When Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, he was not referring to the world of automation.
As automation becomes more variable and widespread, more and more enterprises that have outsourced business or IT functions are wondering how to use robotic and cognitive automation solutions to bring their outsourced functions back in-house.
In today’s dynamic automation environment, this goal is well worth pursuing. Our recent work with organizations proves that using automation to bring back outsourced services can drive savings and capture long-sought-after improvements, such as upgraded quality of service and responsiveness, better compliance with internal and external process requirements and greater management information and control.
But, to be sure, doing so is not a minor task. Just as outsourcing services in the first place had its discomforts, the process of bringing them back, leveraging automation and driving the initiative to delivers savings and benefits to the business can be a bumpy journey.
To create a map for this journey, consider the implications of two questions: 1) How can automations provided by a service provider help fund your automation journey? and 2) How do we stay on the automation journey after exiting a service provider contract?
Automating with a Service Provider
Many businesses are deriving benefits already from automation of work in their service providers’ environments — benefits that are driven either by contract provisions that specify periodic improvement or by the initiative of the service provider to improve processes and margins. However, it’s never too late to examine the business’ point of view when a third party readies to deploy automated processes on its behalf.
Let’s take a look at ten steps the business can take to prepare and lower the risk of automation with a service provider.
- If a standard non-disclosure agreement is in place, determine if it applies to automations developed or deployed by the service provider and by any client the service provider may use. Determine whether the service provider can reuse automations developed for other clients, or developed for or provided by the business.
- Understand the strategy for selecting processes to automate. Can the buy-side organization and the service provider work together and begin the automation project(s) at the same time? Spell out how you define the goals and assess the service provider’s performance.
- Find out the provider’s approach to configuring and deploying automation. Determine how you will address impacts to systems, applications and work processes to minimize interruptions. The business should have influence over definition, design, configuration and test. Lay out the requirements for architecture, metrics, reporting, controls, redundancy, reliability, performance, documentation, compliance and audit. Agree on the process by which new releases and upgrades are deployed.
- Specify in the contract how the service provider will treat automations – particularly whether they – and the software that develops them – are included under software and tools. Are automations addressed as assets or in terms of human capacity? Are the people who define, design, configure, test and deploy automations named as key or dedicated personnel? If so, determine a process for replacing these key personnel to ensure their knowledge is preserved and transferred to succeeding employees.
- If the service provider is configuring or deploying automations, determine how the provider handles backup. Is it readily available, and has the code been escrowed?
- Be aware of any geographic limitations, such as provisions limiting or expanding automation availability across or within only certain countries or regions.
- If a vendor management office is in place, understand its responsibilities of automation oversight. Review how it tracks and measures automation activity from planning to deployment. Determine how changes to the automations are identified, prioritized, implemented and measured.
- Delineate a strategy for change management. Clarify how the service provider integrates with your IT team to ensure modifications to systems and applications do not interrupt automation processing. If the automations integrate with your organization’s work processes and workers, establish how the service provider will manage change that results from automation deployment in both the enterprise and its own business operations.
- Understand how the service provider monitors and supports the automations once they are in production. Occasionally, an automation encounters errors or comes to a complete stop. Develop a plan to fix any defects and agree on allowable downtimes.
- Finally, determine measureable results for the automations. Include an audit provision that delineates how the results will be measured, who will conduct the audits and how frequently.
Automating after Exiting a Service Provider Agreement
Eventually, all contracts come to an end — either by stated period or mutual agreement of the parties. Increasingly, businesses are taking advantage of the contract term end or the allowable ramp-down provisions to start their own automation journey. In these cases, organizations must consider several business or operational issues, along with audit and compliance, IT infrastructure, legal and regulatory issues.
Here are eight steps to prepare for automation when preparing to exit or exiting a service provider agreement.
- Begin with the procurement department and clarify that its staff fully understands the contract and exit provisions, and that all parties agree on their roles. Learn the impact of automations already in place, including their effect on pricing and termination charges. Make sure the provider and the business are on the same page about exit and post-exit commitments, operations and staffing.
- Establish who “owns” the automations already in place. Ownership largely determines what happens to the automations after exiting a contract. If automations are the property of the business, determine a method for ensuring that the provider return all copies and versions, and for preventing the provider from reusing confidential or competitive information. Know going into the exit phase what new automations might be needed when leaving. Remember that different countries and regions have different regulations pertaining to ownership and privacy.
- Some businesses count on reusing automations. To avoid surprises, determine if the automations can be reused as is and what human resources will be required to process the work exactly as the service provider did. If the service provider developed or deployed the automation on their own infrastructure, figure out a path for transferring them to the business’s infrastructure, including who will do the transfer and installation, and whether the provider is obligated to train the business’s staff. Then determine how the business will support and maintain the automations after they are transferred. Determine if there is a warranty period.
- No task is complete until the paperwork is done. Communicate specifically what documentation you need for the automated processes and the automations themselves. Make sure user guides or procedure manuals are available for each automation so those taking over support and maintenance will know how it works.
- Establish a plan for any automations still in process during the exit period. Does work come to a halt, or does it progress as before?
- Automations bring their own special issues for change management, such as how work will be processed post-exit as opposed to with the service provider, what new automations will be configured and for which processes, by whom and when. Work up a transition plan for the potentially awkward time when the provider disengages and the business takes over.
- Determining what the business operations will look like post-exit will go a long way in managing expectations and making sure nothing falls through the cracks. Delineate which resources will manage each transition and ongoing support in the new environment. Some businesses have had success by establishing a center of excellence.
- Be aware that as work is transferred from the provider to the business, the provider will reduce staff as the workload drops. Come up with a plan to maintain service levels despite fewer people.
For many businesses that currently use outsourcing, repatriating the work back to domestic employees, reducing the workload via automation and driving savings back into the business add up to a welcome homecoming. Smooth the journey by asking a lot of questions – both before embarking and all along the way – and using this checklist to guide your way. Contact me to learn more.
About the author
Mark is an experienced consultant and former CIO with more than 30 years of experience in process automation, information technology, sourcing, supply chain management, transformation and acquisition integration. His consulting experience includes work for well known firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte, and AlixPartners. His industry experience includes acquisition integration, supply chain and IT roles in the banking, manufacturing and distribution industries. He has held CIO positions for nationwide distribution, retail, media/publishing and textile firms. He holds an MBA from Emory University and BA from Cornell University.