When it comes to process automation, a measured and thoughtful approach is essential. Automating everything in a system may appear to be an attractive solution, but it can create risks and vulnerabilities that did not exist previously. That’s why organizations need to identify the parts of the system that can be easily automated without introducing additional risks. In addition to recognizing the appropriate processes to automate, organizations must determine the right time to carry out the tasks. To ensure that the automation is designed and implemented in a way that aligns with the organization’s goals and meets the needs of its stakeholders, it is important to build a team of professionals who possess technical expertise and a deep understanding of the affected business processes. This approach can help organizations optimize workflows, reduce costs, and improve efficiency while minimizing potential negative consequences.
Often, the simplest and most beneficial processes to automate are those tasks that are routine, repetitive, or require little to no regular human input. Anything that can free up employees to do high-level work will save time and money in the long run. Process automation also assists with increased accuracy for business transparency and reporting, especially regarding audits. While each company is different, a few processes that do well with automation are self-checkout, inventory management, inquiry replies, spreadsheets, order entry, payroll, scheduling, social media posting, and even car washes.
Choose the Right Process
Without automation, scaling a business is challenging, especially when done on a large scope like nationwide or globally. The absence of automation also creates a greater chance of human error. Yet, it is important to understand that some processes should never be automated, namely those that are sensitive in nature or security-based. Also, avoid automating anything that involves policies or regulations that are subject to change. This is because every time a change is instituted, the automation must be reviewed and updated, halting productivity until the review and update are complete.
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Though some tasks can be almost fully converted, many benefit from human-assisted automation. Processes that are complex or uncertain, like autonomous cars, warehouse robots, and financial portfolio optimization, require human judgment or input for optimal execution.
Even if a process cannot be fully computer- or machine-driven, it doesn’t mean applying automation to only a part of the process would not be beneficial. For example, consider call centers and businesses with automated answering or calling systems. While the initial part of the transaction is programmed, saving countless minutes, a human is usually reachable to handle more sensitive or unusual issues.
Another consideration when it comes to automation involves human resources. Employees can only work so many hours daily, so multiple shifts are often required, increasing payroll expenses. If an applicable process runs 24 hours a day, automating it will save money and increase productivity.
Once a company chooses to automate, the first step is determining what processes can and should be automated. Using a company’s high-level organizational goals as a guideline, leaders can break down strategies into smaller, achievable tasks. From there, they can identify company needs, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to determine the areas best suited for automation.
Choose the Right Time
One of the biggest mistakes an organization makes is trying to automate everything at once. Even if a few processes have already been automated, the rest should not follow suit simultaneously. Doing so opens the door to system errors and process breakdowns. End-to-end automation is also risky because if something goes wrong, it can be hard to pinpoint the singular problem in one long system. Full reliance on technology with no human involvement is a setup for potential disaster.
Staggering implementation means expenses are spread out over time and lead to greater employee and stakeholder satisfaction. While it is important to address high-priority and most-visible tasks first, it is essential for processes to be fully optimized before being automated. This takes time. Introducing new processes also means additional employee training, requiring staggered implementation. Executing automation all at once would mean most, if not all, employees would need to stop working their jobs or work overtime to fit in the newly required training.
Choose the Right People
It’s crucial for executives and management from the top down to be involved in developing and implementing the automation plan, based on the company’s vision and goals. When automating processes, include long-term employees and their breadth of knowledge whenever possible. Doing so leverages years, or even decades, of invaluable and irreplaceable experience and knowledge. To successfully develop and execute a process automation initiative, leaders and managers need to bring their enthusiasm to their employees, inculcating in them the benefits and importance of the new systems. Providing and encouraging the necessary training can make or break the success of a program.
Ensuring an organization’s plans align with both the company’s objectives and those of the stakeholders is critical to long-term success. Some ways to do this are by running a cost-benefit analysis, focusing on the return on investment (ROI) and key performance indicators (KPIs), and periodically reanalyzing processes for efficiency and against evolving technology. Hiring a business process management expert can help.
A Plan for Success
When the decision-makers are developing an automation plan, certain best practices will make the planning, implementation, and follow-through phases smoother and easier. These include:
- Goals. Take corporate and department goals, and stakeholder needs into consideration to ensure all these are met.
- Identification. Identify a component of a process that can be easily automated. Weigh the risks versus the benefits, like time and cost savings.
- Optimization. Automating an inefficient process will only exacerbate the issue. A process should function effectively and efficiently before being automated to be the most productive.
- Implement and train. Put the plan into place and ensure employees receive thorough training.
- Maintenance. Regularly reevaluate the process for efficiency and research ways to optimize further or upgrade it as needed. Provide continuous support for staff as applicable.
In 2019, Grandview Research valued RPA at $1.4 billion with a forecasted growth of 40.6 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) by 2027, and the market is already poised to reach $5 billion by 2024. At the same time, while companies across various industries have steadily increased their use of workflow automation and related technologies, it does not mean the end of human jobs. When discussing its use of warehouse robots to assist staff by bringing them the items they need to package and label, Amazon reports it has created over a million human jobs since introducing robots to its warehouses in 2012. By refining processes and increasing efficiency through automation, organizations can standardize operations, lower costs, enhance decision-making, and improve agility. In today’s marketplace of high customer expectations and restricted budgets, the need to do more with less is a constant concern. Organizations that successfully implement and continually improve automation practices can leverage the number-one solution for the future.
About the Author
Chandra Shukla is an expert in using a multidisciplinary approach to increase business efficiency. He has over a decade of experience in providing efficiency solutions in areas including, but not limited to, financial services, infrastructure, energy, and social goods. Chandra is pursuing an MBA from Cornell University and holds an MSE in industrial operations engineering from the University of Michigan and a B. Tech Hons from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in India. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.