“About half of all the activities people are paid to do in the world’s workforce could potentially be automated” – McKinsey Global Institute, Harnessing automation for a future that works
For many, enterprise automation is a complex and scary topic. Many team leaders believe that it takes too much work to set up your automated systems, and a huge number of people are worried that doing so will let robots take over their jobs.
It’s not true.
Those who understand automation for what it is – a powerful tool which lets your team massively increase their value output – quickly find themselves ahead of the curve. Using it lets you quickly and accurately hand off all of your menial tasks so that everyone can focus on more important items.
Here at Process Street, we know how difficult it can be to get started with enterprise automation. That’s why this post will take you through:
- What automation is
- What types of business process automation there are
- Why you should be using it in your enterprise
- Methods to let you get started with automation
It’s not complex, it’s not scary, and it certainly won’t be putting your team out of a job. If anything, automation is entirely designed around letting people perform their jobs better than ever before.
It’s time to join the newest revolution in enterprise efficiency and accuracy.
What is enterprise automation?
Automation is all about streamlining your team’s workload to shed the menial tasks that robots are better at performing. Your employees won’t get replaced, but will instead be able to perform more valuable work instead of getting bogged down in repetitive tasks.
While there are different schools of automation, the main principle lies in identifying the tasks in your operations and processes which machines are better suited to than humans. After that, practices and software usage can be tweaked to let those tasks be dealt with automatically.
In this way, automation doesn’t just mean that simple tasks are completed quicker and more efficiently – it also frees up time for your employees to focus on work that humans are better at (and more engaged with). This includes tasks like interviewing and helping customers, reviewing important documents, and anything which requires human intelligence or judgment.
Without this clutter in their workflow, your team’s valuable output will exponentially increase. For example, without having to switch between programs to get the information they need and losing time wondering what to do next, your marketing team might be able to approve 10 items per hour instead of 1, your support team could handle 20 tickets instead of 5, and so on.
Again, you’re not replacing team members, but augmenting their ability to let a team of 100 do the work of 1000.
To achieve this, there are (roughly) four types of enterprise automation:
- Basic automation
- Process automation
- Integration automation
- Robotic automation
Basic automation is centered around simple tasks, usability, and communication. It’s less “automatically perform X task” and more “make task X easier to perform”, usually through providing a central location to view all of the relevant information.
This is the easiest type of automation to achieve, as it doesn’t require any special knowledge or fancy tools. At its most complicated you will have to use one extra piece of software or swap out several of your current options for a combined service.
For example, transparent communication is vital for enterprises to avoid confusion and wasted time. The traditional method would be to use email, whereas a basic automation would get your team to use a central chat application like Slack. This way your entire team can keep track of their conversations in a single location and host team chats to keep everyone up to date.
Process automation is a little more complex, but infinitely more powerful. This method focuses on documenting and managing your team’s processes to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and how to perform their tasks.
Although you can do this using traditional process documentation programs such as Microsoft Excel and Word, the best solution by far is to use a piece of dedicated business process management software (BPM software) such as Process Street.
Doing this will provide your team with a list of instructions for all of their common duties, letting them perform their work faster and more accurately. It also means that even inexperienced employees can reliably complete complex tasks, as they can be given access to the same instructions the rest of your team follows.
Integration automation is the most powerful in-house technique, but also the most difficult to set up. Here, the idea is to simulate a kind of digital workforce – machines which can observe the repetitive tasks your team performs and then carry them out in the same way.
Think of it as your services talking to each other or a robot performing a task according to predetermined logic. As long as you can define rules for actions to be performed at specific times or when certain events occur, integration automation lets a machine take that task off your hands entirely.
For example, let’s say that you run a support checklist to process every query a customer submits. Instead of doing this manually every time, you could integrate your BPM and customer support software to have your checklists run automatically. You could even have team members be automatically assigned to let them instantly now when they need to take action.
Robotic automation is similar to integration automation, except instead of getting your programs to perform tasks automatically, you’re hiring a “digital workforce” to carry out the tasks your team usually would.
This has largely the same effect of a robot automatically performing tasks based on predetermined instructions, except these “digital workers” mimic human actions in your software’s user interface (UI).
This means that you don’t need to know how to code in order to set up the automation. Instead, the machine observes the actions a human takes in an app to perform a task, then mimics those actions to do the same. For example, if it sees that a worker presses X button and copies over Y data, it will do the same when assigned to that task in future.
Unfortunately, this usually requires hiring a separate robotic automation service which has the technology set up already. It’s a fantastic solution, but costs more than basic and process automation, and relies on an external service.
Why should you care?
In a sentence, enterprise automation turns your employees into super-humans. In detail, it has the following benefits (to name a few):
- Machines perform tasks faster, with zero variance or human error
- Even basic automation greatly improves efficiency and visibility
- Work is carried out in the same way every time
- Employee onboarding goes much faster
- Communication becomes simple and transparent
- Employee accountability is increased and enforced
- Managing large teams becomes a simple task of checking your process overviews
- Problems in your processes become easy to spot and fix
No matter how good an employee is, there will inevitably be some human error in their work. Machines don’t have this problem, and can perform the tasks you set out reliably every time.
