Written by Lancom Communications, November 2022
With staff shortages hitting harder than ever, getting everything done every day is becoming a bigger ask. In this environment, Business Process Automation (BPA) is emerging as a key way of accelerating productivity so your people get more done in less time, while being relieved of dull, repetitive ‘busy work’ which, while entirely necessary, doesn’t add a great deal of value.
One of the questions we routinely face when talking BPA is quite a straightforward one: where do we start? That’s a good question, because you might have a sense that BPA holds potential for your organisation, but knowing where and how to get going is, of course, the important bit. What’s probably worth stating at the outset is that like any initiative, your investment and efforts should be targeted so they deliver value and desired outcomes, rather than diluting the focus on getting the job done. That’s why we’ve devised these 5 steps which can help you identify where and how BPA can work for you.
5 Steps to Business Process Automation Success
1. Determine functional areas of operation
Start by identify functional areas within your organisation where increased efficiency will help. Examples of functional areas include sales teams, accounts payable, customer service, inventory management, and so on. One of the classic ‘canaries in the coal mine’ is growing dependence on spreadsheets or lists accessed by multiple people; if these are being routinely used to keep track of things, chances are you have a candidate for automation.
2. Standardise wherever possible
Automation LOVES routine and repetition. So, make things routine and repeatable! With standard operating procedures (SOPs) describing the exact steps involved in performing a function or a role, your processes become accurately defined. As an exercise, look at say, 5 common processes within your organisation: we’re willing to bet there isn’t a precisely defined SOP for any of them. This is commonly the case, especially in small to medium businesses, and it is also one of the major hindrances in identifying opportunities for automation. And here’s the thing: even if you don’t automate, creating SOPs has considerable value because it accelerates training for new staff members, eliminates errors, and improves the quality of your processes.
3. Identify the repetitive tasks
Doing 2. above pretty much leads into .3. Knowing your functional areas and having determined SOPs, the repetitive stuff starts becoming clearer. Using some intuition (and quite possibly, the assistance of professionals like Lancom!) you’ll start appreciation where and how automation might be useful or appropriate. Any tasks requiring little ‘thinking’ or which have few deviations from standard, are candidates for automation. Again, this process is valuable because doing it brings increasing clarity into your operations and can lead to improvements, whether through automation or simply because the detailed examination can reveal issues or shortcomings.
4. Target the low-hanging fruit
Biting off more than you can chew is one of the biggest dangers in automation projects. When that Edison lightbulb moment happens, it’s tempting to imagine amazing automations everywhere. But this is risky; BPA has its place and most certainly does deliver exceptional value when applied to the right processes. Our advice is to start small and simple, go for the most obvious and simplest automations first. Demonstrate value early on, get to grips with the tools and the techniques, and expose the potential slowly but steadily. There is every chance that even complex processes can benefit from automation – but they should wait until later, even if successfully automating them delivers the greatest benefit. After all, experience is invaluable. As you automate one process after another, not only will the benefits become clearer, but so too will the limitations.
5. Start with what you have (and what you know)
Here’s the really good news. Like many solutions, BPA was once the preserve of big companies, but today it is accessible and invaluable to almost any organisation. We like using the Microsoft Power platform as a central solution for most BPA projects, because it is affordable, flexible and works so well with the proliferation of other Microsoft applications (including Microsoft 365) already in most organisations. Leveraging what you already have in your technology stack – with perhaps a few specific additions - makes BPA accessible. And when Lancom gets involved, in many cases we won’t just help automate your processes but work with you to establish the capability for your people to identify and create their own automations. That’s empowerment!
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