Combating business complexity: It’s not about “automation.” It’s about “automation density.”

Written by in Software robots in the workplace on April 2, 2015

The Greek myth of Sisyphus tells the story of a man doomed to continually roll a boulder up a steep hill. Each time he nears the top of the hill, however, the boulder tumbles back down, leaving Sisyphus laboring in vain for all eternity.

With the speed of business moving so quickly that it feels almost impossible to keep up, and with markets being more demanding than ever, businesses might find themselves feeling a bit like Sisyphus, fighting an uphill battle.

To try and keep up with the rapid current, companies tend to add new technologies to solve specific problems. As a result, a complex maze of systems and applications forms, consisting of CRMs, ERPs, marketing automation, AR/AP systems, human resources software, shared drives, spreadsheets, and hosts of other systems. New, cloud systems get added to the old, on premise party—and the legacy systems might be less-than-thrilled to have to try and communicate with these new guests.


As more technology additions and more resulting processes build up, business complexity escalates as well—lowering efficiency, increasing “busywork,” and distracting talented employees from their core, value-added work.

An illustration of process complexity

Think of a business-critical process such as reporting. Within this type of process is a series of time-consuming subtasks necessary to find, compile, format, polish, and send reports. Rarely does only one person in an organization do this type of work; we’ve all likely encountered reporting at one time or another. So now consider this process being performed by dozens, hundreds, even thousands of employees throughout a company. The problem is clear: these people are distracted by time-consuming, “low value” work, which is ultimately detrimental to themselves and the company.

Take a look at the following anecdote:

Needing to compile and distribute daily reports for various departments from several repositories and reporting systems, a government organization turned to automation software to automate the end-to-end process of reporting financial data. Using the software, the company was able to pull information from no fewer than 8 sources, consolidate it in Excel as a staging area for report creation, and then automatically format the reports. Prior to automating, it would take 5-7 business analysts around 2-3 hours each day to run these reports. Using automation software, however, the team can now complete the same process in about one hour, saving around 150 hours a month.

Read the above story in its entirety.

The case study above is just one process performed by just a few people. When you think of the number of similar processes that people perform on a daily basis, the need to make a change that fosters efficiency and productivity is clear.

Automation solves business complexity—but how much?

We all know that automation can help businesses become more efficient, productive, accurate, and collectively focused. However, the days of one-off, single-process automation are over. To be truly effective in combating business complexity, now automation needs to be seen as a business initiative, not a Band Aid.

To better describe an organizational strategy for increasing efficiency, we’ve coined a term: automation density.

Automation density: A quick introduction

Automation density refers to the amount you automate in correlation with the amount of complexity you have in your organization. As your process complexity rises, the amount of processes you automate should rise correspondingly. Without matching “automation density” to process complexity, you risk widening the efficiency gap, increasing operational costs, running a less agile business, and giving your competition the opportunity to get ahead of you.

Why automation density is critical

There’s no such thing as “legacy”: Some systems that have been around for a couple decades are still in use today, and if they’re entrenched enough in businesses that companies want to keep them around, then they need to figure out how to make them communicate with other systems. Automation software is used to make such connections, and can do so non-invasively and without having to create any type of custom code—some of which wouldn’t work with legacy systems anyway.
Companies lack a “single source of truth”: We’ve already noted that companies are replete with disparate systems that often aren’t properly connected. When a change is made in one, therefore, it likely isn’t reflected in another. Without connected, identical data flowing through your organization’s technological plumbing, you can’t be confident that the data you’re relying on is—in fact—reliable.
There is an ever-widening efficiency gap: As you introduce new systems and software, a gap begins opening between the number of silos created and the amount of processes you’re automating. If you don’t start closing the gap between business complexities and how much of it is automated, your competitors will.
Your team needs to be challenged. Too much mundane, manual work hurts everyone, ultimately. Employees don’t feel challenged to think, brainstorm, experiment, collaborate, and create, and your company suffers as a result.
Determining if you’re becoming more dense—in a good way.

A company’s level of automation density is determined by how well it leverages automation to eliminate manual work and counter the complexity of a quickly changing business climate and constantly evolving technology landscape.

Businesses can determine if they’re on their way to becoming more efficient through their use of automation software via a few success indicators:

They are using automation software to leverage their existing IT investments, for instance by getting information to and from legacy systems or automating processes that otherwise would require custom coding.
They have moved beyond ad-hoc automation and instead automate on a more strategic, continuous level.
Employees are spending the larger percentage of their time on strategic work, and the smaller percentage on time-consuming or repetitive tasks.
They employ an automation strategy that includes discovering, documenting, prioritizing, managing, and propagating automation efforts in a disciplined way.
They see tangible efficiency and productivity gains that help them hit other key organizational goals.
Wondering where your organization ranks in terms of its automation density? Our automation experts can help you figure it out.