How to get people excited about Process Automation with Nico Bitzer
#036 Let’s take a look at process automation from a human-centric BPM perspective.
In this episode, I’m talking to Nico Bitzer about process automation and how to get people excited about it. We talk about common mistakes process owners can make when implementing automation and Nico gives his tips on how to do it better.
But what can we do to get people excited about automation when there is a chance that automation might cut jobs? Let’s find out…
Nico is the co-founder and CEO of Bots & People, an automation enablement startup with a vision to eliminate repetitive tasks and create meaning for everyone.
Before establishing Bots & People in 2020, Nico worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers Germany in the areas of People & Organization and Digital Learning. He holds a Master of Science in Business Education from the University of Mainz.
His personal interests encompass technology & innovation, entrepreneurship, and people transformation. Additionally, he is the co-host of the Bots & People podcast.
- What Process Automation really is about
- How to get people excited about Process Automation
- What Nico recommends to organizations as well as process owners to get started with Process Automation
- What his favorite Process Automation project is
- How you can start to automate your processes
- Nicos LinkedIn Profile
- Enver Cetins LinkedIn Profile
- Ales Drabeks LinkedIn Profile
- Tool: Microsoft Power Automate
- Tool: UiPath
- Tool: Make
- Tool: Zapier
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Please note that the transcript was generated automatically and only slightly adjusted. It does not claim to be a perfect transcription.
Welcome to episode 36 of the New Process Podcast. Today, we’ll explore how to get people excited about process automation. Therefore, I’m talking to Nico Bitzer. Nico is founder and CEO Bots and People. Bots and People is an automation and enablement startup with a mission to banish repetitive tasks and create meaning for everyone. With their automation academy, they empower Midsize to large enterprise customers to acquire all needed competencies to sustainably build and scale process automation internally. Before founding Bots and People in 2020, he worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers Germany in the area of people and organization, as well as digital learning.
Nico holds a master of science and business education from University of Mines. His personal interests include technology and innovation, entrepreneurship and people transformation, and he is also co- of Bots People’s own podcast. In this episode, you’ll learn what process automation really is about, how to get people excited about process automation, what Nico recommends to organizations as well as to process owners on how to get started with process automation, what his favorite project is, and he is sharing a lot of insights on how to get started on your own. So enjoy the interview with Nico Bitzer. Yeah, welcome to the New Process Podcast. Nico, you’re the founder or co-founder of Bots People. That perfectly fits to the New Process approach to get a more human-centric BPM approach. I’m really looking forward to the interview, so welcome, nico.
Yeah, happy to be here, Mirko. Thanks for the invitation.
Yeah, sure, let’s start right away with the check-in. So what do you prefer in an aircraft, isle or window seat? It’s the aisle seat. Okay, why?
Yeah, it’s easier than to walk around. I don’t like to sit so long and I enjoy to stand up several times and to not bother my neighbor in the airplane, I prefer the aisle seat. Yeah, that’s always good. And what is?
your favorite airport.
Favorite airport is, I would say, berlin, I mean it’s.
It’s the New one. I like it, but it’s a very selfish reason because from there I can travel the fastest, because I’m from Berlin, yeah.
Okay, yeah, but that’s reasonable, I would say Perfect. And what was the best process you have ever experienced?
The best process I’ve ever experienced. I hope it’s okay to say this, but I really like our own onsite process. So every quarter, and then shout out also to our operations team because every quarter we organize an onsite, we are 16 people at Watson People in total and the whole organization of the onsite and how we collect the feedback. That’s a process I really appreciate because it’s very human centered. Okay, that’s very good.
So how does it look like to be at your onsite?
Yeah, it looks the following so you have once a quarter there will be an onsite, because we are distributed among Europe at Watson People and to strengthen the team collaboration, we have a quarterly onsite in Berlin and then you would receive at a certain point when the onsite is planned, you would receive an invitation with the date. It’s also nice on the process that this happens a long time before the onsite starts and then you receive a preliminary agenda. What is the topics of the onsite? There’s also, after we’ve done it several times, there’s also a nice blueprint of the agenda already and then you have the possibility to co-generate the agenda. So whether you have topics for workshops or ideas for activities, you can hand it in and then, when it gets closer to the onsite, there will be the communication of the final agenda. Then you will get all your travel requirements to Berlin and our operations team is also super yeah, does it in a super smooth way.
