Business process management has long been a key factor in building a successful enterprise. While no one would willingly neglect something so foundational, it is easy to lose focus on the basics when new and exciting initiatives are being proposed and explored.
Process automation technologies certainly offer efficiencies and improvements that have never been available before, but they still need to be undergirded by sound business processes to maximize their value.
Before implementing automation, consider answering these five questions to optimize your business processes to get the most out of your automation investment.
- Is it necessary?
Business processes can tend to overstay their welcome – or at least their usefulness. What was once an important process can linger long after it ceases to add value to the business. Before committing to a process, first consider if the process is truly necessary: Does it fulfill any specific internal or external customer demands?
For many internal processes, specifically, certain types of reporting, this question is paramount. Is the data generated by this reporting used to make business-critical decisions? Does this process generate data that is redundant within the organization? Where there are no value-added outputs, or where the process is an end in and of itself, you might be better off simply eliminating it rather than expending resources to document, manage, and automate it.
- Does it contain excess motion?
If the process is necessary, it is time to look at who and what is involved. Many processes have internal loops, where one person touches the same data multiple times at different stages.
It is worth examining these steps and looking at whether they can be combined into a single activity. Doing so reduces the number of handoffs – reducing the potential for errors – and eliminates time lost due to task-switching. Consolidating tasks will also accelerate the process execution timeframe.
- Does it flow smoothly?
The order and responsibilities within a process does not have to be set in stone. It is worth considering what might be a better sequence of activities or tasks. Does the current allocation of process steps complement the roles and systems assigned to them?
It may be that some of the activities are better handed off to another person. It could be valuable to reposition activity order so complimentary systems are engaged together and the exchange of data or resources is reduced. Reviewing the process sequence can help ensure the timeframe and resourcing is not out of balance and wasteful.
- Is it simple?
While the steps so far do introduce a degree of elegant simplicity to the process, this step is about looking at the tasks themselves. At each step of the process, is there a simpler, more effective way to achieve the same outcome? By reducing complexity, the potential for errors and delays is cut down significantly.
Consider a process step that involves collecting data from several staff via email. One person would have to collate and process that data, relying on people to provide it in an ad-hoc fashion. Introducing a digital template to collect and organize the data would make the process smoother and more efficient.
This is where technological tools can start to weave into your processes, and leads to the last question:
- Can it be automated?
With the process documented and flow-optimized, automation becomes the obvious next step for improving the effectiveness of your processes. Workflow automation, digital forms and documents, and RPA solutions can replace various human activities, reducing timeframes and the potential for errors.
Helpful in this evaluation will be investigating the existing process metrics – cost, time, and/or quality – to determine if there would be adequate improvement to justify the investment in automation. Not every process should be automated, and not every activity is a great candidate for applying a technological improvement.
Ensuring that processes are essential, clearly mapped, and simplified will make automation decisions much easier and help clarify where those tools are best employed.
Business process automation is an effective process optimization tactic that can create significant increases in customer value. However, without sound processes at the heart of your business, automation will yield less-than-ideal results. By asking these five questions first, you can help ready your processes to maximize your investment in process automation.