Automatic value

many manual IT processes are going the way of the dodo -- but automation projects can cause unexpected challenges


By Marcin J. Schubert, PMP

At the beginning of the 20th century, Henry Ford revolutionized the car industry. By automating manufacturing lines, he was able to produce more cars in the same amount of time. This allowed him to cut prices and better meet customer needs.

Today, history is repeating itself in other industries. Organizations like my own, Bank Zachodni WBK, are automating IT processes so they can better focus on customer needs. These projects aren't easy, but they offer valuable lessons to others working on business transformation initiatives.

Large organizations like banks have hundreds of systems that interact with each other. Altering these systems is a complex, multistage process that traditionally has consisted of dozens (or even hundreds) of manual and repetitive operations carried out by IT specialists. But new technology allowed Bank Zachodni WBK to automate them, freeing up specialists to do more high-value work. We launched our proof of concept project, to select the appropriate tools, at the beginning of 2014. The implementation phase began in 2015, when we integrated the new solution with various parts of the bank's IT environment.

One of our first surprises was the complexity of the manual operations. Just describing how the old models would be replaced was complicated. The new mechanisms then had to be tested, monitored and improved many times. Further frustrating the team, the advantages of the new approach were often not immediately noticeable.

Another major barrier was inadequate communication practices. Developers and system administrators, with their divergent interests, were not sharing information as well as they could. But we remembered the words of Henry Ford: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” So we started building more effective communication mechanisms between the involved teams. We implemented a standard deployment process, creating a clear and simple description of what should be done.


Finally, in order to improve our process, we had to come up with well-defined defect-tracking metrics. Without daily detection and correction of errors and weaknesses, it wouldn't be possible to reach our goal: zero manual work for standard, repetitive operations.

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But the project was ultimately a success. We have automated more than 160 processes. In the last quarter of 2015, automatic processes were used in nearly 1,400 deployments in 38 systems. The organization is still just beginning to see new value delivered through the automation of repetitive operations—but this project gave us a good start and valuable lessons learned about the amount of time, patience and communication required for success. PM

img Marcin J. Schubert, PMP, is a project and program manager at Bank Zachodni WBK, Warsaw, Poland.




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