Ensuring a Clear Strategy and Vision with your A&AI Initiatives

Alexander Hübel

January 18, 2022

Ensuring A Clear Strategy And Vision with your A&AI Initiatives

- The 2nd in a series of 10 articles - How To Successfully Scale Automation and AI in an Enterprise

As many as 70% of digital transformations fall short of their objectives (BCG,2020). Among these digital transformation initiatives, intelligent automation is one of the larger investment areas for companies today and seems to continue to be so in the future (HFS research, 2020). 

How can one ensure they succeed with their automation & AI strategy and become one of 30% percent that fulfills their digital transformation objectives? Based on my experience as head of Automation & AI at a large Enterprise - driving it from scratch to 1000+ deployed Automation & AI solutions, giving millions of hours back to the business and transforming hundreds of core business processes. I have seen the complexities of large-scale transformation management based on multiple technology platforms hands-on. This is the second in a series of 10 articles where I want to share what I learned along the way and what I would do differently if I did it again today. This second article focuses on one of the fallacies that I have experienced as a reason for why scaling initiatives might fail, namely due to the lack of a clear strategy and vision regarding what you want to accomplish with your automation & AI initiatives.

Ensuring a clear Strategy & Vision 

HFS & KPMG researched the topic of scaling automation & AI and concluded that "a lack of vision or the non-existence of an enterprise-wide strategy is a formidable obstacle that impedes the ability to scale automation" ( KPMG; HFS, 2019). I agree, you need to avoid the fallacy of simply just starting doing robots because someone thinks it's a good idea, missing out on the bigger picture and the vision. At the time when I was in the large enterprise standing in front of the challenge of scaling our automation & AI initiative, this happened; 

Subsequently, if we had not articulated the vision in such a way, the initial investments would most likely have never happened or would have been much less significant. In this case, it resulted in an excellent selling point. I am not saying you shouldn't do a small-scale pilot project and learn from it, that is an equally important part of the journey. However, far too many companies fail to excite the c-suite and generate the needed investments after a successful (or not so successful) Proof of Concept. Sadly, it ends up as another IT project far from the strategic layers of the enterprise. In other words, the ability to link your initiative to a strategic theme is essential. The theme can, of course, vary and does not have to be about cost reduction. Customer experience, employee experience, speed, and growth can be equally great strategic themes to connect to. However, you will have to alter your messages depending on what business benefits you aim to achieve.

Nowadays, most c-suites are aware that AI & automation are essential to the future, and generally, they are more high-priority investment areas for CIOs. Today, you can work with the c-suite to define your relevance in the company and set a vision for your transformation. Two things that I have found crucial to make your c-suite come on board while ensuring an enterprise-wide visible strategy and vision are finding the right sponsors and Identifying your champions in the business. 

1. Find a sponsor that genuinely cares

To ensure that your project receives the required visibility to generate investments, it is essential to have a sponsor that genuinely cares about the project. Many sponsors can seem as though they are allowing the project to take place but are, in reality, not backing it. Some might enjoy talking about AI and attending conferences but do very little to actually remove roadblocks and make the initiatives scale at home. The optimal situation is to have a c-suite sponsor that actively tries to understand and remove roadblocks within the organization. You will, of course, face many challenges and roadblocks, some will be structural, and you will need relatively high-level decision-makers to meet those challenges. Numerous people could play this role; it could be the CFO, the CEO, or, as in my case, the CIO. It could also be a BU Head. However, if doing this in only one BU or function, it will likely stay in that function and not make it to enterprise-wide scalable capability. That way, you end up with 4-6 parallel sub-scale competing initiatives instead of one scalable one.

"It is essential to have a sponsor that genuinely cares about the project"

2. Find your champions in the company

In addition to having support from C-suite, it is essential that you engage with some key people within the company. You need to understand their problems and pain points and display how you can solve them. In the end, they are the ones who must live with the results of the project. Those individuals will become your champions, the ones that pave the way and overtime pay the bills to scale the initiative. They might be a Digitalization Program Director, an Operational Excellence leader, or the Vice President of a specific business function. These are key people you will need to sell the idea to that can walk along with you on the automation journey. This can be quite complex since you will need to involve them, but you can not let them decide how things should be done since you do not want to risk spreading yourself too thin. Instead, it would be best to have them with you on a somewhat centralized journey where they champion the business transformation within your organization. You don't need to win over everyone from day one, you can start with one or a few good sponsors, and over time, as you deliver value, you will onboard all of them on the transformation journey,

Find the champion in your company

In conclusion, lacking a clear strategy and vision regarding what you want to accomplish with your automation & AI initiatives can hinder your growth potential. It is essential to create a clear and unified way forward like any other complex project. This is hard to manage without supporting sponsors and certain vital influencers within your business. If you can work with your c-suite to define how to make the project relevant for the company, I believe you are some steps closer to achieving scaling opportunities. 


BCG, (2020). Flipping the Odds of Digital Transformation Success

HFS research, (2020). Spending on automation and AI business operations worldwide 2016-2023

EY, (2016). Get Ready For Robots

KPMG; HFS, (2019). Integrated Automation why you have been doing it wrong