Remember the 7 most expensive words in business, as stated by Catherine DeVrye: “We have always done it that way!”
The Industrial Revolution from the 18th and 19th century turned the world upside down. Production changed to mass production, transportation became machine-powered, communication was all of a sudden mind-blowingly fast. These are just a few of the areas which underwent major transformation during those times.
Did the revolution change people’s lives for the better? Definitely. Was it met with reluctance, skepticism, maybe even fear? Of course. It’s difficult to leave such a heavy comfort zone without worrying about the future. Switching to RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is quite similar – it’s disruptive, it’s challenging, it’s scary. But it’s also the future.
Keeping up with technological advances has long ceased to be a whim – it’s a necessity, a requirement for staying relevant in the market. Not only this, but embracing a new emerging technology and business model has proven to be a method of thriving in the business world. So let us turn our attention to automation and the process of veering towards the path to the future.
The following steps are in no particular order; well, maybe except for the last one, that concerns assessment of the process – that can only begin once the first steps have taken form.
a. Identify processes worth automating
You might not find it in all the dictionaries yet, but it’s working its way there steadily. The word “automatability” is so new, that it’s not even inscribed there yet. Not that we’d need it written down there for anything else than the formal, academic validation of the concept. Simply put, automatability represents whether a process can be automated or not.
Once you get into this mindset, you’ll start seeing automation everywhere. But just because a process can be automated, it doesn’t mean that it should. The decision to automate should come after thorough evaluation of pros and cons, costs and profits, time investment and time savings. Every company is different – each has its own procedures, the staff dynamic differs, their budgets vary. There’s no automation panacea when it comes to company processes; make sure to run an analysis on each operation that you deem suitable for automation. A random selection is detrimental, as the business impact of automation remains unknown.
b. Identify the benefits
The first thing you should ask yourself before deciding to implement a change is “What benefits does this bring?”. Once you’ve correctly pinpointed the end goal, it will be a lot easier to put all your effort into it. Having the objective right in front of your eyes is a great stimulus in reaching it.
As stated before, every company is different; hence, the benefits that they are after are diverse. Of course, there are those basic, somewhat default advantages that everyone is looking for – saving time by getting rid of menial tasks, or cutting back costs by programming a robot to do the work of several people at the same time. But what are the specific benefits gained by your company alone? Maybe it’s a more relaxed atmosphere at the office because employees are free from redundant tasks, or a more productive sales funnel due to a streamlined, automated process. All in all, find out precisely what you are after.
c. Identify the challenges
On the basis of the law of balance in the universe, every plus comes with a minus. Accordingly, the benefits that automation brings come at a cost. Whether it’s a budget issue, or finding ways to lessen employee reluctance, there will be hurdles to jump and obstacles to pass on the automation journey. The same technique used to discover the benefits should be applied here as well – what is the specific hindrance that your company encounters while on the path to automation? How are you going to deal with it? And are you prepared to do so?
d. How to choose automation software
As stated in the beginning of this piece, there is no particular order to these steps. However, if you’ve already covered step “a”, you know that there are a lot of areas that support and can benefit from automation. For example, here’s how automation in Canada looked like in 2018 in terms of industries that chose to implement it. To name a few of the possible domains:
- Customer Relationship Management
Finding the right software for each of these can be challenging. Each has its own characteristics, procedures, requirements. There’s a lot of research involved to find the most fitting solution for every department. It can be painstaking and tiresome. Thankfully, there are some basic characteristics that any piece of software should have. These are as follows:
- Good UX/ UI design. Does it blend with the company’s existing processes? Is user onboarding fast and fluid?
- It supports customizations and updates. Whether you want something changed in terms of usability or functionality, the provider should be able and willing to accommodate your requests. The update part goes without saying. In this fast-moving century, you don’t have the option to be left behind.
- Security. Regard your company’s data as the most important asset. You must protect it.
- Automatability. How in tune is the software with the global trend of automation? How difficult would it be to set up automated processes using it?
e. Automation readiness
Let’s say you want to bake a cake. You have all the ingredients ready and the recipe close at hand. You know you don’t want to whisk the eggs by hand, so you’re going to use the mixer. But are you really ready to start baking? Is there power, do you have enough bowls, is the oven heated? Are the circumstances favorable? And another thing – are you prepared to fail? Will losing all those resources affect you in any way? And if so, what actions will you take?
Obviously, automation readiness is a bit more complicated, although the idea behind it is the same. To consider your company ready to automate, you should analyse a series of aspects, including how scalable the process is, what’s the margin of error, or the monetary investment. It can get burdensome at times, but if it gets frustrating or it makes you question whether it’s actually worth it, it might not be the right time to automate. Whenever you decide to take the path of automation, make sure you’re 100% ready to dive in.
f. Automation success
The success of any project begins with thorough, heavy preparation. You have to know from the start what is it that you’re confronting with, how will you tackle it, how it will affect your business. And there’s one more crucial aspect that you should be aware of – what exactly are your expectations and how will you be able to assess whether they’ve been met. To do that in the matter of automation, you simply have to set some clear, objective KPIs, to help you determine the outcome of your endeavour in RPA.
When deciding what are the indicators specifically relevant for your activity, don’t stop after writing down the most obvious ones. Keep digging until everyone from your CEO, IT manager, accountant, HR representative, etc. to the classic employee is happy with the list of KPIs. For example, take into consideration the employee retention rate or the staff satisfaction. Check on the amount of errors, or the average speed of a project. Review how many new projects you were able to take on as a result of automation. All of these will also serve as reference points for adjusting your business strategy.