When implementing automation, selecting a Use Case is a fundamental building block that defines the scope and objectives of your automation efforts. But how do you navigate this step within the complex landscape of a CSP (Communication Service Provider)? This blog delves into the art of selecting a Use Case for automation, breaking down the process into key components: people, process, and technology.
What is a Use Case?
In the context of Automation for a CSP, a “Use Case” refers to a group of tasks which form the business process. The processes all nest within the Business Operation.
“A candidate for business-grade automation. Defined as set of tasks in sequences that complete a well-defined objective; may be shared by many Business processes.”
The process of Life Cycle Management, Service Provisioning, or Service Activation for example, each contain a set of Use Cases. These Business Processes are complex; involving multiple departments and third-party applications responsible for data management and actions related to that specific Business Operation.
As mentioned above, a hierarchy helps focus your Automation implementation efforts. It’s worthwhile re-stating where a Use Case sits within this hierarchy:
- Business Operation. A conceptual grouping of a business process
- Business Processes. A candidate for business Orchestration and Process Automation. A set of related use cases that deliver a well-defined objective; may be shared by many Business Operations.
- Use Cases. A candidate for business-grade automation. Defined as set of Tasks in sequences that complete a well-defined objective; may be shared by many Business Processes.
- Tasks. A set of Steps or activities that when completed in sequence, complete a simple outcome.
- Step. An indivisible aspect of a task.
How to identify the right Use Case or Cases for Automation?
‘When choosing a Use Case, people, process, and technology are good areas to focus on’
-Stephen Connor, Head of Pre-Sales and Telco Domain Lead, CORTEX
Often, we engage with clients who are seeking to automate an entire process. This is a big activity if you are not used to automating end-to-end processes. Should you not be confident you could complete an entire Process, select a well aligned sub-set of Use Cases. This will ensure success and earl value. It also accelerates you towards the end-to-end process automation your business has prioritised.
If this was Life Cycle Management (Process) the Use Cases would likely be:
- Create Resource (Possibly Sims, Ports, Networks, Devices, Services, Vendors)
- Design & Assign i.e. the Allocate & Configure process
- Assurance for Events and Alarms – Identify, Enrich, Correlate, Resolve (ITSM concepts)
- Compliance (Technology, Cyber, Functional)
- End Of Life / Decommissioning e.g. Soft Cease, Hard Cease, Number Porting etc.
- Green Chain, e.g. Ensuring effective disposal or repurposing, WEEE compliance or Auctioning.
While it may be tempting to start with individual departments, companies should consider the wider context and prioritise Automation initiatives that align with the organisation’s overall goals. A structured approach to Automation, starting with a well-defined Use case, can help organisations see real and tangible benefits quickly while paving the way for broader automation implementations in the future.
The number of processes, people and tools involved across a CSP means that there are a number of possible Use Cases that can be chosen. So how do you choose the best one?
People Process and Technology
The process of defining Use Cases for automation in a CSP involves a structured evaluation encompassing people, process, and technology aspects.
In the context of Automation, understanding the people aspect involves identifying the relevant departments and individuals within the organisation who are involved in the Use Case. These individuals possess knowledge about how the Use Case functions and have the responsibility of approving or making decisions related to different parts of the Use Case. There are multiple groups and types of people involved, including – people who know the use case (the current process steps and the systems involved), people impacted by the use case (upstream, downstream, sideways, customers), people implementing the use case and those changing the organisation.
There are several things to consider when evaluating the process component of an Automation Use Case. While large amounts are analysis aren’t needed, it’s essential to involve people who know the Use Case’s process steps and systems and data, and how it operates in various scenarios, not just the ideal situation. This includes identifying potential issues, such as resource shortages, exceptions, or delays, and determining appropriate responses for each scenario. They can also give insights into why the process currently operates as it does – maybe there are regulatory requirements; maybe there are functional limitations in existing applications; maybe there are organisational reasons why things are done in a certain order.
It’s crucial to understand the data sources and systems involved in the Use Case. Integrations, approvals, connectivity, and protocols will all need evaluation. For example, where is the data for the Use Case going to come from? Which systems will you need to work with? How are you going to integrate with those systems? What approvals do you need to perform that integration?
Assessing these aspects, combined will potential business value will enable you to prioritise the order of Automation implementation.
Balanced Scorecard Methodology
CSPs can use a Balanced Scorecard Methodology to help identify and prioritise potential Use Cases for Automation.
The Balanced Scorecard Methodology helps organisations assess the feasibility of a Use Case by identifying potential complexities, organisational politics, and cultural resistance. By focusing on a subset of Use Cases with fewer obstacles and aligning all necessary resources, CSPs can confidently start their Automation journey. Equally important, the methodology also highlights areas with red flags, cautioning against attempting Automation in such cases to avoid potential failures.
