Customers searching for the best robotic software companies should be as rigorous as they would be for business partners. Why? Because the pace for robotic process automation (RPA) product development is fast and recoveries from technology stumbles can’t be assumed (think Blackberry). To paraphrase a well-known expression – if a RPA vendor sneezes, their customers could catch pneumonia. No one wants pneumonia, so let’s see how to avoid a sneeze.
Our three part series on identifying top-tier process automation companies started with product, moved to technology leadership, and finishes now with the organization. Excellence within each of those three areas reflects well balanced priorities between key constituencies of customers, employees and shareholders.
This is particularly true for the organization: it needs a growing and committed customer base to drive growth and attract shareholder investment; highly skilled and motivated employees to develop innovative products and effective leadership to set the right strategic direction and make good tactical decisions.
12 Traits of an Uncommon Company
Success: any evaluation of an organization – particularly those in highly demanding emerging technologies – starts with evidence of consistent success tied to an ongoing leadership team. For the purpose of evaluating robotic software organizations, customers should look for well managed organic growth in the areas of profitable revenue, product lines and customer services. In particular:
- Leadership: does the company have a well-established management team able to lead the company on two levels: day-to-day operations and strategic positioning? While few companies in high-growth fields have the management bandwidth to handle those two level without occasional growth pains, customers should use references to determine if any significant management planning or execution lapses have occurred in the last few years.
- Organic Growth: companies can grow in one of two ways; by winning and keeping customers – organic growth; or by buying customers through competitor acquisitions – inorganic growth. It makes sense for customers to favor companies with a strong track record of organic growth, because building and retaining a strong customer base is the only way such a track record can be achieved.
- Profitable Revenues: organic growth can also be based on acquired customers – when sales are predominately based upon very aggressive product pricing. Customers should make certain that high levels or organic growth are also producing sufficient profits to sustain ongoing product and organizational development.
- Product Lines & Customer Services: as mentioned earlier, an automation vendor should be looked upon as a potential business partner. There should be evidence the company has consistently and effectively increased customer value through investments in product lines and/or expansion of customer services.
Strong Customer Relationships: as noted above, profitable organic growth is a key metric by which a customer should measure an automations software company. The presence of that growth generally means the company has the organizational ability to build and maintain a strong customer base. In order to validate this is the case; a customer should look for indications of success, related investment and associated services.
- Success - Testimonials and References: early in the evaluation process, customers can rely on authenticated website testimonials to validate the product line really does two things: solves relevant business problems and delivers benefits they would value. To be considered authenticated, testimonials must be tied to a specific person, role and issue/benefit.
- References are the most powerful type of confirmation a company/product can deliver what it promises - if the reference can be directly contacted for a private conversation. Published references, often seen on websites do have value, but their disclosure is often limited by corporate policies on endorsements.
- Success - Growing and Diverse Customer Base: customers should seek out companies whose customer base shows consistent organic growth in size and scope. Organic growth is a reliable indicator that product lines and services are delivering and maintaining high levels of competitive value. Growth in scope – e.g. expansion in industry solutions, demonstrates a capacity for innovative development and diverse business skills in the company’s workforce.
- Investment – More Industry Solutions: while a growth in industry solutions points to innovative capabilities and a workforce with diverse business skills, the more significant implication is management has made the human and financial investments necessary to develop solution-based product lines within new industry verticals. Customers should look for evidence this is the case, then determine if it is a consistent activity reflective of long term strategic goals.
- Investment - Automation Library: the first post in this series made the point that product is where value begins for a customer. So too, the most valuable investment from a customer’s perspective is in their respective product line. Automation libraries are collections of pre-built, out-of-the-box, automation widgets that users can plug into workflow steps for instant automation. Customers should learn the size, scope and development history of a company’s automation library. A large library of pre-build automation functionality provides customers with tremendous implementation advantages. It should be a major factor in selection criteria.
- Investment – Training: in addition to out-of-the-box automation functionality, product training tools and resources have a highly beneficial effect on the implementation experience. Customers should carefully evaluate a company’s capability to provide live training – both onsite and remote. Utilization of proven training techniques, such as ‘train the trainer’ should be seen. Training libraries, whether video or other media should also be available and widely used. Training and ongoing support should be one of the most important discussion points with company references.
- Services - Implementation & Technical Support: while training is essential for a good product experience, effective product support is absolutely crucial. Product support begins in the implementation phase, shifts into ongoing technical support and may take on custom roles such as major release/upgrade support. Again, all areas of product support should be major discussion points with company references.
- Services - Automation & Product Consulting Services: in addition to training and support, a top-tier software company should also offer customers automation and product consulting services. An example of automation consulting would be an engagement for the purpose identifying additional workflows as good process automation candidates. A typical product consulting scenario would be the customization of automation scripts and integration capabilities for a unique customer requirement.
Great Employees: developing insights into a company’s workforce is a challenging task: interactions are usually limited, disclosure of information is typically restricted by HR policies - therefore customer evaluations are typically uneven in quality and subjective in nature.
However, despite the difficulties, gaining knowledge about a company’s employees is worth the effort - great companies with mediocre employees simply do not exist. Companies are usually willing to share high level, non-specific employee information: numbers of people in operational areas, range of business and technical skillsets, annual employee attrition, etc. Indirect methods can also uncover useful data; company job postings are good sources of roles, responsibilities, and qualifications information, while LinkedIn profiles can provide background on known employees.