Introduction to Process Automation

August 13, 2018

Creating the Foundation for Work Process Automation
Let’s talk executive to executive. You need work process automation.  Have you heard the term before? Does it sound like buzz words to you? It did to me too, but automating tasks that are low skill, repetitive, and better suited to technology can give you real benefits.

“Benefits” being:

  • Saving you and your team time, so you can do more strategic things
  • Saving money, by not having people take on things they’re not passionate about
  • Reducing risk, as certain tasks are best left to software which makes less mistakes and doesn’t get tired. Additionally, having an electronic audit trail is a bonus.

Getting started: What I’ve learned
Getting started with this concept in my own business took time.  Here’s a few things I learned from doing this myself at Convverge.  I hope my growth here might save you some time and make your journey to a more automated workplace as enjoyable as possible.

  1. Automate something

    Pick a task and automate it.  Simple.  No doubt there are many options to choose from. Here are a couple for your consideration:

    • Approved financial expenditure (AFE) request processes
    • Collecting electronic signatures for important documents and storing them in a secure place
    • Approving employee expenses or paid time off requests
  2. Start small

    Often larger and more complicated processes and workflows are going to be your biggest wins.  However, these are also harder to tackle, and like anything, you want to practice first.  Therefore, to start, simple is best.

  3. Create a “foundation” project

    Next break ground on your initial project and get ready to learn a lot, fast.  Document as much as possible.  Anything that goes right, or wrong is going to help you save costs later.

    By leveraging lessons learned from your foundation project(s) you will avoid pitfalls and increase your likelihood for success with your larger vision for automation.

    You can call it whatever you like but I like foundation project in lieu of POC or experiment.  It’s a small point but I often worry that calling it an experiment and POC might bias people into believing it’s not going to be a long-term business investment, or worst that it’s okay to fail.  What you learn here is going to form the foundation for your work process automation, so why not think of it as such?

  4. Talk about it

    In my experience there are likely 5-10 obvious workflows to tackle (see point 1), but you need to be collaborating with you internal teams.  Process automation, when done well, can spread like wildfire.  Who wouldn’t want to have their job made easier and have the company better for it?  You can try and plan out your own strategy for automation, but a better way is to get people to tell you what they want and need. Secure their buy-in early!

  5. Measure throughput

    There are numerous ways to measure your performance, and you’ll want to try to capture a baseline on whatever metrics you deem appropriate before you introduce the automation.  I say try because manual processes are often hard to quantify.  A huge advantage of automation (especially when coupled with a measurement or BI tool like Power BI) is that they are so so SO easily tracked and monitored.

    Common measurements:

    • Number of transactions (times you do something)
    • Time required for each transaction
    • People involved
    • Incomplete transactions (process started but never completed)
    • Ratings like employees’ feelings towards the transaction or their perceived technical complexity rating

Closing
With many options available to us, there isn’t “one way” to approach the introduction of new innovative ideas and technology into our organizations.  The barrier to modernization has never been smaller with tools like SharePoint, Forms, Flow and Power BI advancing at lightspeed.  The question is becoming less what do I use, and more how do I make these tools work for me.

If there’s any insight I can share in getting you ready to lay the foundation for work process automation or accelerating the process we’d welcome chatting over coffee.

– Eric Veenendaal, President