How Change Management is Supporting the Automation Agenda

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Barbara Hodge

Automation Requires Change Support

With automation playing a primary role in today’s enterprise performance improvement plans, the challenge of overcoming "stall points" or resistance is critical. Indeed, SSON’s 2019 Global Industry Survey highlights “lack of effective change management” as one of the primary reasons for RPA programs’ failures.

So, what can be done? SSON’s Global editor Barbara Hodge speaks to two transformation leaders who are guiding automation through their enterprise, to get tips on change management strategies that work.


In order for automation to take hold you first have to win the hearts and minds of your employees. This approach has been standard since change initiatives were first introduced – yet it's never been more important than today. New automation solutions impact not just our work but our life – and are introducing disruptive work practices. The benefits are there, without doubt, but the potential for human resistance to hinder advancements is all too great. It's critical – in fact crucial – to convince your associates of the power and benefits of automation before trying to roll it out across their workplace.

Change management is the tool to get this done.

10 strategies to lead with

1. Build Awareness

Once you’ve got buy-in, the next step is to build awareness. PepsiCo set up its Financial Shared Services in Mexico City 11 years ago and introduced RPA three years ago. The challenge, as Ricardo Wolf, Finance SSC Senior Director, PepsiCo LatAm quickly realized, was to marry the potential of technology with human behavior. "The first thing we had to do was communicate with and engage the people that would be impacted by automation," he says, “to explain clearly what this technology is all about.”

PepsiCo's Finance Shared Services has adopted an agile methodology and as such the need to drive Awareness was top of the list. "Preparing our staff is the first step,” says Ricardo. “Those that will be impacted by technology need to understand the benefits before they'll embrace it. Then, at the implementation stage, employees understand that instead of manually running activities more knowledge is being transferred to them. That marked a turning point.”

2. Change Job Descriptions

While this is all well and good the differentiator at PepsiCo was that these changes were immediately reflected by updating job descriptions, Ricardo explains. “Today, we don’t just have accountants doing the work, we have accountants with IT-RPA knowledge skills.”

This upskilled profile was immediately reflected in job descriptions as well as recruitment and training strategies.

“It's very important because we want our team to be able to understand what this technology is doing for them and supervise the digital workforce. We also want them to keep identifying new opportunities to automate processes and services. To do so they need to understand the language, structure and complexity.”

“We didn’t just talk about things,” he adds. “We actually changed them. And that preempted a lot of uncertainty.”

3. Leverage Subject Matter Experts

The new automation-driven roles cannot just be rebadged, of course. Automation leaders like Citi’s Jason Cordero, Vice President, Global Project Execution, based in Costa Rica, are building completely new skillsets. Traditionally, Jason says, local developers were sourced from technology / IT departments but today he is building his own development team based on business SMEs.

READ ALSO: SSON's IA Global Market Report: How to Manage Change so Automation Sticks

“These employees are proving incredibly powerful, once trained on automation tools. We call them Power Users – because within a matter of days’ training they are the best proponents of technology’s use to solve business problems and understand the business better than anybody else,” he says. “The new automation technologies are designed for people with little true technical knowledge to be able to program them. So our SMEs are being leveraged very successfully to drive change.”

4. Promote Empowerment & Innovation

Citi’s Costa Rican center makes up one of the four global centers and is the global automation hub for Citi, overseeing the automation implementation strategy for all other centers. While RPA is often seen as a silver bullet, the truth, says Jason, is that automation covers multiple technologies and integration with SharePoint and Excel plays a big role. Because all technologies are tapped, Jason promotes consistent innovation by promoting skills and learning capabilities for developing, as well as adopting, new technologies.

"The greatest value we can provide is in training our business analysts to ensure they feel empowered enough to provide additional value – and we do this by making sure they are familiar with the automation tools," he says. “An innovative mindset is key to get the best out of these solutions.”

TAKE PART: SSO Week Latin America – Costa Rica, 9-12 September

While driving the new operational model, Jason is also focused on strengthening interactions between the different multi-platform automation teams under him that include roles like business analyst, project manager, project developer, and global program leads. “Building strong relationships between the teams is key in order for them to get the best out of each other.”

5. Deploy “Champions”

A valuable lever for promoting change at Citi has been the Process Improvement Champions Program. It develops talent that is sufficiently skilled in process improvement to take a leading role in driving change through the enterprise. Each technology is awarded its own Champions Program, and by ensuring this team is aware of strategic initiatives around scaling RPA and other technologies, it also guarantees the success of any automation expansion plans.

“This team forms the basis of automation’s success, by ensuring transparency for both managers and employees on the ground,” explains Jason. “As such, it is a critical and integral part of the change management support for automation technologies. To date, all process improvement specialists driving our [Shared Services] automation initiatives have come from that program.”

