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Over the past several years, Discover has seen significant growth in our product offerings and in our market share. Behind the scenes, this requires tremendous operational rigor to maintain. With a company of our size and the vast number of processes that span across the business, it becomes clear just how important automation is to our success. Especially within the financial services industry, which is highly regulated, the ability to create predictable and consistent processes is key to unlocking the ability to innovate and continuing our growth trend.

When our CIO joined the company two years ago, he initiated a transition to a product-based organization, which required focus on fundamental pillars like reliability, tech-optimization and automation as key enablers for its success. Pockets of automation activity had popped up organically, but connectivity across the company was missing. So, we launched Extreme Automation - a dedicated program to holistically push toward a true culture of automation. Our ambitious vision was for each manual process across Discover to be understood, optimized, automated or eliminated.

Creating a dedicated program for Extreme Automation

Extreme Automation spans three pillars: DevOps, process automation and an automation community of practice underpinning everything we do. Within each pillar, a senior leader is accountable for the cohesive strategy to accelerate automation, with ambitious qualitative and quantitative goals driving success (like targets for hard cost savings, reliability, risk avoidance and deployment velocity).

An early step in program kick off was to conduct manual activity diagnostics (MADs) to evaluate manual work and non-engineering tasks within our technical organization and to identify automation solutions to solve for such tasks. Once we did these diagnostics, we started to see common problems that we can replicate solutions for and scale across the company. 

In addition, we set out to enable the right people to address the right problems and showcase our most successful automation tools and techniques. We created a centralized automation guild, or community of practice, made up of very passionate automation experts across the company. 

The community takes in problems and helps identify which automation products should be used. From the business side, we also worked with those closest to the strategy and the finances; we’ve seen success conducting automation "summits" with our chiefs of staff and each line of business CFO to understand and prioritize their biggest problems in each area across the company.

Overcoming challenges along the way

The transformation to-date has seen tremendous success, but that doesn’t come without some key learnings. The first is the importance of organizational buy-in and alignment on direction. To achieve this, we set output metrics early on that gauged the success of the program. The second learning is the importance of accountability and clear lines of ownership – which were mitigated through senior leader ownership in each facet of automation. In addition, we put structures in place to manage this complex transformation. We meet regularly across the leadership team to showcase progress and success, propelling us forward as a cohesive, transformative unit. 

The pace of change is another hurdle we’ve overcome. With so many other competing initiatives and transformations, how do you get to the top of the priority list? Because we have such clear measurements for what automation can do, these output metrics helped prioritize our efforts across the company. Our CEO and CIO are the biggest advocates of this coming to life, which has been a tremendous support and one of the biggest enablers. 

The last is the ability to identify and deliver on the opportunities to bring automation to life. We’ve had coordination across existing organic automation product teams, and we seek to evangelize their work across the organization. We share wins with our organization by hosting town halls, highlighting use cases on our internal company site and publishing transparent scorecards of progress.

Automation at Discover going forward

Using the aforementioned dedicated program for automation and learning to pivot quickly based on learnings, we have seen many automation wins across teams in our organization. 

When we use repeatable solutions, we can develop and deploy in other areas of our business much faster and more frequently, resulting in greater ROI from development investments with better and broader use cases. With the use of products like Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform, we have been able to build on these successes to continue repeating solutions across more use cases.  

Some of the tangible benefits we have seen come to life include freeing up time for our call center agents. Instead of copying and pasting manual notes between systems, they can automate these tasks and use that time to help our extremely valuable customers. 

Our talented teammates in the accounting world can now rely on bots to conduct monthly asset reconciliations, freeing up time to focus on work that better aligns with their skill sets. Automation not only helps our organization thrive internally, but we see the results extend to our customers when we can spend more time delivering products, features and experiences they deserve. 

One of the more interesting outcomes we’ve seen is more involvement from non-engineers. When you share wins and repeatable solutions across the organization, you access an army of creative minds that can extend the application of use cases in new ways. 

Over the past two years, this has led to an increase in the identified use cases ripe for automation by 400%. We plan to continue growing our automation footprint across the organization – ultimately leading to a company that truly has a culture of Extreme Automation.

We plan to keep this trajectory going by accelerating our pace for success. In the next few years, I can see our automation engineers delivering on high value opportunities for our products and evolving technologies, using more data that’s more consumable and accessible across our organization. With our cohesive automation community moving toward the same mission, we can increase the speed of automation across the company. 

While the past two years have proven highly engaging, exciting and successful for automation at Discover, this is just the beginning. We are becoming an organization where a culture of Extreme Automation thrives, ultimately enabling us to continue delivering amazing employee and customer experiences.


About the author

Joe Mills is the Director of Process Engineering, Consulting & Automation at Discover Financial Services. He was with IBM prior to joining Discover in 2017.