4 Questions To Ask Before Automating A Process

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As customer expectations continue to rise with the use of smartphones—enabling them to get what they want, when they want it—businesses are being driven to deliver increasingly faster services. Executives realizing the necessary change of pace in operations to meet client demand will stay ahead in their industry. Effectively automating internal processes in finance, human resources, and procurement departments is foundational to streamlining operations, in turn advancing consistency and efficiency of customer care.

Out of 600 global executives surveyed, 55 percent worry they’re not making optimal use of technologies in their company. Without an overall vision, it’s difficult to chart a path for automation, obscuring progress in the end. Avoid extra stress by thoroughly preparing for each step toward digitalization, including automating internal business processes. As with most new ventures, setting some parameters and end goals up front facilitates maximum, measurable results.

1. How firmly defined is the process?

In an organization, some processes require critical thinking and high-level skills, and other processes involve repetitive entry and transfer of data. For automation, seek out the mundane, repetitive processes involving information exchange that flows down a predictable track, day after day. In most automatable processes, relevant data is first gathered, then sent for review by other colleagues or managers, and at the end, a specific action is taken.

For example, vendor payment is a highly repetitive process for a manufacturing or e-commerce business and usually follows the same workflow. An invoice must be created, reviewed and approved by the finance department, followed by payment release to the vendor. No matter the vendor or product, not much about the workflow is going to change.

Find an expert in the process that can slice and dice every step and document all the tasks that must be performed, the order of task performance, and the final output. Thoroughly documenting a process using mapping or charting a diagram will prevent conflicting automation results.

2. What are the desired benefits of automation?

One of the most common mistakes in process automation is failing to set goals for automating the process clearly. After automation, it’s difficult to know what exactly was accomplished without realizing the initial issues at hand, and not every process has the same obstacles.

For each specific process to be automated, consider what problems can be resolved. What is the primary goal to be achieved by automating this process? Here are a few:

  • More transparency
  • Increased compliance
  • Reduced manual errors
  • Reduced bottlenecks
  • Improved methods for tracking performance metrics
  • Decreased paper usage and waste
  • Consistent procedures
  • Better data integration

Employee onboarding is one of the most popular processes automated in the human resource department because HR is looking for a way to provide a consistent experience for each new employees, without the headache of manually tracing all the steps and documentation every time there is a new hire. Think about your process at hand and consider some concrete automation goals.

3. What other software can be connected in the workflow?

When searching for BPA software, you definitely want to choose one that is easily integrable with other software used in the office. A third-party application such as Zapier can connect systems for streamlined, accurate processes. Workflows involve information sourced from a range of software such as productivity applications, content management systems, accounting software, and email, to name a few. Information should be able to seamlessly flow between the systems and within the workflow without manual data entry.

Integration with other software is imperative for maximum efficiency in automated financial workflows. Data can be pre-populated from databases such as a vendor list for invoices. Also, when budget requests and approvals are made, balance sheets must be accessed to verify if there are adequate funds are available. After the funds are released, the balance sheet can automatically be updated to reflect the change.

4. Who can give additional information for improvement?

Since it is critical for a process to be accurately documented before automation to ensure consistency and meet the set objectives, receiving input from all staff related to a specific process from creation to process completion is essential. When operations stretch across more than one department, team members from each department should provide input. For example, leave requests usually involve an employee, their supervisor, HR, and the Finance department, so those who are involved in any part of the workflow should check for accuracy in the diagramed and software integration points and also be consulted for targeted automation goals.

In a Futurum survey, 30 percent of companies express concern about their CEO’s practical understanding of digital tools, but for digital strategies to succeed, everyone in a company must be involved in the automation process, from the top down. Vendors, managers, line workers, and even stakeholders can provide valuable insight into workflow improvement.

If one of the two most significant barriers to effective digital transformation is company culture, then take a step in the right direction by involving every employee possible in planning and executing process automation. Thoroughly preparing for each automated process together will not just save time in testing and troubleshooting. When team members collectively define workflows, make goals for process advancement, and reevaluate to optimize efficiency, digital company culture will evolve naturally with all hands on deck.