I’m not so much into that part of the process because I’m in Berlin, but all the others get a hotel booked and it’s always the same hotel where we negotiated like a framework contract with them Also. This makes it smooth the process. I would say yeah, and then you would come to Berlin, enjoy the onsite, which is usually from Tuesday to Friday, and after and this is also really important after the onsite there is always a feedback questionnaire what you like and what you didn’t like so much and that’s then implemented for the next onsite. For example, in the beginning it was five days, but then we realized because a lot of energy to be together five days for such a long time and we reduced it to four days. One time we tried a breakfast together, but this was not so good than a dinner. So now we stick to dinner again.
Okay, I’m really curious have you met the process or even automated this one?
That’s a smart question. Yeah, the operations team has definitely a documentation, but I think it’s not in a BPM end model or anything like this, but it’s a very good documented process, written down on Notion and automated. Yeah, some parts of it are definitely automated, like handing in the travel expenses, for example.
Yeah, that sounds good. So how would you describe your relationship to processes?
For me, it has two layers my relationship to processes. As a founder and entrepreneur, I need to rely on processes and processes are an important tool to steer the business. That’s one dimension, and the other dimension is because we are also in the process area. I also love processes because processes are the core for a company, for every company, I believe, whether big or small, to being able to transform themselves.
Okay, yeah, that sounds very good. In my words, process automation is probably the highest level of maturity you can reach with the process. We already talked a lot about process mining and so on, which is, in my opinion, level lower than process automation. But for our listeners, can you please explain what process automation really is?
That’s an interesting topic we could argue about, mirko, because for me automation is naturally built into a process. And also, if you talk about automation, it’s very interesting how one would define it. Is automation really something fixed, like RPA, like one technology with that you can automate a thing? Or is even using Excel to perform a task within a process already automation, and for me that’s the case? So we all do automation within our processes quite naturally, and it’s there, I’m always in every, each process, of course. Now in the last couple of years I would say the last 10 years roughly there’s new technologies coming up, like low-code technologies that means you don’t need to be an IT to understand how to automate, for example, a larger process beyond Excel, and this has accelerated this topic of automating a process much more, much further and even further. Was it now disrupted by Generative AI, which can be part of a lot of processes in a company?
Okay, but for me process automation somehow sounds like cutting jobs. What do you do to get people excited about process automation? Is it about cutting jobs, or what do you do there?
Yeah, first of all, let’s look at some numbers. So there’s this workforce report of McKinsey. They published it 2017. It stated that 50% of all work activities can be automated already, which is crazy. So you think, oh wow, 50% of tasks performed in companies can be automated. Now what happened is that they published another report this year and they adjusted because of Generative AI. They adjusted their projection of 70% of all jobs Tasks can be automated. So it’s true, it means that large parts of almost every job can be automated. Now back to your question Does that mean that we’re going to automate jobs and going to set off all the people and some robots and computer programs will perform their tasks? That’s not the case, because it’s not that you can automate. Let’s take an accountant. You cannot automate 100% of the tasks of an accountant. You can maybe automate 50% or 60% of the tasks, and what needs to happen is that the accountant needs to rethink their role, but they will not need to search for a new job.
Okay, okay, so it will make life easier for all the people.
It will make life easier and it’s not about. There’s this very important differentiation between reskilling and upskilling. Upskilling would mean you are an accountant and then you become a computer scientist, and upskilling would mean you are an accountant and now you become an upgraded accountant that can compete in the digital era.
So, as an accountant, I would be also able to automate my process on my own. Yeah, yes, yeah.
And it’s the big difference why it gets more and more relevant because we live in an era where the first time people are able to use technology for themselves with the domain expertise. Before it was handing over a demand to the IT department and then they would take care of it within the next like six to 12 months, maybe six to 20 months, okay.
So, as a process owner, it’s always great if people in my process, like accountants, come up with their own ideas. But what would you recommend to me as a process owner of, for example, the finance process, on how to get started in process automation?
Not from the technology. So one thing you shouldn’t do is reading about generative AI and now thinking of how can you use generative AI to automate your process or how can you use RPA to automate your process. To think from the process. I think you might also like to having that mindset. It’s important to look at your own process, to look at the business challenge you want to solve with this process, and then you can decide from there if you need one or the other technology to automate parts of it, or you will need to rethink this process completely. Yeah, yeah.
Okay, that’s a good approach, definitely to rethink your process there and that’s super interesting. But what are the big mistakes I could make? Do you have lists there I could take into account?
