Modern-day automation in business processes…
Temporary fad or permanent revolution?
Many organisations in many industries demand the answer to this question.
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, mankind has looked for ways to streamline operational activities, mechanise production, reduce turnaround times, and lower costs. And automation has played at least some role in these efforts. In the past couple of decades, the focus on automation, particularly automation in business processes, has increased manifold.
But despite the increasing interest, it’s also true that many automation efforts in the past have failed. Think back to 2013 and healthcare.gov, the automated web enrolment tool for the U.S. Affordable Care Act (better known as “Obamacare”). Despite its intentions and inherent potential, the project was beset with problems from the start. This not only led to chaos post-launch, but also exacerbated political, social and healthcare problems in the country that endure to this day. Even Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which has transformed organisations all over the world, is not failure-proof (more on this later).
So is automation in business processes doomed to failure?
Is it a flash in the pan? Or is it here to stay?
And most importantly, should companies even bother with the technical, cultural and mindset shifts that are essential for successful automation in business processes?
Automation in Business Processes: Business Process Automation and Robotic Process Automation
Recently, Business Process Automation (BPA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds. Today, automation in business processes enables organisations to streamline workflows and achieve greater operational efficiencies than ever before. With automation tools, they can enhance productivity and performance, achieve cost savings, scale up operations, improve customer experiences, and even accelerate digital transformation.
BPA is a holistic approach to automate business processes through the use of a large family of advanced automation technologies. If done well, BPA can yield substantial org-wide benefits, driving efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
RPA falls under the BPA umbrella and uses software robots (“bots”) that sit on a server or in the cloud, to mimic the actions of humans. The value of RPA is becoming clearer as the technology improves and matures. For one, bots can streamline monotonous manual, time-consuming tasks to speed up processes, improve output quality, and significantly reduce the need for human intervention. In short, RPA takes the robot out of the human.
But RPA also yields other tangible (and less prosaic) benefits. When the “right” processes are automated, the organisation starts to see great results almost right away. So, if the process is manual, repeatable, high-volume, requires a consistent output, has a low tolerance for error, or is time-sensitive – RPA has the potential to yield a very high ROI in very little time.
Moreover, RPA frees the human workforce from mundane and often, mind-numbing tasks that induce boredom, lower workplace engagement, and in the worst cases, decrease motivation and cause burnout. The effective application of robotic automation in business processes empowers employees to focus on high-value initiatives that can generate greater value for the organisation.
Robotic Process Automation: Not just a flash in the pan
Regardless of its size, scope or sector, almost every modern organisation and department has repetitive, rules-based processes that can be easily automated with RPA. In the midst of current business complexities, competitive uncertainties and customer expectations, companies that leverage RPA achieve immense benefits. Those that don’t often get left behind. This is why RPA is so popular with banks, financial services companies, contact centres, human resource teams, telecommunications giants, retailers, and more.
For all these reasons, RPA – and automation in business processes in general – is no “tech flavour of the week”. Rather, it’s part of a long-term technological revolution that’s likely to endure for years, if not for decades. Gartner agrees with this prediction, forecasting that the RPA market will grow at double-digit rates through 2024, and that 90% of large organisations globally will adopt RPA by 2022.
Common RPA mistakes to avoid
Now that we have established that automation in business processes, especially RPA, is valuable and not just a flash in the pan, it’s time to look behind the curtain, and address another critical question:
How can organisations get the most value from their RPA investment?
What are the common RPA mistakes they must avoid?
Mistake #1: Not understanding what to automate (and what not to)
Too many organisations invest in automation tools and technologies without doing proper research, not only into what’s possible, but also into what’s not.
It’s best to automate repetitive tasks that have the greatest potential to save time and human effort. But not taking into account all of the key criteria that make a process a good candidate for automation will likely result in failure.
Mistake #2: Not focusing on people
One of the main goals of RPA is to reduce dependence on repetitive human inputs. However, many RPA projects don’t realise their full potential because they don’t account for the human factor properly.
Ensuring that the right change management processes are carefully thought through and planned, in alignment with point 3 (below), is key to ensuring successful outcomes.
Mistake #3: Not having a clear vision for automation
Too often, businesses don’t even know why they need automation in business processes, or how they can make it work for their specific needs or challenges. As a result, they dive into the effort without a proper plan or roadmap, and waste time and resources into solving the wrong problems.
Automation success requires a proper vision and SMART goals that align with the company’s overall strategic vision and business goals.
Mistake #4: Expecting automation to fix broken processes
Sometimes, organisations try to automate a process that’s already not working properly. Automation is not a silver bullet that can magically solve inherent process problems, so simply implementing an automation tool, or adding more resource to an inefficient problem will not make the problem go away. Rather, it will end up wasting money and increasing frustration. That’s why, before starting any automation project, it’s critical to be certain that the process is not broken, and that it’s actually suitable for automation.
Mistake #5: Lack of visibility and accountability
Automation in business processes does not automatically provide visibility into results. And when teams don’t know what’s really happening, they cannot judge whether they’re achieving their automation goals. Also, when it’s not clear who has accountability for achieving these goals, any problems will either get passed around, or remain unresolved for a long time.
This is why it’s vital to regularly temperature-test the automation effort and confirm that it’s working the way it’s supposed to. Early establishment of accountability and ownership of the process and its results is also crucial.
In an evolving economic landscape, organisations must find new ways to do old things in order to maintain a strong competitive position. Even better, they must find new ways to do old things better, faster and cheaper. And for this, automation in business processes is the right way to go. As we have already seen, the pace and scale of automation is rapidly increasing across organisations and industries all over the world.