First Improve your Business Processes, then Automate
Automation may be key for improving productivity, efficiency and reducing or eliminating mistakes, thus lowering costs across your company’s bottom line. Automation can be as simple as scheduling regular internal email communications or file transfers and as complex as the integration of several business applications.
Take the self-checkout stations trending at supermarkets across urban, suburban and even rural areas. In this example, automation replaces a process that formerly took one or two employees to scan the items, handle the financial transaction and bag the purchased groceries. While the human component is not entirely erased—shoppers scan and bag their own items—the self-check-out station lowers operation costs by decreasing the number of required staff.
ATMs are another example and one that, unlike supermarket self-checkout stations, is welcomed by nearly all customers. Here, everyone wins, from the customer, who can easily deposit or remove funds without leaving their car, to the bank, which sees less customers come through the doors for a simple transaction.
At Boost Midwest, we can help your company discover which processes should be automated and then help you implement an automation strategy. Later on, we’ll look at how to identify processes that beg for automation. But before business process automation, or BPA, can begin, it’s vital to first improve the processes used to carry out your business operations. If a process has 10 steps, you can automate those 10 steps—or first redesign the process so it only takes five steps and then automate.
“Without improving processes first, [businesses] may achieve modest savings, but in many cases they will miss out on opportunities to dramatically improve process outcomes, quality, costs, and cycle times,” Harvard Business Review wrote in 2018, in an article focused on robotic process automation.
Business Process Improvement
Most businesses have processes that have long been in place and are seen as “just the way we do things.” But review and analysis may show that those processes have become slow, creaky and error-prone over time. This is especially true for businesses that started small and have grown in size and operations.
Core business processes include accounting, technology, marketing and sales, product development and customer service. But for all your processes, use this checklist to see if some or all are ready to be revamped for greater efficiency and a higher quality output:
Long cycle times.
Frequent errors in key systems/documents.
Increased levels of customer complaints.
Employee frustration around confusing or complicated procedures.
Bottlenecks in the process slow things down.
It takes a lot of people to get one thing done.
There is a lot of re-work.
Improving business processes takes time, but that time is more than well spent. At Boost Midwest, we’ve helped clients streamline their business processes. Our best practices include:
Change must be performance driven.
Change must be stakeholder based.
Change decisions must be traceable to the stakeholder criteria.
Processes must be managed holistically.
Process renewal initiatives must be conducted from the outside in.
Change is a journey, not a destination.
There are nine basic steps as you move through improving your business processes:
Define the problem.
Break down the process into individual components.
Identify any points in the process that experience delays.
Identify where errors happen most frequently.
Analyze which components drive the most customer complaints.
Identify which elements incur the highest cost.
Redesign: Draw a map of the new process, eliminating or revising the problem areas.
Implement: Use a structured and organized approach that includes planning, documentation, training and communication.
Monitor: Track the metrics to evaluate how and in what ways the process has benefited.
Once the BPI process is complete, business process automation can begin. But it’s important to keep in mind who will be affected by the automation.
“One cardinal rule is to think very carefully before introducing automation to your customer-facing processes.” Mary Shacklett, president of Transworld Data said in 2015. ATMs and self checkout stations, discussed above, are good examples of this. Nearly everyone loves the convenience of automated banking, but supermarket self checkouts? For customers, the results are mixed.
Schacklett notes that when selecting which business processes to automate, companies look for those processes that are:
Time- and resource-intensive operationally.
Subject to human error.
Can be accelerated with automated process improvements achievable through machines and technology.
She concludes, “If automating business processes speeds product to market, improves revenue capture, or reduces operating expenses so margins can improve if pricing needs to be kept flat, so much the better.
While which processes will benefit from automation depends on the type of business involved—a ticketing agency will have different business processes than a widget factory—below are some common business processes that lend themselves to automation:
File transfers. Incorporate file transfers into larger workflows that include tasks like encrypting and decrypting the files or entering the information they contain into an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
New hires. Automate user provisioning across the HR, IT and payroll departments.
Order entry. For repeated processes that involve databases, like order entries, save time by automating them.
Email. Automate Inboxes to process emails quickly and efficiently.
Spreadsheets. Automate manual tasks like data entries, copy and pasting, and formatting.
Business application integration. Automation can help the different applications required to run your business work together smoothly.
Event log monitoring. Automation can save time while also addressing and fixing system errors.
Batch processing. Automate batch processing across platforms.
The technology behind automation ranges from changing email settings company-wide to writing macro codes for spreadsheets. Boost Midwest can analyze your business processes to determine which will benefit from automation and the most efficient way to implement the automation. After all, in the words of chief founder and managing director of Tema India Ltd, Haresh Sippy, “Automation is cost cutting by tightening the corners and not cutting them.”