Getting Started on the Road to the Autonomous Enterprise


Building an autonomous enterprise requires a collaborative business transformation that empowers high-performing employees to drive change.

Like many emerging technologies, automation impacts us gradually and incrementally, fundamentally changing how we live our lives. Recently, the pace of automation has sped up – to the point where it seems as if everything will be fully autonomous in a decade’s time. From the cars we drive, our banking and finances, our interactions with smart speakers – it feels as though we’re marching towards an endgame of total automation. In a business context, this destination is known as “The Autonomous Enterprise.” But what does this really mean, and do we want our businesses to be fully automated?

See also: State of the Digital Process Automation Market

We know that automation increases productivity by reducing mundane tasks and enables businesses to spend more time on strategic tasks. We also know that in tandem, business process management (BPM) tools have the potential to transform businesses into increasingly agile and autonomous enterprises. However, just because something can be automated, it doesn’t mean that it should. Furthermore, just because a technology is available, doesn’t mean that the technology alone can drive positive change. When technology is adopted independent of broader process changes, solutions could even lead to significant undesirable outcomes like bloated IT systems, exploding budgets, and frustrated users.

Every organization that embraces process change has to start somewhere. Moving from early adoption through to a process-oriented mindset is an organization-wide challenge, and reaching full maturity takes time. However, there are some small steps businesses can take to determine their level of process automation and identify what they need to succeed. Here are several actionable steps to reach new levels of automation and advance along the journey towards the Autonomous Enterprise.

Step 1: Know where your organization stands on the process maturity scale. 

Maturity can encompass many characteristics, as a whole range of components must be working together within a business to ensure that a process management initiative is effective.

According to the 2018 State of Business Process Management Report, 93% of people reported that their organization was engaged in multiple process improvement projects. However, only 65% agreed that BPM processes and technologies have helped their organizations improve efficiency, versatility, and customer satisfaction. The results prove that companies have not mastered how to drive effective process change – a deficit that becomes more significant as automation advances within the enterprise.  

Finding your place on the maturity scale is not always easy, but if you slow down and evaluate your business, you can better understand your position. There are five levels of process management maturity – the hardest part is determining where you stand and how to make it to the next stage.

Let’s go over the different levels:  Ad-hoc is the baseline when the business is beginning to organize its process management efforts. At this stage, you may start to understand the need for processes, but the methods and tools are not formalized.  Next, your process management efforts are partly organized and, while the business only uses process management tools for specific projects, or in a few departments. You’re off to a start. At level three, you have a process management strategy to keep you organized and aligned across several areas. Process management tools are more widely adopted, and every important process is documented.

You know you’re at the ‘advanced’ stage when the business manages, organizes, and structures, their BPM efforts consistently throughout the organization. In some cases, this might be the ideal stage for your business where processes, methods, tools, and projects are well-defined and established in most parts of the organization. If you want to take it to level five or ‘leading,’  you’ll manage, organize, and structure their BPM efforts consistently throughout the organization, and these efforts are well-defined, aligned with each other, and to broader strategy, and evaluated regularly. Finally, continuous process improvement is considered an established mindset throughout the whole organization.

Step 2: Identify your business transformation team  

Wherever your business is on the maturity scale, building an autonomous enterprise requires a collaborative business transformation that empowers high-performing and engaged employees to play an active role in driving change. In building a team, there are seven capabilities a business must examine – and supplementary questions they must ask. These include:

  • Leadership commitment: Is there a clear leadership commitment for business process management within the organization?
  • Process ownership: Are owners for all processes in place? Are they empowered through a clear mandate, and are they successfully filling that role?
  • Organization governance: Do you have process management organization and governance structures established to lead, coordinate, and supports process efforts for the organization?
  • Communication and change: Is process information communicated regularly, consumed easily throughout the organization, and offering a focal point for collaboration and change?
  • Single Source of Truth: How complete, integrated, and standardized is your process documentation?
  • Skills and methods: Do you have the necessary process management skills and resources available?

Step 3: Evaluate and benchmark adoption

The report also found that only 52% of respondents said that they only occasionally model or document their company processes. For businesses of all shapes and sizes, assessing BPM maturity is a way of thinking about the question, “Where am I, and where am I going next?” There is always going to be resistance to change, and you are going to want to track progress and adoption. To determine the success of your organization, you will need to evaluate and benchmark based on practical experience from projects. By identifying and articulating known and proven factors that have a significant impact on your BPM initiatives, you can make smarter decisions.

Understanding and using modern process management approaches prepares businesses for automation and moves them along the path towards an autonomous enterprise. But without the proper groundwork in terms of assessment, team building, and benchmarking, the path towards automation will be far more difficult and less effective. Process change is here, and it is possible – organizations must begin establishing their current position to set the right track to success.

Dr. Gero Decker

About Dr. Gero Decker

Dr. Gero Decker is CEO and co-founder of Signavio. He is responsible for Signavio’s overall strategic direction. He is a business process management expert and passionate about product innovation. Before creating Signavio, he worked for SAP and McKinsey. Gero holds a PhD in Business Process Management from Hasso-Plattner-Institute.

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