Whether you are looking at digitally transforming your business to electronic forms, building workflows, generating documents or automating desktop manual processes through RPA, ROI is an important factor. A solid digital transformation plan, will not only include the processes that you should automate, but also the best of breed tools you should use, and the cost of not only licensing, but the savings your business will achieve through this transformation.
In this post, I'll endeavor to cover a few things to think about, that most companies aren't thinking about during thei digital transformation journey.
Crowdsourcing understanding your business
Whether large or small, you are probably underestimating how many processes occur, in order for your business to run every day. There is knowledge in the brains of your staff, that they bring into the business, that they have done for so long and continue to do, without even knowing it. Should those employees get promoted or leave the business, they take that knowledge with them. This is a risk, but it also is an advantage. It really proves how valuable your staff are to the business.
In order for you to minimize the risk though, you should understand all the processes of your business. It was glaringly obvious, after moving into the automation space, many many years ago, that although you may think that EmployeeX knows everything about a particular process, that process is actually made up of work being done by EmployeeX, EmployeeY and EmployeeZ. In most cases, they know parts of the process, but not all of it. That is the biggest risk a company faces.
With the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic, businesses needed to adjust how they worked, very quickly. In some cases, it was a reduction in business travel, but an increase in digital marketing. In other cases, it was a temporary or even permanent reduction in staff. These are a massive changes to the status quo of what you might have been doing, and where your business was successful. The aftermath of these kind of changes, is that processes that may been executed, may not be done now. Do you even know what those processes or steps are?
In order to minimize the impact of sometihng else like this happening in the future, this is the time the invest in documenting your processes. Ideally, a business would have a Process Manager. Their role would be to work with the different business units, to make sure that not only are process documented, but they are accurate and maintained over time.
It is also critical, that not just one person documents processes, but you crowdsource this through the business. This will not only help you get more processes documented, but it will also expose edge cases that most people didn't know existed. Imaging documenting a leave request process. You think think everyone knows how it works, but there is a little piece of data that needs to go to some backend system, that is then used in reporting to accounting and finance, which then gets put into another report and calculated for data to the board etc etc etc.
Over time, these processes will evolve, and your documentation needs to evolve with it. If you open an office in another part of the world, you might find that your leave request process works for the Americas, but no longer works for your Middle East office, due to what the different regions expect is a working week. In this case, now your Middle East office can interact and enhance your processes, by adding their variations to that process, to cater for their needs.
Should there be another situation, where these is a huge potential risk to your business, now you can look over your process documentation to see where impacts will occur, based on the changes you are looking to make.
Business are opening up all the time to disrupt things, by providing services faster, easier and cheaper. You will find that your business is constantly on it's toes to make sure you can adjust quickly and efficiently. Does this mean that you are constantly changing your business because of these attacks? No, but you need to be able to adjust where necessary.
It's hard to change people. It's easier to change processes, as long as you know what they are, if those processes are automated.
Let's take one example of a process, to see how it can be improved upon.
A customer comes into one of your locations, they are given a piece of paper and a pen. They sit down, fill in the form and hand it back, go back and sit down in the waiting area. Your employee takes the data and starts putting it into the computer. Eventually, they are taken back to see someone. Aftwards, they come out with a piece of paper that they hand to your employee, who then fills in something else in the computer. Sounds like almost every visit to any doctor, or mechanic etc.
Are there ways to improves this?
1. Improve the customer experience. Don't give them paper and pen. Give them the ability to fill in this information online, before they even come in. If they haven't, give them a tablet to fill that information in the office, so that on submission, the data goes straight into your system. This provides a better experience and minimize human error, from moving data from paper to computer.
2. By digitizing this process, you also make it easier to modify it for the future. Let's say you need more data, or less data from the customer. You can change the intake form simply, without having to reprint a bunch of forms.
3. Automation also lets your process interact with multiple systems of record, and external entities. It will also let you interact with your customers periodically, with miminal use of resources. Your processes could be scheduled to send reminders to customers, or to send reports to them, or notifications. Since you purchased ProductX, we want to notify you of a recall of that product. Please bring your product in to one of your outlets and we will replace it. Now imagine you sold 10,000 of these items. If you didn't have the data in a system, and some type of automation tool, how would you notify your customers?
This is probably the most common theme around why companies want to use automation tools. Automating process will cut costs right? Yes, it will. It will also increase visiblity into processes that you may be doing now, that are not efficient or unnecessary. It will most likely also expose where you could improve on current processes, but connected multiple systems together. Something that was done manually before, but can be automated and will be less error prone.
Cutting costs for a business is important. Cutting waste should be equally as important, because that will result in cutting costs. If you find that a process, in order to be complete, requires 20 steps, automating that process may not necesarilly need all those steps. That is because you could be changing how the process works fundamentally. It could be that UserX has to do all these 20 steps. When it's automated, the process might instead be interacting with APIs and will only require 5 steps. Understand what the process is, before automating it. You run the risk of your automation doing exactly the same thing a user did, and that may not be the best thing here.
There's also concern that automating parts of the business, will result in loss of staff. What I've seen, is that instead, it means your staff can focus on how to better improve their business units. Your staff are the most important asset of your business. Automation, will allow them to focus on more important aspects of the business. Automation could also be a new skill for them to learn, as they take what they do manually, understand the processes, work together with other business units, to automate these processes.
Increasing Speed of Data
What does this mean? Manually processing data is time consuming. Automating can not only improve how fast data gets processed, it can reduce the number of errors. I'm sure you've heard that before.
What I'm seeing, is automation can also be done more often. This is something that I've found a lot of people, don't think about.
In the past, you may have waited til Monday morning, to get a report of that most up to date data. This would mean that someone was collating all the data on friday afternoon, so that a report was ready on Monday. With automating a process, you can click a button that triggers a workflow or RPA script, to go and gather the data, generate a report in a PowerPoint and send it to you. You can do that Monday morning, Wednesday lunch time or even on the weekend.
Recently, I had a need to go through around 60 unique orders on a site, to get the status of each order. Doing this manually, was just too time consuming. The system didn't have an API I could call, so I resorted to RPA to do that for me. I had an Excel spreadsheet with a list of my 60 order urls. Manually, this would take me a few hours to do, not including the mistakes I would probably make, but copy and pasting the wrong url, or updating the wrong row in Excel. I would also want to see what changed from the previous time I looked at each order. RPA allowed me to go through these 60 orders in around 20 minutes. The data was collected quickly, efficiently and without error. I can now look at my spreadsheet, and see what's changed. Not only that, but I can run this in the morning and then in the evening, when I'm taking a break, or on a call.
I guarantee you, that checking all 60 orders, if I was doing them manually, I might do once a week. I am not doing it every day, let alone multiple times a day. This is where automation really shines. It not only gives me the data I need, quickly and accurately, I can also run these at any time, to get the work done then and not have to wait.
If you have a process that one of your employees does manually once a week, that doesn't mean that if you automate that process, you need to only do it once a week still.
What does this all mean?
It means, there are a lot of moving parts to your business. Automation can help with not only improving efficiencies, but it can help you understand your business better.
Through understanding your processes, to automating them, and continuously improving them, you will set your business up for success and be able to handle all manner of challenges that you will face.
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