As companies begin their automation journeys, they should take a step back to ensure that the hard work and disruptive actions will be worth it in the long run. You can already find numerous articles online of failed automation initiatives when companies have not thought through processes fully before beginning to implement technology in previously human-centric processes. In this article, I will discuss some of the foundational steps organisations should take when beginning to look at individual processes which could benefit from automation.
First, it’s essential to analyse which processes would benefit most from automation. Building robust tools, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), usually requires the involvement of skilled software developers implementing tools for which organisations have to pay sometimes significant license fees for. For example, one RPA bot will usually cost between $10,000 to $20,000 per year just for the license fee, so therefore a process needs to be of a large enough scale to see a positive return from an automation initiative. It’s typically good to to list your processes and pick isolated ones to begin with to see the journey once, before starting to automate across the board as often turning back is often detrimental.
Degree of Standardisation and Repetitiveness
Processes that are highly standardised and have been running in a similar manner for longer term typically make the best candidates for automation. The great benefit of using people for running processes is that their job spec can quickly be changed, whereas a tool or application requires the time and effort of software developers to recode tools when new requirements come up. Organisations should therefore look at the processes which have not seen much variation, and which appear to stay predictable going forward. If possible, it is good to avoid processes that require input from external stakeholders as this adds another layer of complexity and unpredictability.
Remapping and Restructuring the Process
Perhaps the most critical error organisations make when engaging in automation initiatives is implementing technology without remapping the entire flow of tasks. Often we map processes in organisations around the resources available and convenient workflow. For example, a certain employee may handle activities based on her access to tools, such as a CRM system, even though the employee’s real value-add is in only one of the pieces of the entire flow. Organisations should therefore first map processes into individual activities with fresh eyes, and then focus on which pieces are best left for manual delivery. It may be that after the process is remapped all parts remain manual, however it is much easier then to slot technology to take over when activities are not tangled up. This phase may be disruptive to the organisation short-term, however makes transition to automation more seamless.
Automation initiatives and transformations can be hugely disruptive to organisations on many levels. Employees may fear uncertainty over their positions and uncomfort over the prospect of imminent change. By being precise about what is being automate as described above, departments will have more confidence over management’s ability to target specific processes that most employees will already know are currently being run inefficiently. Automation is also financially disruptive, as development of a new resource may add a significant cost burden into one quarter while a process is still incurring costs from the existing process. Being realistic about full costs is important, and preparing for a very conservative case is prudent, because organisations regularly face unforeseen headwinds.