Why a Business Process Analysis is critical before applying Automation

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Many modern organisations undertake a Business Process Analysis to understand the health of their various processes, and improve their operational efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, a Business Process Analysis is about honest self-reflection to understand what’s working, and more importantly – what’s not.

Analysing a process involves understanding the activities and people involved, identifying issues like delays, errors or customer complaints, collecting data, and then articulating recommendations for process improvements or enhancements.

Such an analysis works best when applied to the right as-is process, because that’s when it can enable process owners to understand whether the process is meeting the organisation’s goals, and accordingly make sound judgements and decisions if it’s sub-optimal. It’s also useful to use Business Process Analysis before introducing Automation to ensure that the process is already optimised, and “ready” for Automation.

However, there’s a common misconception among many companies, particularly those that are new to Business Process Analysis and Automation. They believe that Automation can help them magically “fix” all kinds of processes – even those that are currently “broken” (as opposed to just sub-optimal)

It can’t

Here’s why…


Business Process Analysis: Which processes to Automate

Business Process Analysis tools and techniques like flowcharts, process maps/models, gap analysis, root cause analysis, and value-added analysis, in combination with Automation technologies like Business Process Automation (BPA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help you streamline many processes in many areas, including:

  • Human resources (HR), recruitment, and employee onboarding
  • Accounts payable and other areas of Finance
  • Document management
  • Logistics and delivery
  • Contract management
  • Procurement
  • Inventory tracking
  • Sales
  • Audits and compliance
  • Email marketing and social media

When applied in conjunction with a Business Process Analysis, Automation is most likely to succeed if these processes:

  • Are repeatable
  • Require consistent output
  • Are not subject to frequent changes or fluctuations

Simply put, for best results from Automation, you should apply Automation only to the repetitive, unchanging parts of the process you’re trying to optimise.

Equally important, you should not Automate processes that are “broken”. Your business may have one or more processes that have broken over time. Often, this is not because employees don’t care, or are lazy, incompetent or untrained. Rather, a broken process is the result of an organisation, its customers, and its industry or market evolving, so that the old way of doing things is no longer appropriate or adequate. Some of the symptoms of a broken process are:

  • Delayed or poor-quality output
  • Multiple rounds of redundant reviews and sign-offs
  • Unhappy or dissatisfied customers (think about the number of customer complaints)
  • Lack of team cohesiveness
  • Lack of accountability
  • A tendency to point fingers and assign blame

If a process in your organisation is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s better to perform a detailed analysis to map the end-to-end process, find the root causes of problems, and then create a detailed plan to redesign the process. What’s not a good idea is to simply assume that Automation is the solution to fixing every issue. The fact is, Automation is not a silver bullet that can magically transform a poorly-performing process into a well-performing one.


Business Process Analysis: Critical aspects to consider before you start

Before embarking on your Business Process Analysis journey, you should be prepared to discover some unpleasant facts, and also be ready to take some tough decisions.

When starting the analysis effort, you should always first understand the problem you’re trying to solve. What do you expect from the analysis  and why? Then choose the ‘as-is’ process to analyse. Make sure the process has a clear start and stop point.

Next, ask yourself if you’re trying to force fit a particular process into the Business Process Analysis paradigm – especially if it’s broken – instead of identifying the best possible candidate for your analysis and Automation initiative. You should also put in some care, thought, and planning into ensuring that the process you’re looking to analyse and eventually automate is actually ready for Automation. The next section highlights some strategies to help you with this effort.

When conducting a Business Process Analysis, make sure you:

  • Gather as much information as possible about the process to understand its issues and objectives
  • Define the process and its scope using visual tools like flowcharts and models
  • Measure its current effectiveness (or lack of), and compare it against the identified objectives
  • Articulate what the “perfect” process and outcome would look like
  • Identify relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure Automation performance in a quantifiable way
  • Make recommendations about the “to-be” process based on the identified gaps and objectives
  • Once you understand the process scope, change management, business goals, etc, create an improvement/process redesign plan
  • Acquire the resources needed to help with the redesign effort, including human and technology (i.e. BPA/RPA) resources

The analysis will help you systematically plan and execute the Automation effort. Once the effort is underway, make sure to regularly assess its performance by comparing outcomes to the KPIs you identified earlier.

How to select a process candidate for a Business Process Analysis and Automation

Business Process Analysis and subsequently applying Business Process Automation can help your organisation improve operational efficiency, productivity, and quality, and even meet other business objectives related to cost control, customer satisfaction, etc. In short, the effort can deliver tangible business value, and you can expect a high ROI from the project. But this high value is not possible if the process you aim to analyse and Automate is broken to start with. If anything, by starting at a place where the current process is not already optimised, your Automation results will be underwhelming, to say the least.

Check if it’s already optimised
So, before embarking on a Business Process Analysis or Automation project, first ensure that the process is already optimised to the best possible extent in its pre-Automation state.

Map out the value stream
Map out the entire end-to-end value stream. Start and end with the customer, and include every actor that’s involved in getting your product or service to this customer, both inside and outside the organisation. Also highlight all the individual tasks that make up the process.

Remember to look at the value chain from beginning to end in a holistic manner to understand how automation can optimise the entire process. Don’t just look at specific activities or functional roles. This is important, because it will help you understand all the possible gains of Automating an already-optimised process, and consider all the ways you can achieve this.

Think past quick wins
Next, don’t just think only about quick wins with Automation. It’s not a bad idea to target the low-hanging fruit” – i.e. standard, stable, and repeatable processes – as your first Automation candidates. They can help build up confidence, and make it easier to Automate complex processes later. However, the approach should not engender a less-than-ideal “quick fix” mentality, because this can prevent you from understanding the real and long-term gains possible from Business Process Analysis and Automation.

Select Automation tools
Once you create a true end-to-end flow of value, select and apply the right Automation tools to further boost performance or efficiency gains. Select technology based on the value stream, and not the other way around to garner tangible results with minimal friction for or pushback from users.

If you select technology before understanding the reality of your automation process candidate, it might perpetuate functional silos, habits, and mindsets, which will make it harder to achieve all the possible benefits of Automation. It may even hinder the efficiency and productivity of the process – the very goals that Business Process Analysis and Automation were supposed to bolster.


In summary:
  • Business Process Analysis can help you understand if a process in your organisation is “broken”
  • However, selecting a broken process as a candidate for Automation will almost always yield underwhelming results
  • When performing a Business Process Analysis, it’s critical to map out the entire end-to-end value stream. Make sure to do this before embarking on an Automation project
  • During mapping, start and end with the customer, include every actor involved in the process, and highlight the individual tasks that make up the process
  • Don’t just think about Automation quick wins; focus on long-term gains
  • Select and apply the right Automation tools based on the value stream to achieve the benefits of Automation without creating functional silos, habits, or mindsets

To increase the chances of success with Business Process Analysis and automation, do keep in mind these key points:

  • Don’t assume that Automation is the panacea to all problems plauging your organisation
  • The best process candidates for Automation are those that are already optimised to the best possible extent
  • Use Business Process Analysis before Automating a process to ensure that the process is optimised and Automation-ready, and no broken.

If you’re considering Business Process Analysis or automation in your organisation, we hope you found this article useful. For more insightful content like this, please visit our insights page.

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