Now that it’s been recognized as a basic building block of digital transformation, process automation is getting its fair share of attention. While it can be a tremendous level for growth, innovation, and competitive advantage, process automation isn’t fail-proof.

It entails more than bringing new technology tools to the table. It requires rigorous discipline to see the process from the beginning all the way through and beyond to reap the rewards of continuous improvement.

Process automation is a defined way to eliminate manual, time consuming, and costly tasks within an organization by replacing them with faster, automated processes that  reduce repetition and costs and offer an improved employee experience.

There are a vast number of tools for process automation these days, from Business Process Management solutions to Robotic Process Automation. The hard part is not finding the technology — the real work starts once the purchase order is signed.

While many organizations start out with the best of intentions for process automation initiatives, they fail to realize that they aren’t ready to automate their processes because, frankly, they don’t really know what their processes are. Often, processes aren’t well-documented or thought-out from a best-practice perspective. In addition to this,  there’s an overabundance and over-reliance on tribal knowledge, which you can’t transform. “This is the way it’s always been done,” can sometimes be the most powerful force in tamping down innovation.

The trick is not to get frustrated. Remind yourself that transforming processes is … a process — a process that takes discipline.

Here are three important steps to guide your process automation initiatives:

Step #1: Figure Out What You Want to Automate

It’s not that organizations don’t know what they want to automate. It’s that, all too often, the vast amount of processes in need of automation are so plentiful, knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. Moreover, an organization that tries to tackle too much too soon will find resources spread too thin and results lacking.

A good approach is to define a “starter set” of processes that will deliver return on effort quickly. Ideal processes to look into are those that are time consuming (like employee handling) and require lots of handling with little value added in the coordination. Don’t make the mistake of cutting corners and tackling business “mission-critical” processes first, as this can introduce too much risk in your early process automation pilot efforts.

Many organizations still spend considerable staff time doing repetitive manual tasks. These kinds of activities often include data input and output, transaction processing, and entering customer information into databases — these processes are ripe for automation/transformation.

Once you’ve identified these processes, you can chart a course for change. And when you’ve reached the process nirvana promised land, you can move on to automate more mission-critical and customer-centric processes.

Step #2: Determine the Rules Currently Governing Those Actions/Activities.

There are many information resources available regarding business process modeling — the method of graphically representing business processes and integration among enterprise applications, so that the current process can be analyzed, improved, and automated.

As part of this process, there must be rules in place to govern processes and conditions for escalation — Who has authority to do what? Under what circumstances in given scenarios?

As organizations continue mapping these attributes, they may find they are doing things wrong. Often, it becomes clear that their existing processes are a residual of times long past. Organic growth typically results in expedient solutions to problems in the moment, with little attention to future needs for process flexibility or scalability.

This process of “getting clean” can be like organizational therapy. Only by understanding the rules governing the processes can organizations understand if those rules are still relevant and applicable. Organizations may need to break the rules to put in place a faster and more cost-effective means of working.

A word to the wise: Simplify as much as possible. The easier the process, the easier it is to achieve the return on investment.

Step #3: Monitor and Measure Results to Form the Baseline for Continuous Improvement

“Set it and forget it” has no place in process automation. Monitoring results is critical to gauge performance and glean the insights needed to make process “revisions” that improve efficiency and effectiveness.

However, more often than not, this step is overlooked due to a lack of focus or resources.

It’s important to have metrics in place to measure process performance as it’s pivotal to the success of process automation initiatives. Without this data, it can be difficult for organizations to know whether their processes are becoming outdated or ineffective. Fortunately, integrated analytics and dashboarding available today are making the process of tracking and measuring performance easier than ever before.

And as with all transformations, only with truth can you see the light. If organizations are prepared to take on the real work that is needed for process automation, they’ll reap the rewards of cost savings and greater efficiency, giving them the means to support better employee and customer experiences.


Ray Emirzian is senior director of product management with DocStar, and also oversees its AP Automation practice. He has more than two decades of experience in business process analysis, business process automation, and business consultation working with industry-leading organizations including NCR, Canon USA, and AuthentiDate Holding Corporation.

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