H Citizen Development

Using the citizen-development approach to automation to weather the recession

April 5, 2023
"To reduce the total cost of RPA ownership, manufacturers should start by assessing the content of their entire automation estate."

By Tony Higgins, chief product officer at Blueprint Software Systems

The recent failure of Credit Suisse and two US banks once again has economists predicting that the world is on the verge of a recession…or worse. Sadly, manufacturers were voicing the same concerns late last year. In a survey conducted by The National Association of Manufacturers, nearly two-thirds of manufacturing leaders indicated they believed the US economy would officially slide into a recession in 2023. Manufacturers also expressed concern about supply-chain disruptions, attracting and retaining a quality workforce, and increased raw-material costs.

All of this has led many manufacturers to suggest that intelligent automation will become more widespread as companies look to cut costs, absorb losses in personnel, and ensure operational continuity. Given the high cost of ownership for robotic process automation (RPA), however, manufacturers have to find ways to lower automation costs while getting the most out of their RPA practice.

To reduce the total cost of RPA ownership, manufacturers should start by assessing the content of their entire automation estate. Because many automation practices were started years ago (often with the help of third-party integrators and technical consultants), some manufacturers find themselves without a firm grasp of what processes are actually contained in their automation estates.

Add to that the fact that manufacturers, like so many other businesses, experience employee turnover—and with it the loss of institutional knowledge about the company’s automated processes—and it’s easy to understand how they can be left with an inflated automation estate containing duplicate and redundant processes, as well as processes that cost more to maintain than the business value being delivered.

Thankfully, there are numerous solutions available to help manufacturers quickly analyze their entire automation estates. Specifically, these solutions can determine how many automations companies have, where there might be redundancies, which automated processes are unnecessarily complex and should be refactored to avoid costly maintenance or outages, and which aren’t delivering viable business value.

While assessing the automation estate can go a long way toward eliminating waste and reducing the total cost of automation ownership, many manufacturers are taking the next step by migrating their existing RPA estates to more cost-effective and powerful intelligent automation platforms. While migration used to be a costly exercise because each automation had to be manually investigated, understood, and then rebuilt from scratch to work in the destination solution, the introduction of purpose-built solutions now enables manufacturers to automatically migrate their entire RPA estate, saving much of the time and effort demanded by previous manual methods. 

Another step some manufacturers are pursuing to reduce costs while continuing to deliver business value in a recessionary economy is going all in with a citizen-development approach to automation. Citizen development enables employees with little or no IT training to design and deliver simple automated processes through the use of low-code or no-code platforms. Employing graphic user interfaces or minimal basic coding instead of large strings of complex coding, these low-code/no-code platforms provide visual drag-and-drop or point-and-click interfaces to enable citizen developers—workers with no formal coding education—to create simple applications software.

Citizen development typically can reduce manufacturing costs in three ways:     

  • A citizen development approach to automation can reduce the need to acquire and retain highly skilled software engineers. While engineering oversight and skills will still be needed for testing, monitoring and the automation of more complex processes, simple rule-based processes can be managed and delivered by the average business user. Doing so enables manufacturers to reduce their dependence on IT personnel, while maximizing their investments in automation. 
  • Citizen development also enables manufacturers to deliver more automated processes for higher cost savings. By tackling more straightforward workflows, such as those found in finance and HR, as well as a host of other simple automation candidates that often get backlogged, citizen development can enable scale and exponential returns from the company’s automation practice. 
  • Finally, citizen development can increase returns on the manufacturer’s automation investment in the short- and mid-term. As citizen developers tackle the long tail of automation opportunities, the accelerated delivery of automated processes and subsequent gains in efficiency typically grow exponentially year after year. Because this growth is easily trackable, manufacturers can demonstrate ROI on an ongoing basis. 

Clearly, a citizen-development approach is valuable not only during an economic recession, but during periods of growth as well. When pressure is on to reduce costs, enabling citizen developers to do their part can yield higher returns on automation investment while delivering more efficiencies where there previously were none.

While no one wants to see the country fall into a recession, there are steps manufacturers can take in order to weather the storm. By analyzing their entire automation estate and then taking the necessary actions—whether that translates into migrating to more cost-effective intelligent automation platforms or implementing a citizen-development approach to automation (or both)—manufacturers can position themselves to better deal with the inevitable ups and downs of the economy, ultimately creating a stronger, more resilient business.