TCO) over three years, it’s vital to take it seriously.

So how can you find a service provider capable of enterprise grade automation development?

4 ways to qualify service providers for delivery and development quality

  1. Ask for, and actually call, three to five of their customers. Ask their references questions about projected delivery timeline vs actuals, development challenges and how they were overcome, and the success of the solution in production (exception rate, expected outcomes vs actuals, etc.).
  2. Interview their developers. Request 30-60 minutes, and ask them about their experience with your target applications, training, and development experience. If you’re thinking about hiring a service provider for an extended period of time, you’re going to want to mesh with their developers.
  3. Ask for screenshots of development examples. If you’ve been unlucky enough to experience poorly designed, unorganized automation solutions, you know that a well-designed automation (if nothing else) is easier to understand and support post-development. But look for more than that: general standards, re-use, exception handling and details, use of variables, etc.
  4. Ask for references from the automation platform vendor. Most/all service providers have a relationship with the platforms they service. Call your account representative and ask for a couple of service provider references, including an introduction.

A true partner will allow their customers to see behind the curtain, showcasing their solutions every step of the way, and demonstrating a willingness to mentor their customer’s team members who should be absorbing delivery knowledge.

Enterprise-grade automation development is not optional for scalable automation programs. And given the TCO represented by development, take the time to find qualified service providers with a track record of high-quality solution delivery.

In part three we will explore why leveraging service providers as mentors is so important to the success of your automation program.