Process Automation: Where to Begin

When it comes to the process automation phase of an organization’s transformational journey, it can be a struggle to pinpoint which process to automate first. Would it be better to jump in and automate a process that is high profile and one that everyone in the organization uses on a daily basis, or perhaps on that is only used a few times a year by a select few? Should organizations only look to new processes that need to be automated or use one that is already automated but needs to be updated? Here are some things to consider when starting the automation journey.

Ask Around

If you are looking for processes to automate, why not ask those that are performing the tasks of a given process everyday! This is one area that is not considered until after automation efforts have begun or are about to rollout. Getting people to provide their insights and feedback allows organizations to have a holistic view of the process rather than what is perceived. This not only helps understand the full scope of what the process is, but also gets people involved in the ongoing efforts to improve their processes.

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Another reason to get people involved early on is to avoid tension later when changes are rolled out. No one likes it when changes happen to a process and they were never told. Getting people involved early helps adoption of any changes as everyone has the ability to voice their concerns and provide feedback. This is a great time to uncover areas that are not well documented.

What Are The Benefits (Drawbacks)?

If your organization is struggling to find where to begin, you may need to look at the benefits of automating a given process. Are there gains to be made that will lead to revenue, time saved, or even employee happiness? What about the impact on the organization? Is the process one that reaches everyone within the company or just a small team? Is the process one that occurs once a year or every week?

Not only should you figure out benefits or automating a process but to also consider the repercussions of not automating a process. This could lead to things such as missed deadlines, delays in approvals, or even processes not starting in a timely manner. Think about an employee off-boarding process. If this process is not automated in some way, the organization runs the risk of an employee, that is not longer employed, having access to company assets and information. It is important to consider both the positive gains as well as potential losses when it comes to automating a process.

If It Ain’t Broke, Do Fix It!

Many times organizations jump into automation efforts and pick a process that is already in place and working. While this may be a good starting place because it is a well known, documented processes, it does not get anyone thinking differently about it. Often the process will be automated just as is and never improved or even questioned. Even the ones that are automated in some fashion should be reimagined and thought about from the standpoint of “what more could be done to improve this process”.

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How to Measure

This is a difficult one as every organization will (should) measure their success criteria differently. Many times it falls into one of two buckets: cost and speed to market. While each of these aspects are important, your organization needs to look at each automation candidate or effort individually as well as the tool set that will be applied. For example, when looking at cost, it is easy to go with a solution that will save money or a solution that is rolled out very quickly. However, the drawbacks to that line of thinking could lead to missing functionality in the solution or having to go back again and again to fine tune the solution.

Speed to market is another aspect that comes up a lot as well when determining which processes to automate. This is because organizations want to see ROI on any technology or services they may have procured to automate their processes. While this is a great thing to see, it should not be the only area that drives decisions. Approaching automation with only this in mind can force decisions or cut corners to get a solution in place and rolled out.

Ultimately your organization needs to determine what your success criteria is and how to measure it before you dive into automation. If this step is skipped, it is almost impossible to determine if what was done to improve the process was worth it.

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Final Thoughts

There is a lot of information out there regarding automation, which tools to use, what to consider when going through digital transformation, and all of the other buzzwords people love to throw around. I think that in the end, it is crucial to get your users involved early in the documenting of their processes and how to improve, as well as determine how to measure success within your organization.

Would love to hear your thoughts or ideas. What has worked or perhaps has not worked?

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