How many days have you started with grand plans for all the major things you’d like to achieve, only to get to the end of the day and find your focus evaporated, sucked up by the sponge of daily activities?
It’s a challenge we all face, the expectation and reality of how many different activities we must juggle have grown dramatically. Tools designed for efficiency and the policies and processes that once freed us now distract us from our strategic roles, trapping us in tactical execution.
Various solutions bounce around the internet, from only answering emails at certain times, to working in hyper-focused, 90-minute cycles. These may be positive suggestions, but they’re often difficult for many to achieve.
If only we could delegate some of those repetitive tasks, or the writing and sending of seemingly identical emails. While that might not be possible, process automation offers a way to lighten the load.
We shouldn’t fear that process automation will make us replaceable in a way that the industrial revolution did. It’s not the ballet of manufacturing robots dancing around each other to create goods. Think of it more in terms of home automation. For example, you turn on your dishwasher, which sprays soapy water onto your dishes, then rinses said dishes before finally applying heat to accelerate the drying cycle.
Your favourite webstore (and social media) has been using process automation for a while. You find options like “add it to the cart” closely followed by “pay now.” And then magically your purchase appears a day or so later at your door.
Process automation is the magic part of the example, notifying people to find your item, pass it to someone to pack and ship via a distributor, all the while giving you updates by email and providing notifications of when it will be delivered.
For some of us, the thought of automating processes has us eager, yet we may not know where to begin. HR offers a prime entry point as it uses an important mix of finely tuned interpersonal skills, combined with numerous policies and procedures. Process automation can definitely help you with the latter.
So, where to start? Initially, many businesses may be tempted to focus on the most complex processes like the onboarding of employees. It’s a tempting choice due to the integration of multiple departments and being a visible and crucial step in an employee’s time with a company.
The downside of starting with the process with the biggest returns is that it’s like running a marathon before you’ve done any training or even put on your running shoes. You’re going to wind up with lots of pain, regret and ultimately you may wish you never started.
Instead, you should start small, learn and grow. Focusing on the processes where the return is less dramatic, as is the complexity, can deliver huge wins not only in efficiency but also in acceptance at a personal or departmental level. When you have people supporting the improvements you’ve made, you’ll find it much easier to get their backing and help when automating more challenging processes.
By now you may be thinking of your own activities that could be great candidates to automate. So let’s review a few opportunities, keeping in mind you’ll want to start with something relatively easy to automate, with low complexity and that has a major impact on time spent. And when thinking automation ROI, remember that time, or even disruption or repetition, may not be the most obvious targets to get a return on investment, but they’re worthy ones.
Now, on to specific initiatives ripe for automation. Event registration provides a ready opportunity. Consider this. When someone registers for an event, employees then have to email out the appropriate content and calendar invites, gather information about people’s preferences for travel or refreshments and then use that captured information to simplify ordering and booking the associated services. These painstakingly simple yet time consuming initiatives provide the perfect opportunity to automate.
Once you have a few of these simple processes completed, you can then switch your focus to processes that involve two or more different departments. Typically, multi-departmental processes involve complex, inefficient communication systems. Fortunately, you can automate reminders if tasks aren’t complete, allowing teams to easily escalate or even reassign tasks. Often just knowing things are now part of an automated, visible process can motivate people toward offering timely assistance.
As you begin building your confidence, you can take automation a step further by integrating with some of your legacy systems. For example, you can revisit an earlier automation initiative like event registrations and integrate that process with your accounting software, taking out an extra level of manual back-end reporting and simplifying the process even further.
There are many software packages available to help with automation, and the solution you choose will depend not only on what you want to achieve, but also what you’re willing to spend to achieve it. As importantly, you’ll want to discuss how you want to develop these solutions. If you’re a code-heavy team, there are solutions for that. If you’re looking for a low-code automation platform, you’re likely to go with someone like PMG, as we did.
It’s also possible to get professional services to assist you, or to consider building up in-house expertise. You will probably find the further you get into process automation, the more ideas you have, and the more time and costs you could potentially save. Furthermore, having that in-house expertise could give you the incentive to try out some innovative ideas. Regardless of which go-forward strategy you decide, automation is the future. And it’s time we embrace it.
Jon Jenkins is manager of IT business process automation at Kautex Textron. Having worked in IT in small to global organisations for more than 20 years and with various responsibilities, Jon discovered the world of process automation four years ago. Since then he has been creating innovative solutions and efficiencies across all business areas, along with the help of a talented development team.