Some ABCD’s.. to Business Process Improvement through automation
By Clinton Jones on Feb 27, 2013
Progressive organizations are constantly looking at process improvement initiatives, reducing costs and improving overall operational efficiency. Automation is an obvious choice wherever this can be practically implemented but candidate selection can be just as hard as implementing the automation itself.
Pressure on capital budgets, technical constraints and general competency often leads to automation projects withering on the vine of ideas because of a lack of urgency and criticality.
Most often there are too many other more pressing initiatives in flight that require attention. Accordingly these initiatives often languish and never end in meaningful deliverable solutions.
Here are some ideas on identifying and prioritizing candidates:
Accuracy– Finance is an obvious area where accuracy is key to effective reporting and more importantly compliance issue. There may be other departments where accuracy is critical. Automating processes in pursuit of accuracy helps mitigate risk by limiting the human element.
In highly regulated industries in particular like banking, insurance, pharma and utilities, compliance is always a priority. There can be serious fines for processing work incorrectly or missing deadlines. Activities like transcription, copying and pasting or simply manually entering data in an unguided fashion can erode accuracy and result in non-compliance. These could be areas where automation could create high returns due to the nature of the business. Automation can save time and improve data accuracy. Benefits of improved data accuracy include reducing compliance fines, avoiding accounting “adjustments” due to data capture errors.
Break-Fix– Often times system data problems are discovered in the middle of a process and the business needs to mobilize manpower to remediate or resolve the issue. Sometimes the problem is a physical one and the data in the system needs to be adjusted to reflect the action to be taken or physically taken. Examples might be stock-outs, mass reallocation or cancellation of orders etc. Without useful automation tools it takes a lot out of the business to redirect effort to resolve these kinds of problems
Consistency– Repeating processes that are the same cycle after cycle are often good candidates. Where you see a great deal of data volumes in particular, you will find that these are good areas to focus on because a majority of the processing work flows through that area. You can see a great ROI on your automation initiative just due to the sheer volume of effort that you can reduce through automation.
Processes where a user is taking the same steps each time on a piece of work are prime candidates because there is little variation and they can be simpler to automate. These areas would be a quick hit for proof of concept types of projects.
Departments where there are tight cycle times due to compliance like quality management or where there are high customer demands can yield great automation results. Automation in these areas can help decrease cycle times resulting in better customer experiences or in helping to reduce costs and avoid things like fines.
Decision making– Email is a great tool but businesses that rely on email based processes are losing out on the benefits associated with guided and managed workflows. Email is not a work flow tool at all but it is surprising how many companies use it to move the work around.
Excel is not intended to be used as a reporting database either but it is surprising how many businesses leave the data in excel and never get it into a workflow for decision making or never pass the data to the relevant system of record because they’ve always considered it too difficult.
These ubiquitous “cost-effective” tools require lots of manual intervention, this intervention leads to protracted cycle times and creates even more opportunity for human error which can result in greater operational costs in the long run. Automation with tools like workflow and excel integration tools will allow for work prioritization, reduction in errors, and provide better real time views into a process.
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