Don’t Wait 200 Years to Incorporate Business Process Automation
Just about everything in business, no matter how simple or complex, has a process which should be followed.
Case in point: In 1776, economist Adam Smith identified 18 distinct processes required to make one pin. Here are some of them:
- Mining the metal needed to manufacture the pin
- Shipping the metal to the pin factory
- Drawing out the wire required for the body of the pin
- Straightening the wire
- Cutting the wire to the right length
- Sharpening the bottom to make the pinpoint
- Grinding the top for the pinhead
Each step is critical to the pin-making process; miss one, and the pin is defective and can’t be used. Smith noted what needed to happen to make a pin, but the technology needed to ensure it happens 100% of the time wouldn’t be invented until almost 200 years later.
Businesses are Stalling the Shift from Manual to Automated Processes
Business processes are still as relevant today as they were nearly 250 years ago. The difference, however, lies in automation. Instead of each step in a business process taking hours or days and at risk of being done improperly, it gets done in a snap. For the post COVID-19 world, 92% of business leaders agree enabling more business process automation is critical to success.
There are two sides to this scenario. First, the types of business process automation companies are looking to implement:
- Collecting data: 55% want to eliminate human error and manual data entry by automatically collecting, uploading or syncing data into a system of record.
- Gathering approvals: 36% want to drive more efficiency by automating approvals vs. manually collecting them via email requests or via pen-and-paper documentation.
- Requesting updates: 32% want to reduce wasted time by automatically requesting status updates and other relevant information.
The three process automation scenarios – data collection, gathering approvals and requesting updates – share common bonds. They focus on data: collecting it, sharing it and acting upon it and doing so in a quick, automatic and accurate manner.
Now, the other side is the reluctance of organizations to automate current manual processes. If the stats above indicate what they want to do, then the stats below are indicative of what they are not doing, organized by industry:
- Transportation and logistics (T&L): 32% of T&L companies use manual steps for over 50% of processes
- Retail: If business processes were automated, 72% of retailers would use the time saved to focus on more valuable work
- Field Services: Pen-and-paper is the preferred method of performing tasks for 52% of field service companies
To summarize: Businesses want to automate specific, data-driven business processes. They believe that doing so would reduce wasted time (agreed by 69% of workers), eliminate human error (66%) and recover up to six hours per week (60%), but many are unwilling or unable to do so.
Perceived Barriers to Business Process Automation
Although 90% of executives expect automation to improve workforce capacity and 85% say automation will enable employees to focus on more strategic business goals, just 48% of organizations are working towards installing automation solutions for managing manual tasks better.
Here are some key reasons why businesses aren’t incorporating business process automation and why – using the automation scenarios noted earlier – those reasons don’t quite hold up:
- Not having an automation strategy: 46% of businesses don’t know what to automate. Looking at daily processes such as approval gathering or data collection is a good place to start. Processes like these can be automated quickly, at low cost, and can yield an immediate, positive impact.
- Deployment time: 72% of enterprises say the time to build and maintain an automated system is a deterrent. However, automating the process required to gather approvals can be done quickly (literally in minutes in some cases) and without the need for complex code.
- Change (mis)management: The six most dangerous words in business are “we’ve always done it that way.” Organizations struggling with bringing aboard process automation tools often focus on the technology which may appear daunting (even though it doesn’t have to be). Focusing on the benefits (improved efficiencies, more time to work on high priority tasks, higher levels of compliance) makes automation adoption much easier.
- Return on investment (ROI): Determining ROI using classical criteria such as implementation cost and cost-savings doesn’t account for the money saved – or earned – due to the fewer errors, faster speed and greater productivity business process allows. That said, organizations using automation to streamline business processes enjoy savings between 25% and 40%.
The Benefits of Business Process Automation
On the surface, business process automation tools may simply take a pen-and-paper document, turn it into a digital version and send it through an approval process. Below the surface is where the real benefits are found.
Better Document Management
By digitizing and automating pen-and-paper business processes, the costs associated with document management drastically go down. This is what an organization spends on one document:
- Filing a document: $20 (USD)
- Finding a misplaced document: $120 (USD)
- Reproducing a lost document: $220 (USD)
Manually producing, tracking, storing and maintaining documents is fraught with risk. Data could be entered incorrectly and lost while being physically moved from one step in the process to another. Automating business processes ensures data accuracy and timely, smooth sharing among key stakeholders.
Better Customer Service
When customer service is tied to processes which are tied to service-level agreements (SLAs), automation guarantees deadlines and timelines are met. There’s no risk of someone forgetting to email or manually deliver a document which requires approval because it’s done automatically.
Better Visibility and Optimization
Additionally, business process automation doesn’t only move things along faster, it provides visibility into where items are in the process.
For example, a budget approval by a procurement manager is expected to take three business days as per the SLA. If those days have passed, other stakeholders can be alerted of the delay. Armed with the information, organizations can:
- Adjust the SLAs to better reflect how much time is needed for the budget approval
- Reroute to another procurement manager who can provide the necessary approval within the standard SLA
Equally as important as visibility and optimization is transparency. All team members can be informed regarding the status of the approval. Additionally, business process automation encourages and promotes greater accountability.
Imagine Your Business with Process Automation
Going back to Adam Smith and the pin factory, he also explained that dividing the process into distinct steps helps the worker and the business. The pin factory he described was able to manufacture around 12 pounds of pins per day.
No doubt, automating the pin making process would result in a greater number of pins made with more efficiency and higher quality.
Now imagine your daily processes. What are they? How are they executed? Where are the bottlenecks? What are the frustrations? Where can risks be found?
Answer those questions – and then imagine those answers going away completely – and you’ll understand the power of business process automation.