Process automation is becoming common-practice for many organisations that realise the potential for reducing human error, speeding up processes, and importantly, providing more time to employees to focus on higher-value tasks.
While it’s normal to start with repetitive and time-consuming tasks within the organisation, it’s good practice to look at what your organisation is trying to achieve by automating processes, essentially asking some key questions before getting started.
But first, let’s consider why you might automate business processes.
Why automate processes?
Process automation involves digitising any manual process in a way that centralises and compiles information within an organisation, from implementing a simple electronic filing system to streamlining workflows in a department.
Some of the key benefits of process automation include:
- Minimising the risk of human error and the associated costs and inefficiencies.
- Speeding up the completion time of your processes so you can refocus employee hours on other tasks.
- Improved client response and interaction.
- The ability to track, monitor and report on your documents and processes.
- Enhanced governance, compliance and reliability.
All of these benefits can be achieved in any department of your organisation. Every department has processes that would ultimately impact business efficiency, UX and CX.
What business processes could you automate?
While it will vary from business to business, a good place to start with process automation is to assess all of your processes that heavily involve documents (and particularly printed documents). Whether it’s printing processes and trends or monthly invoice processing, document heavy processes can involve a lot of inefficiencies and a load of manual tasks.
By identifying processes that are repetitive, time-consuming, have high-rates of human error or heavily involve creating, analysing or interpreting documents, you can create a roadmap and plan for process automation.
Once you’ve identified the processes ripe for automation, you’ll need to map each process to see each key step. This is where you need to start asking yourself questions about how the process runs and what systems and steps are in place.
15 Questions To Ask Before Automating Processes
The following questions and the answers you give can help you plan a strategy for process automation. Ask these questions for each process you’re considering.
- What type of documents do you process? For example, they could be invoices, proposals, time sheets, forms etc.
- How do you currently store these documents? For example, it could be in filing cabinets, storage boxes, or electronic formats.
- How many documents, both paper and digital, do you process? Per day/month/year.
- In what format do you create or receive the documents? For example, they could be PDF, email, word files, post, paper.
- How are documents being distributed, both inside or outside the business? For example, by email, website, fax or post. And how many people require access to these documents? In total and at any one time. It’s important to take into account remote and hybrid workers.
- What systems do you have in place at the moment? In terms of workflows, methods, equipment and computer programs.
- Do you manually input significant amounts of data into these systems? How many hours does it take and how many people do it?
- What level of automation would be acceptable when replacing the process? Keep in mind that a fully automated process with no human interaction might cost more than a semi-automated solution.
- Are there any special requirements for this process? For example, they could include audit control, access control, regulatory and time constraints. This might also include making the process accessible for people working remotely.
- How many people are involved in the process at the moment? Automating operations like data input could allow people to do other, more business-critical things.
- How do you manage or view this process currently? For example, management information or pre-prepared reports. And how long does it take to prepare and view it? It could be “live” or "historic" data.
- Do you get all the Management information that you would want? Specific information might help productivity or efficiency.
- Can the process currently be carried out away from the office? For example, can remote or hybrid workers carry out steps when working from home or another working environment?
- What would the impact to the business be if the process was to fail? I.e cost in time, impact client satisfaction, retention or loyalty, reputation loss, compliance or regulation breach etc.?
- How will the automated process be managed and who is responsible for ensuring it delivers the desired outcome?
Getting started with process automation
Research shows that more than 50% of Robotic Process Automation projects fail to grow beyond 10 bots and more than 70% of RPA projects plateau at fewer than 50 bots.
To get process automation right, it’s important to ask the questions above for any process you’re looking to automate, and it’s absolutely key that you identify and start with processes that provide business value.
At Xenith, we always recommend starting with an assessment to help identify the processes within your organisation that are a good fit for automation, and importantly will provide business value and more opportunities for success.
Find out more about how to create a business case for intelligent automation and process automation in your company, as well as how to avoid the pitfalls of RPA in our on-demand webinar: Applying Intelligent Automation to radically transform your business
This blog is based on a blog we published in September 2016, which can be seen here.