Through a well-implemented Balanced Scorecard, organisations can establish clear performance targets, monitor progress, and make data-driven decisions to drive their strategic Automation initiatives effectively.
Human-In-The-Loop for Use Case Execution
Another aspect is to consider when choosing Use Cases is when, and where people are going to be involved in the execution of a Use Case.
There are typically three reasons for having what we call ‘Human-In-The-Loop’ in Use Case execution.
When human input, decision-making or approval is required
There may be points within a process when human decision making or approval is required; this may be because of legal or regulatory requirements; because of your management and operational policies; or because there are external factors such as customers who need to participate in the process. Each separate execution of the process may or may not require such human input.
Building confidence in Automation
At certain points during Use Case execution, people are given the opportunity to review and approve or reject the automation’s decisions. This allows you to give people the opportunity to review if Automation is making the right decision at that point in time, and then either to approve or reject its continued operation for that execution instance. Over time, as trust in the automation grows, the need for human oversight reduces.
Overcoming technical obstacles
Human-In-The-Loop can be utilised when there are technical, legal, organisational or other obstacles preventing direct integration with a third-party application. In such cases, human intervention is introduced as a temporary or permanent workaround, but the end-to-end automation of the business process continues.
During each separate execution of the process, when that integration is required, you can implement a Human In-The-Loop ‘swivel chair’ type workaround, where you put some activity on a person’s work queue. That person would accept and execute the activity and input back into the automation any resultant data. At that point the automation of the executing process would continue. This means that as third-party components evolve which require integration capability, you can replace just that swivel chair operation with an API type integration. The end-to-end business process is the same as it was before.
A Structured Approach with We Are CORTEX
‘It’s the knowledge about what sort of questions to ask at the start to prevent failure at the end, that We Are CORTEX can bring to an organisation that’s looking to automate their business operations’
Stephen Connor, CORTEX
CORTEX offers a structured approach to assessing Use Cases for automation. In this approach, CORTEX uses Design Sprints to provide qualifying questions and drawing on past experiences. This approach reduces the risk of encountering obstacles during implementation. This expertise, and knowledge about what sort of questions to ask at the start will help identify potential challenges early on, preventing project failure and ensuring successful automation of business operations for organisations.
Key takeaways for prioritising Use Cases
In summarising the discussion above, here are some key points that CSPs should consider when evaluating and selecting Use Cases for Automation:
Vision and Objectives
Ensure the overall strategic intent is well defined, understood and clearly articulated. This will ensure use cases are assessed as being relevant and contributing to achieving these objectives.
Use Case Identification
Establish a mechanism for identifying potential use cases for automation that can be accessed across the organisation.
Framework Analysis and Assessment
Employ a well-structured framework for use case analysis and assessment. Ensure this covers people, process, and technology aspects as well as business objectives. Factors to consider include the potential return on investment (ROI) and the ease of implementation from cultural and political standpoints.
Comprehensive Business Evaluation
Evaluate each use case in line with your selected analysis framework.
Identify key individuals involved in the Automation initiative.
Technical Specification Planning
- Do not defer technical specification planning to later stages.
- Address connectivity to data-holding systems early in the process.
- Assess permissions and security considerations for system integration.
- Define the technologies and protocols necessary for making connections.
- Determine integration timing, data transmission specifics, and data interpretation methods.
Defining Success Criteria
Develop a clear process for defining what success means in the context of your Automation initiative project.
By automating, consistency is achieved both in process execution as well as predictable and reliable “time to completion”. Variability in time to completion with manual process varies considerably with load, manning capacity, prevailing operations conditions, and even day of the week. The impact of this predictability on customer experience should not be under-estimated.
There is often huge diversity in the approach and detail taken between individual members. Capturing the process into an orchestrated and automated sequence achieves ultimate consistency in response to every automated scenario.
An interesting aspect of this is the “levelling up” affect – if the process capture is done with the whole team, the most experienced and best practice actions are captured and automated. The step change in efficiency achieved by this is often only apparent at the time. Monitoring the automated executions provide create a sound foundation for continuous improvement and optimisation.
Monitor and Report Benefits
It is essential that the benefits to be achieved by the automation are measured and reported. This means benchmarking performance before automation and identifying metrics against which to measure and report the results This makes the benefits of automation visible and tangible and provides the foundation for continuous improvement.
Remember, effective Automation requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses technical, business, and operational considerations. By adhering to these guidelines, you can maximise the chances of a successful Automation implementation.
In the world of CSP automation, selecting the right Use Case is a pivotal first step, involving people, processes, and technology considerations. Adopting a structured and strategic approach, as well as utilising expert guidance is key to success. Use Case selection shapes the entire automation journey, impacting efficiency and business performance.
Want to find out more about how to take your automation projects to the next level? Download our free eBook, An Expert’s Guide to Automation Success.