Process automation isn’t a quick fix to eliminate the mundane. There are several steps to consider before introducing new technology into your business processes.
Choosing a technology solution is not an overnight decision. But, with so many vendors out there to muddle the message, a company can pick the flashiest product and spend a significant amount of time attempting to implement it before realizing it’s not the best fit for their situation.
Depending on what buzzword you use, a quick Google search will result in a myriad of technology tools to address your workflow and process automation needs. Each of these vendors will tell you their tool can solve all your needs, but of course, that’s not true.
To identify which tool is best for your situation, you need to understand your company’s needs and current technology environment before diving into vendor selection.
When you decide to immediately automate without considering where your technology solutions and processes exist now, you’ll automate blindly. Moreover, automating a bad process only gets you bad results — or at least inefficient ones — faster.
Fix the Process
Earlier in my career, I managed a customer onboarding process where we sent a task sequentially from Team A to Team B to Team C. This process was in place for years, and it survived the migration from paper forms sent around the office to “digitization” (spreadsheets attached to emails).
When we looked at further process automations (such as migrating to an Access database), we decided to spend some time getting a better understanding of the process. In this, we discovered Team B forwarded the email they received from Team A on to Team C without doing anything else with it.
Team B viewed this step as a very low priority and was frequently a bottleneck in the overall process. We immediately agreed that Team A could send the email directly to Team C, thereby eliminating this unnecessary process step in the new automated solution.
While this an overly simplistic and obvious situation, if the organization didn’t decide to look at its processes before seeking a technological solution, we would’ve missed this bottleneck. Then, we would have built it into the new solution to survive a few more generations.
Another process automation challenge relates to the exceptions in the process. We often see companies try to build all their exceptions into their automated solution. We recommend:
- Attempting to understand better the root cause of their exceptions in the hopes of eliminating as many of them as possible.
- Finding a way to initially implement a “happy path” solution within the selected workflow technology to recognize value faster.
These are just a few examples of why it’s important to “fix the process” before diving headfirst into automation.
Choosing the Right Process Optimization Technology Solutions
While you’re evaluating your processes and removing unnecessary steps, you can simultaneously begin examining the technology solutions available to you. There are three areas we recommend looking at when determining how to proceed with your automation efforts:
The first thing you should consider is what you already have. Many enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and other technology solutions already have workflow components.
One of the challenges companies often encounter is having process automation built into multiple tools that aren’t interacting with each other. If you can determine a “master” workflow system or another way to bind all the existing systems together correctly, then you can potentially avoid investment in yet another workflow solution.
This approach won’t work in all cases (legacy mainframe platforms, too many in-house tools), which could lead to the need to consider new tools altogether.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Speaking of buzzwords, RPA is one of the hot topics out there today. According to a recent report, companies are prepared to spend millions of dollars on RPA in 2019 alone.
When your process needs don’t require full end-to-end process automation, RPA might help fill in the gaps in a process by replicating tasks that are routine, repeatable, and rules-based. This function is often an excellent solution for those mundane, “swivel chair” activities that seem to be the bane of everyone’s existence.
Within RPA, either attended bots or unattended bots help knock out tasks, decrease cycle times, and bridge integration gaps.
- Attended Bots: These bots work as task helpers to help the end-user speed up how much time he or she spends on a task, rather than working on the back-end.
- Unattended Bots: Unattended bots, on the other hand, work on back-office tasks to reduce some of the bottlenecks I’ve already mentioned. These bots handle scheduled tasks, usually from a point of central control.
RPA is not the solution for everything, though, especially if your tasks are not routine, repeatable, and rules-based.
Business Process Management Solutions (BPMS)
BPMS was the hot trend for the first decade of this century, but it is still relevant in the right situations. These tools provide greater visibility into your end-to-end business processes and allow management of the people, data, and applications in a single step by interacting with back-end systems.
While functionality continually expands, developers build these BPM Solutions on a primary process repository and workflow engine while also providing system integrations and valuable process metrics.
Traditionally, BPM Solutions have been human-centric, document-centric, or integration-centric (which you can learn about here), but the lines have become more blurred as the products continue to mature.
No matter which one you choose, a good BPMS helps resolve process-related problems through visibility, collaboration, and automation if it is the right solution for your business needs. Without well-defined processes and the proper definition within the overall system architecture, a BPMS becomes lost in the plethora of great tools you have available but aren’t able to fully obtain the maximum value of the those.
Your company’s internal technology solutions are only as strong as your processes. To avoid automating a bad one, you need to look at the root cause of each process to determine if it’s worth keeping, how it aligns to the organization’s future vision or goals, and how to make it stronger if needed.
Once you’ve done that step, you can research to find the technology solution — whether you already have it or it’s time to acquire a new one — that’s right for your organization’s process optimization. In the end, you’ll find yourself with a more efficient company that’s ready to take on its competitors and serve its customers.
So, what types of processes are you automating? How well do they fit into your existing systems, and what are the gaps? Once you have addressed these questions (and others), you will be in a better position to make a more informed decision about how to best improve and automate your processes.