Shoo Away the Elephant - the

Shoo Away the Elephant - the "How" of Process Automation

  • Pawan Jadhav
  • October 30, 2018
Category: Process Automation Best Practices,Intelligent Automation,Business Process Management

Or maybe tame it for now…I am talking about the same elephant that has been in the room occupying most of the space, sometimes shifting its weight from one leg to the other but mostly just there, staring at you. You have no clue how it got here and what to do with it. It is one of the conundrums in an operations executive’s life – he/she wants to take care of it but doesn’t know how to, and more importantly where to begin.

The elephant that I am talking about is the INEFFICIENCY in the process. The inefficiency because of several factors – manual tasks, paper driven processes, processes not documented, poor team work, lack of knowledge, archaic technology, process bottlenecks, non-value adding tasks, lack of motivation among team members etc. There are times when you ignore the inefficiency (at least you are growing, right?) and at times you blench and struggle to regain your composure when it hits you hard (mostly when your most important customer escalates an issue to your CEO)

So you are wondering where am I going with this. Well now that I have your nods and consensus let me tell you that these are the best times to solve this and solve it with zeal. While you are at it why not just throw a big party and announce it to the world that you are going to ride this mammoth out of your room for good. At least for now :).

And I say it because the software defined world is making it easier for us….it is sending an army of robotic and low-code software, for lack of better words, for our help. And I am using these terms loosely here, implying automation in general

You may have explored or stumbled across Business Process Management, Robotic Process Automation, Cognitive Process Automation, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of things, Keyword based Knowledge Discovery, OCR, NLP etc.

The impact of using these tools to automate processing of structured & unstructured data is humongous…

1. Research indicates that average cost of processing an email is $3.77 and social media communication is $1.21. How many emails to you process?

2. A 2013 paper by Oxford University, estimates estimates that up to 47 percent of total US employment is at risk of automation

3. IRPA estimates that RPA has the potential to reduce labor costs by “25 to 40 percent in both IT and business process environments.”

4. Leading analysts estimate the global BPM market growth from $4.4 billion in 2012 to $7.6 billion in 2016

So the big question still remains – where do you start?

In Lateetud we call this a five step program and it suits well when you are looking at operations processes – whether these processes are customer facing or internal.

We have decidedly kept it simple. Many a times operations executives come to us with these hugely “worded” concepts and are baffled with how do they get started. I believe there is a SIMPLE method to every MADNESS and it always pays off big time to follow the KISS principle – i.e. Keep it Simple Stupid.

Assess and Map- or call it Business Process Mapping. In this step you map the processes as they are. You talk to your process owners with the intention of figuring out what is happening and why is it happening. You can use Microsoft Visio if you have one to accomplish this or there are several BPMN based process modelers that you can download – one such is our own modeler that is available free for use. Do not leave anything to imagination. At this stage you are not questioning the relevance but you are questioning why is it happening, how is it happening and who/what is doing this. Many a times the processes are embedded in your applications. In this scenario you can utilize process mining tools that help you to not only automatically reveal the process but also point out the inefficiencies.

Question – This is where you question each and every step. Always follow common sense while doing this exercise. It is always a good idea to include an expert from the process who can answer your questions. But it makes sense to conduct this exercise using a third party– i.e. someone who is not involved in the process. It could be your employees from your process department, someone who doesn’t have an opinion about this process or an external agency like Lateetud. There are several reasons for doing this – fresh look, non-conflicting objectives, focus etc. Lateetud uses a proven framework of People, Process and Technology to keep track of the reasons and relevance. For instance, at end of this exercise you would be aware why a particular step is being taken and to what can you attribute this to – people, process or technology.

Redesign or Reengineer– This is where you remove all the non-value adding activities from the process. A big lean six sigma concept but fairly simple. Remove the fluff and throw it out of the window. Be maniacal about this because you are not going to be doing this exercise every day. And remember all this is happening on the process map and not outside it.

Reimagine – What is that you need to do to your People, Process or Technology to accomplish your goals? This is an important exercise where you need process and technology experts. Technology is driving everything now a day, so if you are not aware of what is happening out there then you are losing out on the potential. Software is making process optimization easier, faster and cheaper than you can ever imagine. It is just impossible to conduct process improvement in isolation and in most of the cases technology is driving all the improvement. So either spend some time and energy in figuring this out or seek external help. As indicated in my previous article – there is plethora of software out there and it is important for you to be on top of it. This is time and money well spent.

Prioritize & Implement – In this phase you prioritize the areas of improvement and implement the changes. It should be based on impact and available budget. The impact has to be tied to your overall business objectives, or else your executives will not be interested in funding your initiatives. And another big worded term for this is “Portfolio Assessment” – or simply said figure out what needs to be accomplished, prioritize the items based on business impact and then allocate budget. And another common sense here is don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Ironically most of the budget is allocated to fire fighting rather than looking at the big picture. Attack the source itself. One of the biggest hurdles you face here is change management – how do you manage people to accomplish your objectives. Furthermore, a lot of this software automation is going to eliminate effort and as a leader you have to do what you have to do but also motivate the people, that you need the most, to do this for you.

If you have plethora of processes and you do not know which one to choose then it is a good idea to take a step back and do a strategic review of all your processes – an assessment. We call this Customer Automation Review, where we look at all the processes in an expedited manner (one week) and give you a snapshot of the current situation and the potential to automate. You could then choose a few that you want to delve deeper into.

As someone said – well begun is half done – so start someplace and I am sure it will be a great start.