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Finding the ‘sweet-spot’ in process automation



Chris Ellis, Manager of Technical Evangelism, Nintex

Expert | Workplace

By Chris Ellis

When an organisation embarks on a process automation journey, a fundamental question quickly arises: exactly where do you start? With hundreds (or even thousands) of processes already in place, the idea of automating them can seem rather daunting.

Another challenge stems from the fact that all the existing processes might not be working as effectively as they should. Automating a broken or inefficient process won’t add value, and could actually make things worse.

Before any transformation work begins, it’s important to understand the three types of processes that exist within organisations. By focusing efforts on the right ones, an organisation can achieve maximum return on the investment made in the shortest possible time.

All processes at work within organisations can be grouped in three ways, and each group has its own criteria and level of impact on operations. The groups are:

Moon-shot processes

These processes are large and often abstract problems that are challenging for many different organisations and even entire industries. Because they are so challenging, there is a very high return on investment possible if they can be solved.However, because these problems are so broad, they are very difficult to tackle and any success is far from guaranteed. Usually, it’s large consulting and technology firms that have the resources to dedicate to finding ways to improve or redesign such processes.

Examples of moon-shot processes include creating new linkages between large and complex systems to allow more efficient exchange of data. Others might involve the redesign of global supply chains or changes to how complex financial contracts are managed.

Day-to-day processes

At the other end of the scale are the small processes that support the day-to-day productivity of individual workers.These can be anything from document production and distribution to transaction tracking and record keeping.Fortunately, there are many different tools that have been developed over the years to help refine and automate these simple workflows. In some cases, individual workers can even select the tools they require themselves.

Examples might include using a cloud-based storage service to streamline the sharing of documents or the use of an on-line collaboration tool to speed communication within teams. These types of processes won’t require input from the IT department and are low cost, but will only have a limited impact on the organisation overall.

Sweet-spot processes

In between the moon-shot and day-to-day processes lies a large group that offers the best opportunity for an organisation to gain significant benefit from a process automation strategy.These processes may not be particularly complex or exciting, but they underpin the important activities of the organisation. Many may have been in place for years and continue to rely heavily on manual steps to function.

Examples can include the processing of invoices, stock control, employee time management and interactions with external suppliers. Others might involve quarterly reporting or the analysis of sales data to determine required changes in business strategy.

The good news is that processes such as these are relatively easy to automate without the need for massive investments or disruption to day-to-day activity. New automated processes can often run alongside the manual process they are replacing, allowing change over to occur without any downtime or lost productivity.

By focusing efforts on this largest group of sweet-spot processes, an organisation can be confident of achieving the best return on investment for its digital transformation efforts.

To ensure the right sweet-spot processes are identified for automation there are three key steps that should be followed:

  1. Involve your staff: It’s vital to secure buy-in from everyone involved in the processes being automated. Take the time to gain a thorough understanding of the types of tasks being executed every day and how they integrate with other areas of the business. Doing this will highlight which processes are worth keeping as they are, which could benefit from automation and even which can be eliminated altogether.
  2. Run workshops: Organising some workshops is a great way to get everyone on the same page ahead of the automation project. Workshops provide an opportunity for teams to learn about the current state of play, as well as the why, how, and what of the desired outcomes. By ensuring everyone understands what is going on, resistance to change can be minimised.
  3. Plan, plan, plan: No process automation project can succeed without thorough upfront planning. Taking the time to map everything out will ensure the most appropriate technologies are deployed in the most effective way.

By focusing on sweet-spot processes and taking a planned and methodical approach, organisations can maximise their chances of securing the best possible results from their automation efforts. As a result, they will be much better positioned to succeed in coming years.


Chris Ellis is Manager of Technical Evangelism at Nintex.

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