Yeah, so the biggest mistake is definitely starting only from the technology and see what you can automate. Another mistake is to do it too much from a top-down perspective, so not involving the people performing the process into the automation. And the third thing is definitely automating a shady process. Yeah, so I would say these are the three mistakes automating a shady process, not involving the people and starting from the technology.
Yeah, okay, that’s interesting. So how do I need to set up an organization when I want to scale automation initiatives? What would you recommend to the overall organization there on how to start?
Yeah. So if you want to implement process automation in a company, you can take several approaches. You can start with a center of excellence and do your first proof of concepts, and I think that’s also important to showcase it to the organization. So I think that’s the foundation for everything having some pioneers that take the risk of doing something differently and implement automation technologies into some of the processes. Then you would showcase this to the organization and then you have different possibilities.
You can either keep doing it on a very central basis, so you work very closely with process owners, you work very closely with people performing the processes, but you would perform the automation itself from a technical standpoint still in this center of excellence.
Then a second approach could be to do it in a more federated model where the people in the business area, in the process owner area, are already thinking about the redesigned process and the automation solution that you would take. But this needs to, we need to make clear that then the expertise of thinking about automated solutions lies in the business area as well and then still the development but also the governance of the automations is running in the center of excellence. And then you can, of course, take also a very democratized approach where even the development and the governance the governance should always stay centrally, but the development takes place in the process owner area or in the business area, and then the center of excellence would transform more into an enabler position where they support the business with best practices, with training and with support on what they are automating and the governance.
With regards to all the projects you already did, is there a favorite project that you have which you could share with our listeners to get a better understanding of how an automation project could look like?
Yeah, I mean what we are focused on is on upskilling in the space of process automation. So what we are doing is, on this democratization part, whenever a company wants to Enable their business user and people in the departments to being educated about where to find automation potentials and also how to Develop it to a certain extent, then we are in and that’s that’s for us. And we have, for example, one initiative with a big energy company where we upskill a wide range of the workforce and what I like about this initiative is that it’s it’s split it into three learning journeys, let’s say three roles. So people that have no clue about process automation, they can take a beginner journey to get the foundations, then to really Analyze automation potentials and to spark ideas what they could automate, they can go into an intermediate Learning journey. Or, if they really want to start using tools like Microsoft Power Platform, for example, they would go into the advanced learning journey and start building things themselves.
Okay, that sounds super interesting. And if I’m now working in a company where I would say the company is not really aware of process automation and I just want to learn for myself how I could start with process automation, what would you recommend to me?
so, basically, there is two things I would I would recommend to you Also. I know that you are already quite skilled in all of that product, but I tried to imagine someone that’s not so skilled as you, right.
Okay, maybe you overestimate my skills here, but okay, okay.
So there’s two, two things. One thing is there’s a lot of free content out there. If you are really a person that’s interested, you can look into YouTube, you can look into LinkedIn and also follow relevant people that talk about process automation, and One thing you can also do is listen to a podcast. So, yeah, there’s a lot of material out, but, of course, it requires a lot of self discipline and you need to be really driven and interested in the topic. And then another aspect, which is also completely for free.
I could recommend this building your community around it and connect with people. Usually in the space of process automation, I experience that people are super open to network and after having some Networking talks with people about it, you will expand your network and you will learn from those people. So I can also recommend this. And if you, if you really want a structured program and if you want to get into the, get into the space, yeah, and from a professional perspective, like you want to work in the center of excellence and you want to drive an automation initiative, you can also attend cohort based learning programs with other peers. It’s something, for example, we also offer. But, yeah, probably you can also find it somewhere else, but of course would be also happy if you join our.
Yeah, okay, and what kind of tools would I learn in this program that you’re offering? Really, shout out some names of tools. To be more specific, for me, a pros automation is something where you need this IT guys doing stuff, but I already learned it’s different. I can do it on my own, but which tools would I use there?
Yeah, what is implemented in almost every big organization as Microsoft Power Platform. It’s, from my perspective, what we see in the market, widely used for citizen development. Okay. So, whenever it comes to a person in a business area doing their own automations, we meet Microsoft Power Platform, but also tools like your iPass. Ipass, also strong in citizen development when it comes to it, is in. We talking about the enterprise context, right. So if we go into smaller companies like SMB’s or into startups, it’s a much different Tool stack. Then we would talk about tools like make or N8N or Robocorp. It’s it’s it’s. It’s different, it’s super interesting. Okay, and if we talk about the center of excellence, so what they are using for automating things, then it can also be. It can also be your iPass, which is the market leader for this, for automating tasks and to end processes and also automating. Automating it was in the center of excellence, but also, of course, all the existing tools in a corporate. Using SAP to automate things is also possible, and using bigger platforms like ServiceNow or Salesforce to automate things.
