The benefits of effective business process automation are well understood, however many organisations struggle when it comes to knowing where to start.
This challenge stems from the fact there tend to be a wide variety of disparate processes in most organisations. Some have evolved over long periods of time while others have been introduced to meet newer demands.
Processes are likely to involve a number of business applications. These can range from sophisticated CRM and ERP platforms to document management systems, office applications, and collaboration portals.
Connecting these applications and processes together so that staff can gain access to the data they require to complete tasks is often challenging. As a result, it can be tempting to place the issue in the ‘too hard’ basket and move on.
Achieving process improvement
Thankfully, there is an approach that can allow an organisation to successfully complete a process improvement strategy. The approach ensures that the anticipated benefits are achieved without disruption to business operations.
The first step required is the mapping of existing processes across the organisation. This is important as it ensures that all work and data flows are captured and understood.
If process documentation is not available, it can be generated at this point. Details can be entered into an electronic flowchart that clearly shows workflows and the links between involved parties.
Once process mapping is complete, each process is then examined to determine whether it is operating as effectively as possible. Perhaps additional steps have been included that are no longer required, or authorisations needed that don’t actually add any value.
The third step is to make any changes to processes that will allow them to be more streamlined and efficient. This is also the point at which redundant processes can be removed.
Once teams are confident that processes are being well managed, the implementation of automation can be carried out. This involves the introduction of digital process automation (DPA). Through the deployment of workflow tools—and robotic process automation (RPA) where relevant—decision-based workflows can be automated, and processes orchestrated from start to finish.
Also, for organisations reliant on documents, tools can be introduced that allow the management of electronic documents and signatures. This can remove the need for paper and significantly improve process efficiency.
At this stage, an organisation can elect to introduce a set of APIs and connectors that link the various applications and tools in place with others to allow the processes to function seamlessly. These connectors can be further enhanced through the use of process optimisation tools which monitor workflows and ensure optimal efficiency is maintained.
It should be remembered however that, while automation can significantly improve the functionality of many processes, there are likely to be some that should remain in manual form. For example, where processes don’t have standard inputs and outputs, automation may not be possible. Instead, processes should be evaluated to ensure they are as efficient as possible and then left in place.
Ensuring long-term success
For an organisation to get maximum value from a process automation strategy over the longer term, there are a number of factors that need to be considered.
One is whether all processes have actually been identified. In some cases, organisations work to automate obvious processes but remain unaware that there are others that could benefit from similar treatment.
It’s also important to always look beyond automation. It might be the case that a process is only needed for a short period of time or is no longer required. In these cases, automation may not be needed.
Organisations also need to be aware that there are a range of options when it comes to selecting automation tools. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, they should take time to assess which is most relevant to a given situation.
Process automation can deliver significant benefits. Taking time to evaluate existing processes and then automate in a methodical way will ensure those benefits are fully realised.