Businesses should be automating processes, now more than ever
Most large businesses understand the importance of business process automation (BPA) as an enabler, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted its importance as everyone scrambled to find a new normal at work and at home.
Thanks to mobile devices, internet connectivity and IoT, amongst others, we can collect data in ways that we’ve never been able to before. Data collection is becoming increasingly easy because almost everyone has a mobile device and receiving data from that device is easier than it’s ever been. It is for this reason that machine learning is also increasingly important as a means to process the big data coming in.
Where initially it has been mostly simple tasks or processes that would be automated, the range is rapidly expanding to include more complex tasks as it becomes easier to process large amounts of data.
A big trend for businesses at the moment is the commoditisation of their automation tools. Look at, for example, something as simple as taking a photo of a document with a phone, which uses optical character recognition ( OCR ) to digitise it immediately. Tools that had previously been considered expensive are now considered accessible and inexpensive solutions.
Where the availability and accessibility of such tools has been a godsend for many businesses, it has also led to a highly fragmented approach to BPA. Businesses are often just using bits and pieces of technology, spread across the organisation, instead of developing a holistic, consolidated approach. When implemented correctly, these tools enable organisations to replace manual efforts to execute recurring tasks with technology-driven approaches which can drive down costs, lead to greater efficiency and streamline processes.
If understanding the need to integrate automation into a business is one side of the coin, the other side is how businesses go about it. Simply replicating an existing, manual process into a digital system is not the same as re-imagining and modernising it for it to be automated. Old-fashioned processes often do not align with modern systems, so the most effective way to go about automation is to involve the person charged with executing the manual process because they are best positioned to highlight areas for improvement.
A common misconception is that automation will lead to employee redundancy, which is not necessarily the case. If implemented in line with a holistic strategy, BPA minimises the amount of time employees spend doing menial tasks, freeing them up to focus their time and attention on tasks that provide more value to the business. Businesses need people to implement automated processes but, more than that, people still want to deal with people – certainly in the current environment.
The challenges of BPA
For all the benefits it brings, BPA doesn’t come without a few challenges of its own.
It’s easy to fall into a siloed approach when automation, digitisation and commoditisation efforts kick off. Contracting different vendors, using different technologies and running parallel projects can lead to solutions and products are not fully integrated, or which do not communicate with each other effectively enough to meet business objectives.
There is still a lot of room for growth when it comes to the development of BPA tools, so much potential for the convergence of the technology that could lead to more readily accessible tools that look at a business and its processes holistically.
A matter of scale
As a business, it is critical to understand how you are going to scale and what that scaling will look like. It’s not cheap to implement BPA once off, but it gets incrementally cheaper the more you do it. The key is taking a holistic view of the business’s processes, understanding how the business wants to grow and understanding how automation will help the business reach its goals. Automating business processes enable business to scale, but it also requires its own scale to be economical.
Fedgroup’s sophisticated single-view system, Azurite, was built using BPA principles as well as intentionally keeping critical human interactions between us and our clients. By automating certain processes, we now have a complete understanding of every client and can track every interaction, which enables our staff to resolve client queries that much faster and with more accuracy. We could have gone the typical route of setting up an automated call centre, but we deliberately decided to automate only some of the parts behind the human interface so that we don’t compromise on quality engagement.