Many organizations are familiar with the concept of digital transformation through automation. They are aware that process automation makes businesses more efficient, more profitable, and perhaps most importantly, saves organizations precious time. Yet, the fear of replacing familiar processes, as well as a lack of awareness about where to start, keeps many businesses owners from moving towards automation.
In this article, we briefly look at digital transformation through the lens of process automation and why businesses do it, as well as provide some tips about where to get started with digitally transforming your business.
The process and reasons for automation
Digital transformation can be an intimidating concept for some organizations. Yet, at the most fundamental level, digital transformation simply means swapping out outdated processes with more efficient, digital ones. For instance, replacing manual, paper-based record systems with cloud-based software.
To be sure, there are countless reasons why businesses, both large and small, look to automate their processes. Some of the more common reasons include:
- Reducing costs (i.e., reducing paperwork)
- Increasing organization
- Streamlining communications
- Improving customer communication and service
- Reducing human error
- Maintaining consistency
- Increasing accountability
Many of your competitors intend to or have already begun moving towards automation. According to a McKinsey report that surveyed 1,500 business executives across all industries and regions, some 66% responded that addressing potential skills gaps related to automation and digitization was a top-10 priority, while 30% said it was a top-5. Moreover, a research study conducted by Unit4 found that 67% of participants identified implementing digital solutions as an important factor to remaining competitive.
To remain competitive in the coming years, organizations will need to continually implement efficient and cost-effective processes to better serve their customers.
How to start automating your business
To be sure, there is more than one way to get started with automation. The process, however, generally includes the following steps:
Identify processes for automation
In many ways this first step is the most important. Clearly defining the problem is a necessary precursor to finding the solution. Many businesses that fail to automate processes do so because they adopt an “all or nothing” approach. They want to fully automate their businesses. The best approach, however, is to identity each process in your organization’s workflows that you wish to automate but focus on only one at a time.
Look for areas of your business that are repetitive and time consuming. For instance, customer onboarding may consume a disproportionate amount of your team’s time. Scalable processes like onboarding are a great place to start. You could automate your onboarding process and try it out on one customer at a time. Once the process is optimized, you can integrate it systemwide before moving onto the next.
Maintain a detailed list of each process that you wish to automate. In the second step, you will evaluate your options.
Evaluate your options
Look over the list you compiled in step one. For each item, write down what the existing problems are for your workflows. Identify and consider any inefficiencies in your processes. Note that you cannot automate a broken process. In other words, if it is not working then simply adding automation to the mix will not fix it.
Next, list out the risks associated with automation. The biggest one for most organizations is disruption of normal business activities. In fact, many organizations shy away from automation for this very reason. It is also important to consider how automating a process will impact other aspects of your workflows. For instance, if the function supports another process it may be necessary to automate both aspects.
Preparing to automate
One of the biggest obstacles that organization’s face is resistance among employees. The reason is essentially twofold. First, employees have a level of comfort with the way they currently do their jobs and fear change. Second, there is an underlying fear in the global economy that new technologies like machine learning and AI will eventually replace human elements.
The keys here are a level of sensitivity and a commitment to education and training. Take the time to explain to your employees that automation is not meant to replace them but to make their jobs easier. Identify new responsibilities and roles that implementation will lead to. Determine how you will train your employees to handle their new responsibilities.
You will also need to clearly identify your automation team and define responsibilities. In larger organizations the team will include one or more executives, the IT team, impacted vendors and/or customers, and department heads. Smaller organizations will generally have teams of just one or a few members and will likely rely more heavily on independent contractors.
Choosing the right automation solution for your organization is crucial. Developing in-house solutions, particularly for small and mid-size businesses, can be costly and inefficient. Selecting a partner that offers an end-to-end workflow automation platform can be crucial to your automation success.
Analyzing your automation efforts
Much like achieving any organizational goal, monitoring your progress on a regular basis is essential to being successful. Keep detailed records, documenting basic things like the changes that you have implemented, your costs, as well as what has worked well and what has not.
Regularly meet with your team and stakeholders to ask for feedback and come up with some ideas for improvements. Implement the changes and continually review and modify your processes until you are satisfied with the results.
Some final pointers
Every business has its own unique challenges and needs. Provided that you start small and follow the process outlined in this article, you should experience some immediate automation successes.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and still not sure where to start, focus on the following processes and identify the simplest task that you can choose just to get started.
- Basic administrative tasks
- Back office technology (like document management)
- Distribution, shipping, and order management
- Marketing, sales, and business development
- Research and development
- Decision-based processes
- Human resources
Remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Start small, build off your successes, scale your processes, repeat, and revolutionize.