Pilot Purgatory With Process Automation: What It Is and How To Avoid It

When it comes to implementing new technologies and upgrading systems and solutions for digital transformation, there are a whole lot of moving parts to consider. Similarly, with process automation, it is critical to properly orchestrate people, automation programs and the systems they both use. Unfortunately, while their intentions may be otherwise, many companies unwittingly end up in a cycle of “trying” new automations, but never fully commit or complete the intended course of events. The results are most often a mix of complicated implementations that don’t deliver user value or ROI.

This so-called “pilot purgatory” is a disappointing place to end up, but with proper planning, you can avoid it.

What is pilot purgatory?

Pilot purgatory, a term first widely used by McKinsey back in 2018, refers to the slow pace of scalability for new technologies. For our purposes in today’s blog, we’re talking about the slow and ineffective rollout of process automation. While most businesses do believe in the potential positive impacts from automation and other digital transformation technologies, realizing that value has been happening more slowly than most anticipated, leaving many initiatives stuck in a pilot phase.

What does pilot purgatory happen?

Pilot purgatory is largely a result of poor planning or poor strategic execution, or in many cases, both. When businesses fail to align automation goals with broader business goals, technology is implemented in a silo—and so is any value it delivers. The value of your newly automated processes will never touch broader company goals, because they weren’t implemented with them in mind.

Instead, before rolling out new automation technologies, IT managers and business teams should all collaboratively establish project goals and expected value, and use these to get broad company buy-in. At least one member from upper management and/or the c-suite should be involved, ensuring the project has key stakeholders who can guide its success.

How can companies avoid pilot purgatory?

One of the biggest culprits of pilot purgatory is a myopic focus. When companies focus solely on using automation for specific functionality, as opposed to laddering up to a strategic vision, the value it delivers is as narrow as the functional problem it solves.

Rather than a cure-all for solving individual problems, automation technology should be used as a vehicle to accomplish wide reaching goals that fall within a strategic vision. For example, you should not deploy process automation for the sake of eliminating one kink in a process. Instead, zoom out and ask: What’s causing the kink? And: What other problems is that kink causing? These broad, enterprise level questions not only address bigger company-wide challenges, but also inject value across the enterprise.

Be prepared for success

In a bit of an ironic twist, another problem that can land companies in pilot purgatory is failure to plan for your own success. In other words: What will you do with the value your automations deliver? Without a plan for this value, you face huge lost opportunities.

Instead, don’t just be prepared for your success—plan on it. Once you implement your automations, what comes next? Change management is a key segment to success. Having a team charged with facilitating change will help limit friction while scaling.

Scaling sustainably

Ultimately, process automation should be transformational, helping you reach goals across the entire business. But to reach those goals, you must first establish them, and that can’t happen from a siloed, functional point of view. Establish a team of stakeholders who can champion the technologies success in various departments across the enterprise, compounding the value and laddering up to company-wide objectives.

If you are struggling with pilot purgatory, or looking for solutions to help you move beyond it, our team of experts can show you the way. Schedule a free consultation or take a demo today.

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