So what would I do as an accountant in in Microsoft environment where I can use Power Platform as a tool? What could I do there? Automate some Excel exports, imports, reports, whatever. How does that?
work. Yeah, depends also a lot on the, on the access you have as an accountant. So that depends on the governance of the company. So the easiest way to use it, and what is almost in every company possible, is to work on automations within the Microsoft Universe, for example, so you can collect reports, build apps to organize Reports. You can also build a flows that would send input from an email to your report or to an Excel file. So this is pretty much what is possible. And then, if you think of it in a larger scale and if you use the premium connectors of in the Microsoft, where you can also connect Tools to each other, let’s let’s think of combining your payroll with the finance system. So whenever there’s no professional interface, you could use Microsoft to push that a gap. But hopefully your company is also working on solving that on a higher level. Mm-hmm.
Okay, that’s really interesting. I have to dive into these things deeper, even for my own processes. Yeah, it’s already set up. Some automations was make, for example, also you, just they appear for some tasks, but I’m just starting, so I’m really curious to learn more on that. Yeah, perfect. So, to sum it up, what would you recommend, based on your expertise, to our listeners as your top three tips to get to a more human-centric BPM approach?
Yeah. So top tip number one is to start with the pioneers and not think too much about the people that are skeptic about process automation. I know it’s hard, especially in the big organization, but if you only think of how can we also convince the workers’ council, everyone in the workers’ council, how can we convince, let’s say, a random someone from the finance department who was always skeptical about new things, then you will lose, because then you will stagnate and not driving things forward. That’s the first thing Start with the pioneers. The second thing I would recommend for a more human-centric approach of process automation is to communicate in a good way, communicating but also not see FTE saving or cutting jobs as the main goal of process automation. If you think about it, process automation needs to be connected to the main business goal, which is not cost saving, but the main business goal probably is to make your customers happy or in a certain time it can be also to make your employees happy, and to communicate this as a goal and think about how you can connect automating things to that goal and tell a story about it. That is a big lever for making it more human-centric. And the third thing is democratization and participation. On the one hand, inform the organization about what process automation is, get them to an understanding where they can also better discuss about it and also see the risks, especially when we’re talking about nowadays about generative AI as well.
What are the legal barriers, what are the ethical barriers? And, with automation, also knowing about this, how it can affect the overall company. And I would be super transparent around it and talk with people about it and also let people use it themselves, because otherwise you would use it centrally and people would be more skeptical because they are just it’s used in their process area. Things are changing, but they don’t really get what it’s changing, so it’s better to get them in the driver’s seat and let them experience it themselves and see that it’s not going to steal their job, but rather support it. Yeah, okay.
Yeah, that’s super interesting. Thank you for these recommendations. It’s always good to think about how to involve the people there and so on. So perfect. Where can our listeners go to learn more about your activities?
Yeah, so they can go to our automation Mac. We publish every two weeks and then you get the latest news about process automation, ai and upskilling in the digital age. This is an interesting thing. We also have the Watson People podcast. If you are a podcast listener, which I assume, yeah, as you listen to this podcast, you can also take a look and get into that. We have two series at the moment. One is the New Work Compass, where we talk more about the people side, and one is the Automation Talk, where we talk with automation leaders about their initiatives in big enterprises.
Okay, any special recommendations on episodes?
to start with, the episode you should start with is the latest one, which I recorded with Klaus Lichtenauer. He was a former CIO of EON, okay, and he talks about the success factors of change management in big enterprises. Also, we talked about the differences in generations Wow, different generations tackle automation and I think it was a super, super, super interesting conversation Sounds like, and I’m going to put that onto my playlist now. Yeah, well, for me it was a stunning conversation with Klaus yeah.
I can imagine and it sounds like human centric a lot, so I definitely have to listen to that Cool. To sum it up there, what topic or tool or expert would you recommend taking a closer look at? So where should I look into? Or our listeners to get more ideas on how to rethink processes? Is there something or person you would recommend?
