Why Most Corporate Intelligent Automation Projects Will Fail

According to a new study, companies have high expectations but little readiness to deploy intelligent automation and deficient change management and governance capabilities.


A recent study by KPMG revealed that executives from a wide range of industries and geographies demonstrated high hopes but little readiness to drive intelligent automation (IA) deployment at scale and use it as a vehicle for organizational transformation.

FEI Daily spoke with Todd Lohr, Principal within KPMG’s Technology Enabled Transformation practice, about how organizations are embracing – or struggling to embrace - IA technologies.

FEI Daily: In conversations with clients, how are organizations, including KPMG, using with intelligent automation today?

Todd Lohr: Organizations today are using IA in all aspects of their business from customer engagement to operational delivery to back office support.  IA is being used to disrupt business models by rethinking channels and offerings that are no longer predicated on human labor but rather technology.  The operating model is changing to support the business through more automated support through Robotic Process Automation (RPA), low-code development platforms that can further accelerate automation or machine learning that can augment and eventually automate human judgment.  

I focus primarily on how to take all of these technologies in the intelligent automation spectrum, go out and help our clients through their business and operating model disruption, pick the right technology and actually implement them. We have a lot of lessons learned on what works, what doesn't work, over the last several years of doing this with some of the largest clients in the world. 

Secondly, and I think as importantly, we are using these technologies to massively disrupt ourselves. So we, too, have a business that is going to be impacted, if not more impacted than most of our clients based upon the automation of knowledge work. At KPMG, we are using IA to support the transformation of our clients, the automation of our traditional services and by driving efficiency in our supporting functions.

FEI Daily: Where do you find they are stumbling in the implementation? What are the common challenges that you hear?

Lohr: Companies are challenged by the breadth of impact that IA can have on their organization and where to apply, how to get started and how to find the right balance of short and long term investment to maximize the transformation and value creation that IA promises. The speed at which these technologies are evolving is also presenting a moving target that companies are challenged to fit to their digital landscape.

A lot of organizations struggle to really drive automation because they still have a lot of legacy systems, a lot of manual, paper based systems that aren't yet even digitized, so it's hard to use machine learning to drive processes that aren't even in a digital framework. 

A lot of it is just getting started and identifying the right opportunities. I think companies are challenged with articulating the value proposition and then being able to execute against that value proposition and then getting the value out of it. 

One of the bigger challenges you're seeing is the fractionalization of roles, so when you come in and automate, you're not just automating 50 people, you're automating ten percent of 500 people in a lot of cases. So, in that environment, how are you actually identifying all of those tasks and then in aggregate, figuring out how that comes together and then focusing on the people side of it, of transitioning roles, re-defining roles, and  doing more of an organizational transformation as part of your automation program versus just creating capacity? I think that's where folks are stuck right now, especially in the more basic automation. They're creating a lot of capacity with automation. They're not necessarily tracking how and where they're creating that capacity and I think a lot of that capacity is being lost to the ethers because they're not following it with more of an organizational transformation on the back end of it to redefine how work gets done in the enterprise.

FEI Daily: What are the big takeaways for CFOs?

Lohr: CFOs should look at IA in two ways.  First as a leader in the organization they need to understand the technology and the impacts it will have on their business, the fundamental shifts that may happen in their market and the investments required now and into the future to sustain a competitive advantage.  Second, as divisional leaders they should look at how these technologies can advance their own function through better efficiency in finance operations and through enhancing the insights they are able to provide to their business partners.

CFOs are seen as the steward of how we're driving innovation and investment. In a lot of organizations, they may not be the Chief Strategy Officer, but they are at the table for how they're going to fund all the disruption that's coming. Major disruption to your business model has massive financial implications, regulatory implications, tax implications, et cetera. These technologies are going to fundamentally change businesses from a business model perspective. 

They need to be aware of these technologies because they are going to get asked to fund the innovation around them and in a lot of ways be a steward for how these get executed across the enterprise. They need to understand the disruption that's coming.