The marketplace for business process management automation is beginning to blossom. Today’s sophisticated tools allow users—sometimes with minimal support from internal technology departments—to quickly stand up applications that streamline business processes, integrate with other systems, and make changes over time through user configuration rather than traditional coding.
But before diving headfirst into automating business processes, one fundamental question should be asked: Is your business process ready for automation?
While Business Process Management System or Suite (BPMS) offers the potential for rapid development, it is important to spend up-front time analyzing existing business processes before embarking on automation. Avoid the common pitfall of focusing on how the process will perform once automated and instead focus on what will be automated.
Four questions to determine whether your business process is ready for automation:
1. Do you have a standardized process?
One of the biggest challenges in process automation is the lack of standardization. When surveying colleagues on process areas, if they give differing answers or commonly answer “it depends” to decision points in a workflow, automation will be a challenge. Tools and systems by their nature require a level of structure and rigor around decision points that may not exist in a manual process.
When moving towards business process automation, it’s very likely you will work with vendors who are not familiar with the details of your business process and daily operations. While vendors may come with relevant industry experience that can enrich your working relationship, your organization will have its own unique process elements. Having the process standardized and documented to a sufficient level of detail is critical to successful automation.
2. How frequently does your business change?
Frequent process changes can be detrimental to the success of automating a business process if not factored into the design of the automated solution early on. I once worked on a project that changed policies five times during the course of documenting process requirements, with significant impact to processes! Knowing the areas where frequent changes would occur allowed us to design the system with the flexibility needed to support the business process.
3. How much of the business process needs to be automated?
In the enthusiasm to automate business processes, there may be a tendency to over-automate and over-engineer a solution. When evaluating your business process, pay special attention to areas that change frequently, or decision points that commonly end in an answer of “it depends.” Those are prime areas to examine to see if the steps need to be integrated in a system to make your process work. Also evaluate areas where automating may actually make your process more cumbersome. For example, if users today leverage spreadsheets to do their work, mandating data entry into a system may actual slow down productivity. Rather, consider a design that incorporates spreadsheet integration into a system so the impact to the users is minimized.
4. Is your current business process the right process for automation?
Be wary of automating bad processes. Just because your organization performs an activity in a certain way today, does not mean you need to do it that way tomorrow. By moving toward business process automation, you are making changes to how you perform your process, even if the steps in a workflow appear to be the same. Now is your opportunity to step back and evaluate if your process still makes sense under the paradigm shift of having an automated tool.
Organizations that successfully automate business processes may see a number of benefits including increased productivity, improved metrics and intelligence around processes, and reduced costs. Careful upfront planning in evaluating the business processes targeted for automation will go a long way to ensuring a successful implementation.
We’d like to hear from you—what have you found to be most important to the success of automating your business processes?
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