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Process automation: where do I start?

Technology is disrupting the way we do business. The message is, and has been for a long time, adapt now – or risk falling behind.

Despite process automation proving valuable for many companies, for others it fails. This is, in most cases, down to its implementation. Deploying solutions onto broken systems, failure to set clear goals, and an overall lack of commitment can disrupt a company’s digitization journey.

So, how to start with process automation? At Nintex, we believe in going back to basics. Successful digital transformation means planning ahead. It also means picking the right processes to automate. If you’re struggling to implement automation solutions, or haven’t started yet, this blog is for you.

Getting started with process automation

If you’re considering where and how to start with process automation, it’s worth keeping one thing in mind. Not all processes need to be automated right away. The first question you should ask before you start is: “which processes are a priority for automation?”

There are two ways to uncover this. The first involves a manual journey of process discovery, and a little extra effort on your part. The second uses process discovery software to more quickly identify processes suitable for automation. Let’s look at both.

Manual process discovery

Manual process discovery involves using interviewing techniques to identify processes ripe for automation. This takes a little longer than using software and requires digging into the trenches of your organization. You can follow these five steps:

  1. Interview Heads of Departments and process “owners”

Getting started with process automation means knowing your processes inside out. Start by meeting with every Head of Department or anyone critical to a process. Look out for processes which are:

  • Repetitive
  • Described as “tedious”
  • Administrative
  • Put to the bottom of employees’ to-do lists
  • Full of bottlenecks
  • Demotivating
  • Time-consuming

A process that ticks any of the above is “stale” or “broken”, and therefore ideal for automation. Inefficient processes, especially those that are crucial to a department’s output or daily functioning, should be prioritized. Then those which are repetitive or tedious. Identifying the correct processes to automate is the first, crucial step in getting started with process automation.

Insider tip

Aim to improve upon the worst (sluggish and broken) processes first. Automating these will provide the highest uptick in productivity, deliver a swift ROI, and deftly set the stage for the next round of automation. Proving that process automation works makes it easy to persuade stakeholders to do more.

  1. Map out processes

Once you’ve identified the best processes for automation, it’s time to map them out. Without process discovery software, you can interview process owners to gain a detailed picture. When mapping out processes, its usually beneficial to take a visual approach. Draw out the process with a pen or paper or use process mapping software to create an accurate visual representation.

  1. Identify problems

Process mapping helps in getting started with process automation. It shines a light on process bottlenecks, unnecessary steps, and broken pathways. By highlighting problems, you can begin to solve them. A process with unnecessary steps is too “fatty” and can be trimmed back. A process with bottlenecks is congested and can be flushed out. Once problems have been identified, you’re better able to refine processes and improve upon them.

  1. Improve your processes

Improvement lies at the heart of process discovery. Its business goals are clear. If a “bad” process is slow, clogged, or inconvenient to employees, a “good” process swings the other way. It should be efficient, smooth and without obstacles, and easy for an employee to complete.

When thinking about how to start with process automation, simplicity is key. If a process can be trimmed back, go ahead – pull out the big scissors. When a workflow isn’t working – or flowing – don’t be afraid to start from scratch. Getting your processes into shape ensures you’re not deploying solutions onto broken systems.

  1. Set clear goals

Before you begin on your automation journey, it’s important to set clear goals. Those thinking about how to start with process automation should be clear, and in agreement, on why they’re doing it. Possible goals could be to:

  • Increase productivity
  • Free up time for employees
  • Improve employee satisfaction
  • Reduce human error
  • Remove paper waste

Or – all of the above. Whatever they are, having clear goals will better inform your automation business plan.

Example 1. HR professional, Nick, wants to streamline the process of responding to employee Q and As, as he often forgets. He opts for a solution that sends automated prompts reminding him to reply.

Example 2. HR professional, Sarah, wants employee Q and As to be completely taken off her hands. She decides that automated HR chatbots are the best route, as these take care of the conversation entirely.

Process discovery software

Process discovery software automates the five steps above. The technology quickly identifies work processes, will visually map the main path and variants of a given process, and evaluates their suitability for automation. It also instantly generates workflows.

The beauty of process discovery software is that it works effortlessly behind the scenes. Developing an automation strategy takes work – but with discovery tools the work is largely done for you. Simply install the software onto your computer and the algorithms get to work.

With process discovery software:

  1. The best candidates (processes) are automated as a priority
  2. Automation solutions aren’t deployed onto broken systems
  3. Time and cost savings can be accurately predicted

Process automation: taking the first step

The automation landscape can be overwhelming for those starting out. Knowing which processes are most cost effective to automate, or whether existing processes even work, is a roadblock yours and other businesses face.

Getting started with process automation means understanding your business processes first. Process discovery helps you map out a clear strategy before diving into the automation deep end.



Wondering how to start with process automation? Nintex are automation experts, with a range of automation solutions and process discovery tools



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