The Magic Number of Process Automation Platforms? 3 to 5
Conventional wisdom says it's a better idea to standardize and consolidate down to a single platform or vendor relationship. People reason that licensing costs and accountability in the event of something going wrong justifies the single platform approach.
But this belies the reality of these kinds of arrangements.
We see it in the cloud space, where it is now better understood that different clouds have different performance characteristics that make them suited to certain use cases over others, and therefore a multi-cloud setup is considered favorable.
The same realization is now occurring in the process automation software space.
In my experience, having worked with customers in every industry and across many digital transformation projects, it is clear that an all-in-one approach to process automation does not work.
More often than not, it leads to failed projects that burn up money, time, opportunities and often good relationships with customers or key partners who had to endure bad experiences with your company because of those unsuccessful initiatives.
Let me propose an alternative: the magic number of process automation platforms in mid-sized to large businesses is between three and five. Very often this plays out as three core vendors — one for simple processes, one for highly complex processes, and one for the mid-range — as well as two specialists to handle the truly unique requirements.
Automation ‘Swim Lanes’
Evidence suggests it’s best to keep a product or platform in its ‘swim lane.’ That is, stick to the blueprint or purpose for which that platform was built.
If it looks like you need to crack open a toolkit to make the platform fit a use case, stop — and consider if another platform might offer a better fit.
The choice out there is extraordinary. A decade ago there were maybe five options, whereas today G2 lists more than 700 process automation alternatives, all with their own nuances and niches (a.ka. swim lanes).
The sprawl of platforms speaks volumes to what organizations are looking for. Customers want to be able to automate a process quickly for faster time-to-value. No single tool can do this for all use cases or processes. Every platform has its own lane that needs to be defined or discovered.
Customers are clearly now trying to work out the swim lane of each platform. The market has seen a huge uptick in RFIs/RFQs because today’s customers are really scoping the market out, asking for proof and doing their own due diligence. Vendors can assist in this process by being ready to articulate in holistic terms what they and their platforms are designed and able to do.
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Avoiding Custom Development
There's a trend in IT that eschews heavily customizing applications in favor of more out-of-the-box, vanilla installs. The reason for this is simple: customizing a platform to make it fit a particular use case is expensive upfront and also to maintain. Doing that over and over is an exponentially costly exercise.
Unfortunately for some companies in the process automation space, the successes they’ve had with a particular automation project have convinced them that the solution that worked so well for one mission-critical initiative should be made the standard across the entire company, regardless of the scope or complexity of the process involved.
The minute you go headlong into custom development to bend and break a tool to do something it was never intended to do out-of-the-box, you’re moving that application outside its swim lane. Another factor to consider is the cost of bundled licensing and support from three to five vendors would come in cheaper than trying to support a single customized application on aging technology.
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A New Approach to Procurement
As businesses set out on the journey to automate processes, they can do a few things to make the optimal decisions for their specific needs.
First, know what they are trying to achieve. Do they know what success or a technical win looks like, and is that vision easily communicable with the vendor? Often businesses rush into a lengthy proof-of-concept but are unsure if the outcome of that process is what they expected to see. The business should know what the challenge looks like ahead of time. They should be able to quantify and qualify that there is a need, a pain point or a challenge, so they can check the box when it has been remediated.
Second, senior leadership buy-in is needed to make the automation successful. Up front qualification and discovery is one thing, but once a platform is procured, has the business got the motion and framework in place to ensure it is on-ramped successfully and generating value?
Implementation needs to get off the ground quickly, and internal stakeholders should be identified and made responsible to maintain levels of success if organizations are to maximize the benefits of their suite of carefully selected process automation platforms.
About the Author
Chris Ellis, technical director at Nintex, gained invaluable experience in SharePoint, Office 365 and the Nintex Platform as a pre-sales solution specialist within the partner network. Hailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, his work with the Nintex Platform exposed him to the full lifecycle from analysis and requirement gathering to delivery, support and training, contributing across a spectrum of projects in various industries and in some interesting places.