6. Promote Change as a Career

Programs such as Citi’s Process Improvement Champion present terrific career and learning opportunities. They also highlight a critical shift in skills that is driving automation across enterprises. Much like at PepsiCo, today Citi is hiring more technology than accounting talent for Financial roles. The benefits are easily apparent, says Jason. "Our integrated close team, for example, consisted mainly of accountants and financial analysts in the past. Recently we have brought in SME/technical people through the Champions program. We are finding that these people are developing the tools we need to drive the improvements we are after. Their intimate business knowledge puts them in the best position to spot an opportunity and act on it with the skills they now have.”

“On a yearly Basis around 80% of the ideas that drive our reengineering target, or cost-benefit, come from the process improvement Champions Program,” says Jason. "They are the key tools to promote new campaigns and they make up the foundation of success for our RPA implementations."

7. Nurture Relationships, Culture and Governance

Automation touches all kinds of processes, and the moment in touches those that are on audit’s radar, the lights start flashing. You need to be very aware of risk and control issues, therefore, and pre-empt any stalling by partnering with audit and IT up front. IT support is critical in providing a controlled server environment, and audit can greenlight initiatives once it is persuaded of good controls. Governance, especially, needs to be factored into the plan because it's easy to get into a mess when you're dealing with the numbers that Finance shared services deal with. From that perspective, IT certainly needs to be involved to ensure the right levels of control and compliance are adhered to.

One of the hats Citi’s Jason Cordero wears is that of change management consultant for the rest of the enterprise. Technology implementation depends on empowering people to understand and use it, he believes. As such, establishing a strong cultural program on site in Costa Rica has been a top priority. An empowering culture is a critical change agent for emerging technologies and the permission to fail fast has been built into Citi’s shared services culture.

8. Spotlight Extra Capacity Created

While cost may drive many initial explorations, the value-add of a more expansive, enterprise approach to RPA is its ability to support increased scope of work without adding headcount. For employees, this is an encouraging metric they can buy into, explains PepsiCo’s Ricardo Wolf.

In the final prep stage, PepsiCo's team tested how the roles would actually play out with the new technology. "We wanted to make sure that our objectives were actually being met so we needed to test it in near live situations,” explains Ricardo. “The key criteria and metric for us is to release productivity so that we have the opportunity to take on more work with the objective of cost avoidance install capacity. We want to be able to take on more work without adding headcount, not target terminations. That is the message we are communicating to our teams.”

9. Consider Business Continuity and ERP Access for Future Development

The continuity of the business is critical and needs to be addressed so that the business has confidence in RPA. Any perceived weakness creates a stall point that can derail, or at least slow down, the project. “If we automate processes but don’t maintain the proper documentation for manual activity, any failure will quickly shine a spotlight on our vulnerabilities,” explains Citi’s Jason Cordero. “We need to ensure that the core systems are built to give our employees, not the bots, the upper hand.”

The challenge Jason faces is that 20-year-old applications cannot easily be modified to allow bots access. “This is something we need to consider as we develop our technology environment – to open the door to give bots access and empower them,” he explains.

10. Use the Power of a Center of Expertise

Another key lever for supporting automation – and one deployed by two-thirds of global SSOs, according to SSON’s 2019 industry survey – is a Center of Expertise (COE) focused on RPA. The differentiator a COE provides is that functional specialists are closely linked to IT but trained to build bots (i.e., automation software). The COE can therefore accelerate the velocity of bots coming into production.

The fact that this competency is based in functions rather than the IT group means it can better identify the opportunities that matter, explains PepsiCo’s Ricardo. [SSON’s research highlights incorrect process selection as a prime reason for RPA “failure”, so leveraging COEs can have a big impact on automation success].

“The COE offers the best utilization of technology and is helping identify new technology to drive process efficiency end-to-end,” says Ricardo. “This expertise can decide which activities should performed by humans, bots, or ERP. It knows the ‘best’ way of doing work from an end-to-end perspective.”

At PepsiCo, Ricardo uses a matrix that will be shared with delegates at SSON’s Latin American conference in Costa Rica in September, which links functional and business strategies with capability developments. “For example, when we measured the decision-making business strategy against the work/life balance capability, we noticed that many ad hoc reports are still being created manually. We realized that we need to accelerate the automation of reports to some of our key clients and so this has become a priority.”


A lot has changed in the past two or three years since RPA became a reality in the business services environment. Today, there are plenty of providers and many offer free licenses for corporations to test. Reporting on the benefits of RPA will keep stakeholders supportive and drive enterprise enthusiasm for automation.

The measure of benefits needs to extend beyond financial cost, however. Not all can be easily measured. For example, RPA is having a very positive impact on compliance, but its value cannot be easily factored into the return on the financial investment. Risk minimization, as well as the benefits for audit and control are also factors that should definitely be considered as benefits, and that will build more support for the program.

Note: Ricardo Wolf and Jason Cordero will be presenting their use cases – and taking your questions – at SSON's 13th Annual SSO Week in Latin America. Find out more – and register – here.