Yeah, I mean you could definitely talk to more Watson people, people. Yeah, sure I think you’re also thinking of outside of this. Yeah, I would definitely recommend talking to Envar Cetian, for example. Yeah, ok, if you don’t know him yet, he’s a great person. Also a very good contact is Dario Kulic. Ok, he’s a super interesting person. You should talk to him because he’s also specialized in the field of procurement. Yeah, and it’s an interesting angle, and he is a very passionate about process automation and processes in general. Ok, yeah, and then also one person I admire already for a long time is Ale Strabek. He’s the CIO, ncdo of Lampenwelt. Ok, and he has a tremendous approach of transforming companies and rethink companies from a technological perspective.
Ok, yeah, cool. Thank you for these recommendations.
There’s many more, but we don’t have this much.
Yeah, that’s cool. Ok, perfect, so we already landed our aircraft Before we board. Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners?
with regards to process automation or even beyond, yes, so what I want to share is that take a second look on the topic of processes and process automation. I know process sounds for some people very technical and maybe also a little bit like a dry topic Probably not to the people listening to this podcast. I would hope so that they like processes. Also, if you get asked why it’s such an interesting topic I’m so enthusiastic about it, is because processes and process automation is, of course, a technical topic, but it allows us to end the boredom out of our work. So only if we use this more dry topic, processes and process automation, we are able to make work more fun. It’s an angle I like to think about it.
Absolutely, and I just can add to that I just had a workshop yesterday with a customer of mine. It was such a fun event. Talking about processes and deep diving into methodologies and so on Sounds sometimes a little bit boring, but it’s definitely not and you can make it a fun experience as well. So yeah, that’s so true. Thank you very much. Cool, Nico. Final words how would you describe your flight experience with just three words?
I enjoyed it.
Me too, and I learned a lot, and I definitely have to dive deeper into automation topics, even for my own processes. So thank you so much for being my , looking forward to further interactions with you, learning more from you and your guys, and have a great day. Bye, bye, bye, bye. Let’s recap today’s new process inspiration.
Yeah, that was super interesting and I can only confirm that automation can definitely help to make work more fun. So taking out all the boring and repetitive tasks will make life easier, and this should help to get people excited about process automation too. So obviously, as I learned today, it’s not for techies only. You can do it on your own. You can learn how to automate process on your own by using tools such as Microsoft Power Automate, uipath, make, Zapier whatever you can use in your environment. If you’re working in a corporation or a smaller company or solopreneur, there are tools out there which you can easily use. For example, as I already said in the interview, I’m also thinking about automating my own workflows, for example, podcast production. So after recording the interviews, the workflow sends the files to a SharePoint which is then handed over to the production company and so on. So it’s super interesting. I’m still learning how to optimize that, but it’s also a lot of fun To learn more. Nico recommended to check out the free information out there on YouTube or just the follow-up bots and people. I think they have a great academy which you can also use to learn more about how to automate your own processes. I’ll put the links into the show notes. But as a disclaimer, as I already said, I know a lot of companies out there aiming to automate their processes. But be careful.
In my word, process automation is probably the highest level of process maturity you can reach. So after documenting, managing, optimizing and so on, you can start automating your processes. And you have to know your processes first and you have to get the people excited first and then you can start thinking about automating processes on scale. So involve the people as early as possible to avoid the common mistakes Nico mentioned. Don’t start from a technology perspective only. People have to be number one priority and don’t push it from top down into your organization. Involve and, in your word I learned today, upskill the people. So that’s really important that the people working in the processes get all the skills to automate their process on their own, like citizen developers. You don’t need the tech people out there, so you don’t need developers to set up process automation all around. And finally yeah, I like that Don’t automate a shitty process. That’s also a common mistake Nico mentioned Rethink your process first, together with the people. But again, before automating, create a common understanding. So bring the people together, map your process and then create a common picture of the process which you can use as basis for process automation afterwards.
So, if everything works out as planned, we’re going to explore another fascinating topic, way beyond processes, in the next episode and I’m going to try to apply the learnings to rethink process and to get people excited in the next episode. So I’m really looking forward to sharing this with you in about two weeks, but for now, thank you very much for listening. Have a great day. Bye-bye, and see you again Before you leave. If you like what you just heard, it would be super cool if you leave a quick review on Apple Podcast, for example, and it would be even cooler if you refer the new process podcast to your colleagues. So just send them to newprocesslabcom. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.