With the universal need for businesses to operate more and more parts of their business at increasing speed, automation has become the cornerstone of every good digital transformation strategy. And there’s no doubt that opportunities for digital automation are all around us – to make the execution of tasks quicker, cheaper, more efficient and more consistent.
Every industry can benefit from automating more processes, but not every process is a good candidate for automation. The art of effective automation is in choosing the right process to improve in the first place.
Some business processes are far better suited for automation than others. It’s critical to first work out how a process can be improved, before looking at how relevant technologies can be applied for the best possible impact – when automation and human intervention complement each other perfectly.
In this blog, we’ll look at the type of processes that are prime for automation and how you can continually identify opportunities for process improvement. We’ll also challenge conventional wisdom around the need to heavily customise technology to implement automation and why a standardised approach is often a more viable, long-term strategy.
What is digital automation?
It’s important to differentiate between digital automation and digital transformation, because the two terms are often confused. Transformation is the concept of using digital technology to improve the operations of a business, and in some cases to respond to rising customer expectations.
Automation is the practical means of achieving this, by applying technology in the right ways to speed up and simplify processes that can be time-consuming, mundane, repetitive and prone to human error .
Where should digital process automation be applied?
In establishing which of your processes might be a candidate for automation, it’s important to consider not just the feasibility of automating the process, but the value of doing so. In other words, just because you can automate something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
There are two factors you should always consider when evaluating processes to automate. The first is value, in terms of working out the scale of the benefits your organisation can gain from the automation. This needs to be looked at from a perspective of time, cost, productivity, and how human resources can be liberated for work that relies more on their expertise.
The second is whether a particular process is suitable for automation. The best candidates are those which manage the requester/provider interaction. Every business has many service management processes which require a clear capture of a request from someone, such as an employee, customer or partner. That request then needs to be routed to the ‘provider’ who will resolve it, a process that can be improved through automation which makes routing more intelligent and removes the need for a triage function.
Workflows can direct the request through its life until it is resolved, maintaining records, tracking time taken, and keeping an eye on the clock to ensure that specified service levels are met. Service management links these interactions and tasks to the underlying system and functions, ensuring all the tasks needed are completed, and giving visibility to the whole process end-to-end.
Automated processes can be department-specific, such as IT service management or HR case management, or have a specific service focus, like requesting a green collection bin from a Local Authority, or requesting a loan laptop. In any case, the key benefits are saving time, reducing costs, and improving customer experience.
Why is a continuous approach to digital process automation so important?
When an organisation embraces an ethos of continuous digital automation, you’ll typically have a dedicated automation expert or team define a constantly evolving and regularly reviewed automation strategy. They will help you explore all opportunities for automation within your organisation, assess the scale of the possible benefits, and ensure that you automate the right things, both now and in the future.
With automation perfected for your business, you’ll benefit from:
- Improved productivity: increased processing speeds and reliable automated software reduces errors, improves efficiency and helps your business get more done each day
- Better customer experiences: with automation taking care of repetitive tasks, your employees will have more time to spend on value-adding work, helping them deliver better service and strengthen customer relationships
- Greater insights and compliance: refined automated processes can generate a data trail, that can be used to support data-driven decision-making, and to ease compliance and audit procedures
- Lower costs: because automated tooling can get tasks done quicker and more accurately than humans can, you can either get the same amount of work done at a lower cost – or more work done for the same outlay
Beware the pitfalls of customisation
In order to apply automation in a way that perfectly meets the needs of a specific business, many experts and providers advocate buying a solution and then customising it. However, this approach can be fraught with risk.
There are two common reasons for this. The first is the incorrect assumption that software that has been customised is, by default, better suited to a process than the solution that comes ‘out of the box’. This isn’t necessarily true and often the standard process supported by standard software may actually drive a better process.
Good enterprise service management software, such as ServiceNow and 4me will have been properly user tested across many user profiles and developed to support best practices. So it’s worth thoroughly assessing that before heavily customising any software.
In the main, customisation means adapting software to enable your current processes – irrespective of whether the process itself is optimal. However, before deploying technology, you really should consider whether the process itself is in need of improvement – to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Process improvement all starts from a point at which there is no formal process documentation and no formal ownership – then it transitions all the way into a fully optimised, partially or fully automated operation. Automating a process is just one step in process improvement and technology should be deployed at the right stage to minimise any costly mistakes and remediation.
The second reason why customisation can be problematic is that it almost always comes with a higher cost of ownership, long-term. This is partly down to the cost of the customisation itself, but also because when you then need to adjust or upgrade your software under a continuous approach, it costs more to do that with software that isn’t standardised.
Digital automation can deliver very favourable outcomes in all areas of your business, but always start with the process before considering the technology.
To benefit from automation, it’s likely you’ll first need to change the way you’re doing things. Yet, business change can be a painful undertaking, especially with humans that are highly resistant. This is why organisations often fall into the trap of customising software with no real benefit, just because it’s easier – software will never push back or complain.
In many ways customisation also flies in the face of the real goals of automation. Digital automation is really all about simplification – to do things faster, cheaper and easier with minimal human intervention. Customising software to suit an existing process is expensive and will not improve the speed and efficiency of the process, if that process isn’t simplified.
In short, the opportunities to apply digital automation are immense. If carefully considered and done right, automation will fundamentally change the way we structure organisations and work moving forwards.
SCC’s depth of expertise and access to a selected range of automation technologies makes us your ideal partner for continuous digital automation. Take a closer look at what we can do for your business here.