A beginner’s guide to business process automation by Romy Malviya, vice president of business development at Pulpstream.
According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, enterprise leaders are optimistic about the potential of business process automation. Yet, they’re early in adopting automation tools and are far from operating with them at scale. Across multiple industries, this gap between recognizing the power of process automation and implementing it remains wide.
In many ways, business process automation adoption reflects the early stages of e-commerce growth. In the early 2000s, companies recognized that something new and disruptive was on the horizon. They just didn’t know when, where, and how to incorporate it into their existing business models. The early adopters are still reaping the benefits of being at the forefront of the adoption curve.
There’s no going back to 1995 and beating Amazon to the e-commerce punch. But there is an opportunity to implement process automation while others lag behind. Those who do will gain a competitive advantage by decreasing costs, increasing speed, and delighting employees who are free from repetitive, time-consuming tasks.
Why business process automation is growing in popularity
Every day, Google and LinkedIn fill their top stories with news of more tech layoffs amidst fears of a global recession. From Elon Musk threatening to reduce Twitter’s workforce by 75% to Facebook calling for managers to root out underperforming employees, leaders facing decreased margins and a slowing economy are searching for ways to lower costs, reduce drag, and move forward with leaner, more profitable ways of doing business. Business process automation fits perfectly into this environment.
Most back offices are replete with repetitive, manual processes. The work that needs to be done, but few enjoy doing. Often, these are paper-driven tasks prone to human error and keep people from doing the more valuable work they’re uniquely qualified to do. With business process automation, companies can document these workflows, then digitize and automate them. In turn, they decrease time spent on manual tasks, reduce errors, and free employees to do more enjoyable work. In other words, a win for everyone.
How to start business process automation initiatives
Many leaders don’t need anyone to sell them on why they should implement business process automation. They know it can drive business value. It’s how to implement it that’s the problem.
It doesn’t help that it’s never been harder to hire internal tech talent. One of the quickest, most effective, and most popular ways of adopting business process automation is using no-code and low-code development platforms. In fact, McKinsey found in its 2022 survey on automation that automation leaders are much more likely to use these platforms than average companies attempting automation projects.
If speed to adoption matters, no-code and low-code platforms provide the least friction and lowest barrier of entry. Because these technologies allow for citizen development, they decrease the burden on internal IT personnel when developing process automation.
When companies turn to these platforms for business process automation, it’s best to follow these five steps:
1. Identify processes to automate
When looking for processes that are ripe for business process automation, look for processes that are repetitive and time-consuming. Repetitive tasks are easiest to start with because they are likely less complex and are also easy to document. These tasks should also be time-consuming in their current form, as that will increase the ROI of automation. Chances are, your employees already know which tasks exist at the intersection of time-consuming, repetitive, and generally frustrating.
2. Gain buy-in from stakeholders
Once a company has identified potential processes to automate, it’s important to gain buy-in from relevant stakeholders. When some employees hear automation, they hear “my job is going away.” Instead, position automation as a tool to help them do their jobs more enjoyably, rather than something that will replace them.
However, the need for buy-in extends beyond the employees who will work with these tools. It’s vital to bring those with purchasing power to the table as well and demonstrate to them how business process automation tools align with current and future business goals.
3. Form a low-code/no-code with members from different departments
When it’s time to begin implementing process automation, it’s crucial that technology and subject matter experts work together. For instance, if a company chooses to automate HR workflows, it will want to form a low-code or no-code team which includes personnel from technology teams, whether internal or external, as well as subject matter experts from HR. Though no-code and low-code platforms drastically reduce the need for technical expertise, it’s still helpful to have some technical personnel available to help with the learning curve. If a company doesn’t have this expertise in-house, many low/no-code platforms will have experts who can assist. Then, the subject matter experts can inform what ideal workflows would look like, as well as give insight into any regulatory compliance that the team must consider.
4. Document, digitize, and automate processes
Process automation requires process documentation. And if the processes are currently manual, they’ll need to be digitized as well. Once they’ve been digitized, companies work with their low/no-code platform of choice to create visual workflows and set automation triggers at each step of the process. In many cases, there will be existing templates for a given process, which is why it’s important to select an automation platform with familiarity with a given business domain. For instance, if a company is automating leave of absence (LOA) processes, a notoriously burdensome HR task, they would benefit from selecting a platform that has been designed specifically for this, as it will have LOA triggers already built in which will generate the necessary paperwork and comply with federal and state regulations.
During the transition to process automation, companies will often create a transition plan. This details the steps between current workflows and fully automated workflows. Business needs do not pause during technology initiatives, therefore it’s essential to make sure that there is a plan for how teams will complete their tasks throughout the transition process.
5. Determine and track KPIs
The final step is to determine and track KPIs. Companies don’t adopt process automation simply to change things up a bit. They do it to increase efficiency and save money. Therefore, companies will need to determine KPIs for their automation investments to justify the change. For many companies, KPIs will focus on decreased time and costs as well as increased productivity. But there are other valuable KPIs too. During a time when employee retention is lower than ever, tracking employee satisfaction with processes is a strong indicator of process automation’s value.
Where to deploy business process automation first
For many companies, finding redundant or repetitive tasks is not the primary challenge. It’s finding too many of them and not knowing where to start. In time, companies can extend process automation to several business departments, but starting small has several benefits. First, it allows a company to demonstrate ROI on a small investment before moving to larger investments. Second, change management is one of the key difficulties for companies undergoing process automation. Starting too large may result in employee confusion or even backlash.
If a company isn’t sure where to start, HR processes are a great option. HR workflows are full of paperwork, and processing and tracking this paperwork can burn administrative hours quickly. Most business leaders would be shocked to hear that managing a single LOA request routinely takes eight hours. HR leaders who have experienced using Excel or payroll workaround to file LOA requests, manually sending and tracking FMLA paperwork, and requesting medical documentation, while tracking all of this with calendar entries, would not be surprised at all.
With process automation, these eight-hour workflows could take just a few minutes. When an employee fills out an online form requesting leave, the low/no-code platform could automatically send an email with the necessary paperwork based on the type of leave and its federal and state regulations. Then, when the employee files the paperwork digitally, the system automatically recommends approval or denial, and if approved, integrations with a company’s payroll system allow for an automatic change in the employees pay, and HR leaders will be able to quickly view in the system when the employee will return. Upon their return, the system automatically populates the return to work paperwork. In other words, it’s a lot easier than doing it manually.
Working better and making work better
In an age of fierce competition in nearly every industry, companies need ways of working better to increase efficiency. But there’s another dynamic at play as well. The pandemic encouraged people to rethink their work lives. Many never returned to work, and those who did may view its place in their lives differently. They’re looking for more balance and more fulfilling work. By relieving employees from mindless tasks, companies not only find ways of working better, but they also make work better for employees.
Pankaj “Romy” Malviya
About the Author:
Pankaj “Romy” Malviya is a serial entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, CA. When he’s not building companies, you can find him in Hollywood fulfilling his childhood dreams by acting in TV shows and films. He serves as Vice President of Business Development at Pulpstream, a company he founded in 2013.
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