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Three steps to embracing small automation

Cumbersome and expensive large-scale IT initiatives are being replaced by focused, fast and small automation, write Dan Priest, Kumar Krishnamurthy and Alex Blanter for Strategy+Business

Large-scale IT projects require big budgets and extensive timescales.

Spending on “enterprise software” hit US$389bn in 2018, up 9.5% from the US$355bn spent in 2017, but things are changing.

“Intelligent technologies such as robotic process automation, machine learning and natural language processing systems offer companies new opportunities to improve process performance and realise significant cost savings,” write Dan Priest, Kumar Krishnamurthy and Alex Blanter from PwC.

Priest, Krishnamurthy and Blanter distinguish between traditional “big automation” – all-encompassing, expensive and time consuming – and “small automation”, defined as “the fast implementation of flexible and adaptable technologies that fill the gaps left by your current enterprise systems – enabling new levels of productivity”.

Small automation can increase the productivity of individual processes by 80% to 100% and overall functions by 20% or more. It doesn’t replace big automation, but builds on its foundation of data and processes. It is cheap – tens of thousands of dollars as opposed to tens of millions – and flexible.


The authors warn that embracing small automation can be a challenging, because it “requires a significant change in mindset” from companies used to doing things the old way.

They advise business leaders to start with these three steps:

  1. Focus on value. Do not promise something that cannot be delivered. Small automation is about targeting specific problems. It is up to you to identify the applications that offer the most potential value.Small automation projects should be carried out as a “series of sprints” taking 16 to 20 weeks. Results will help convert the unbelievers.
  2. Consider the future of work. Employees all over the world are concerned about automation costing them their jobs. It is your job to show them that small automation can eradicate mind-numbing tasks, freeing them up to focus on more exciting projects, and improve their performance.You must also ensure employees have the right knowledge and skills to benefit from the improvements brought about by small automation.
  3. Take a big-picture view. Strategy is key to the success of small automation. You must know your company’s strengths and reevaluate the structure of your organisation to ensure teams across the organisation have the freedom to innovate. Erect a few “guardrails” and then give individual teams the power to adopt the tools they believe they require.


The legacy of big automation is a treasure trove of valuable data. The challenge for you now is to utilise small automation to make that data work for your company.