Not only that, but any tasks you hand off will be completed much faster. This provides a potent double dose of efficiency and accuracy which can regularly save thousands of dollars in an enterprise setting.
All of the time and energy your team spends on repetitive and menial tasks can also be funneled into more engaging, complex, and valuable work too. This means you’re saving time and money in your current operations and getting more done with your current team.
There are less quantifiable benefits too, especially where your team is concerned. The combination of reliable, transparent communication, getting rid of their boring tasks, and increasing the amount of creative, engaging work works wonders for morale and motivation.
Managing a team or heading a department becomes much easier too, since your communication, accountability, and processes are all being maintained to a high standard. Instead of chasing everyone up for their work you can go into your BPM overview and instantly see who’s doing well, who’s on schedule, and who might need some help or a follow-up message.
In other words, enterprise automation lets you create a more efficient, accurate, motivated, and manageable team which can scale as your enterprise grows.
Enterprise automation methods
Enough about the virtues of enterprise automation – let’s dive into some methods for using it in your own team!
Here we’ll cover:
- Extending your IT services
- Using a BPM system
- Integrating your programs (through your BPM system)
- Using robotic process automation
Extending your IT services
First up, you can extend your IT services and create custom integrations to link all of your current systems together. This usually involves dedicating development resources to creating integrations or using existing program APIs to let your services interact with each other.
While useful, this options takes a big investment in order to pay off, and is only worthwhile in specific circumstances.
Other automation methods are available which are cheaper, easier to set up, and generally just as (if not more) effective in the short and long-term. This is, however, still a valid option for when your tasks cannot be performed in any other way than how you currently do them.
If the tasks you’re trying to automate have to be carried out using the specific programs and methods you’re currently using and you’ve already documented and optimized your processes, then custom integrations can help to further boost your team’s performance. Otherwise, it’s best to try other, easier avenues before committing to extending your IT services.
Using a business process management system
Whether you’re just starting out with automation or you’re extending the practice to encompass more tasks, using a BPM system is the most time-and-cost-efficient way to increase your efficiency.
The first step is to map your end-to-end process workflows to clearly define the tasks involved in each. There’s no special technique here; just sit down with your team and document how your processes are currently performed.
Again, while this can be done with widespread programs like Microsoft Word, the best way to avoid later confusion and management issues is to use a dedicated BPM tool like Process Street. That way, you’ll be able to record your processes in a place where anyone and everyone will have access to the most recent version of their workflows in a system specifically designed to help your team function at peak performance.
Using a BPM system in this way covers your basic and process automation needs, but also creates the foundation for you to utilize integration and robotic automation. From client onboarding to content creation, anything and everything will become more efficient. In other words, it serves as the hub for all of your enterprise automation needs.
Integrate your BPM system to automate further
Once you have a BPM system up and running, the next best thing you can do for enterprise automation is to use integrations to link it to other platforms, programs, and services.
Since you’ve already documented your processes, you should be able to easily see where other programs can be integrated in order to save time and hand off menial tasks. Prime tasks to automate are data transfer and management, triggering process checklists, arranging meetings, creating and populating documents and forms, and so on.
Going back to our support checklist example, you could integrate your BPM system and your support platform. That way you could have a support checklist automatically run whenever a new support conversation is started, and data such as the person’s name, company details, and messages could be automatically pushed into your checklist.
That way your support technicians would be able to work through their checklist without even having to open your support platform, letting them stay inside a single app and maintain focus. You could even automate posting the response by having your team record their message in the checklist, then having it pushed back into your support platform automatically to save even more time.
This is a great way to make your BPM system even more powerful, and if you use third-party services you won’t need any coding knowledge. However, it will require you to have a solid BPM system set up already, and any third-party software or service will add another expense to your list.
Use robotic process automation
The only realistic way to use robotic automation is to hire a “digital workforce” service. Setting one up yourself would take an insane amount of time and money, and is ultimately pointless when perfectly good services already exist.
Robotic automation is great for repetitive tasks and can be easily taught to the service by letting it observe your employees work in their apps. However, it has the same limitations as other enterprise automation, in that it cannot handle anything that requires human logic or reasoning.
Combined with the benefits that other automation methods offer, robotic automation is far from the be-all-end-all solution to your problems. Namely, it’s useful when you’re trying to integrate processes which involve legacy software which doesn’t have easily accessible (or usable) APIs.
Remember; robotic automation is essentially the same as integration automation, except you’re hiring a digital workforce to automate your tasks instead of directly linking the programs together. As such, this is a good option for when other automation methods do not work (or are impossible due to irreplaceable legacy software).
Start off simple; set up your BPM system
All of this can be overwhelming, so it’s important to start somewhere simple. The best way to get started with enterprise automation is to set up your BPM system.
This will help you fulfill your basic and process automation needs while serving as a platform you can later use to easily transition into integration and robotic automation.
Better yet, this will also mean that your processes will be documented, letting your team always follow the correct method to perform their tasks, and making it easier for you to assign, manage, and track their progress.
You can do all of this and more by signing up to Process Street today. From documenting processes in rich templates to viewing an automatically updated overview of your team’s progress, Process Street is designed to meet all of your process and automation needs.
What types of automation have you tried? I’d love to hear your use cases in the comments below!
Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing. Find him on Twitter here.