In the quest for more efficient ways to carry out activities, many organizations look to the practice of automating processes to improve business performance and ensure better results. By automating processes, activities that were previously carried out manually can now be done electronically, allowing employees to dedicate more time to strategic tasks with greater added value. In general, this translates into lower costs and a better use of time, resulting in greater efficiency and productivity.
Despite the benefits, automating processes requires some caution
Automating processes can result in a number of gains for a company. However, automation is not always feasible and may not solve all your problems. It requires proper planning and defining goals and priorities. Neglecting these steps and simply trying to automate everything can lead to other problems. Extremely simple or low-frequency processes are often not the best candidates for automation. Despite the possibilities for improvements, the effort that needs to be applied in these cases may not be worth it. Often it is difficult to show managers that you have obtained significant results, and this may end up undermining similar projects in the future. There are also situations where automation costs can exceed the benefits. It is necessary to properly evaluate the processes to be automated because, in these cases, if the return on investment is very low, automation is not feasible.
In some cases, automation can create barriers for customers. Instead of facilitating things, it ends up disappointing customers, making their experience with your organization a negative one. This is another case where you need to consider if there are benefits to gain by automating a process.
So what kind of process can be automated?
Now that you know the factors that indicate when automation is not viable, you need to know the characteristics of processes that make them good candidates for automation.
Start with “shorter” processes, with repetitive activities, but that need to be reliable. As much as automation increases the robustness of complex processes, it is much easier to start the transition with the simplest processes. Any deviations can be quickly corrected without causing disruptions in the entire company. The results can also be verified in a short period, and having a successful case makes it easier to get approvals from management for other similar initiatives.
Processes with frequent errors
Workflows usually involve several areas and involve many people before there is an end result. This, coupled with manual control mechanisms, can be the cause of delays, errors and rework, generating unnecessary costs for the company. Automation can prevent this from occurring, ensuring greater quality in processes.
Processes that are slow by nature
There are some processes that run into legal issues. To move forward, they depend on external actions that are beyond the company’s control. Automation keeps data from getting lost and slowing down the process even more.
Some business processes are “spread out.” From start to finish, data flows between spreadsheets and a number of different systems. These characteristics make monitoring and controlling deadlines and responsibilities more difficult. It is often possible to streamline processes with these characteristics by centralizing everything in a single workflow.
Processes with rigid workflows in ERP
Finally, there are even processes that are implemented in ERP, although through a very rigid workflow. They usually involve requests that need to be forwarded for different approvals, depending on the characteristics. It is common for ERP to have limited flexibility in defining these competencies. In these cases, moving the process to a specialized automation platform can provide a number of gains.
Now that you know which processes to automate in your company, you should learn more about BPM – Business Process Management. BPM can be defined as a strategy to manage and improve business performance with the continuous optimization of business processes in a closed cycle of modeling, execution, measurement and improvement. BPM activities address conception and discovery through the implementation and management of the execution of business processes within an appropriate governance structure.
Let’s look at the main stages of this strategy in more detail:
Step 1 – Modeling the business process
In this stage, the process is modeled; that is, a visual description is created of the sequence of activities, their flows and those responsible for them. Normally, a standard notation is used for the elaboration of this diagram, the most common being BPMN (Business Process Management Notation).
Let’s look at a real example:
A good example is the purchase order process for materials or services found in most organizations. After a request is made by an employee, the process goes to the purchasing analyst to check previous budgets or current stock and then it goes on to management for approval, where it can be further broken down into authorization and purchasing sub-processes. The main people responsible, rules and the sequence of activities being can be represented visually.
We have the first version of a purchasing process! With a diagram, we can understand the process more clearly, and also subject it to analysis. Is the model appropriate? Are there any overload points (bottlenecks)? Are all the relevant areas included in the process?
Step 2 – Process automation
A properly diagrammed process is valuable, but what now? To take the next step, it is essential to use technology. The concept of BPM is rooted in technological support. It is about translating the modeled process into something that can be executed.
In our example, if a purchase order is greater than BRL 1,000, the process requires management approval. A BPM system will apply this rule and direct the activity to the approver. The person responsible for the activity receives the task in their inbox. They can then approve or return/reject a given task without worrying about the business rules applied by the system.
Complex automation also needs to take into consideration the volume of executions- in other words, instances of a process, which occur most of the time simultaneously. This could be a problem for manual or individualized management, but it is a simple task for a BPM system.
Integrations are another important consideration in this automation stage. We know that important data can be distributed from other sources and systems within the organization- data that can be essential for the business rules of the modeled processes. It is important to have easy access to this data, regardless of the technology used.
Step 3 – Measurement and analysis of the process
Once you have automated a process with a system, you need to identify your key performance indicators (KPIs), for example:
- How many purchase orders are there at each stage?
- What is the average time to complete a purchase?
- What is the average time to approve a purchase order?
- What is each person’s workload? Is there any overload?
Measuring and analyzing processes are fundamental steps in BPM. They allow you to know with certainty how well each process is working and where the problems are. As a result, you know where to best apply your resources, time and money.
Step 4 – Improvement and refinement
The numbers help us to identify opportunities for improvement, but they are only useful if these improvements are actually implemented. Adjustments in workloads, the redistribution of resources and the elimination of activities that do not add value are examples of actions that can be implemented to improve the performance of a process.
These changes need to be dynamic, but controlled. The concept of revision is a great ally in this process. Changes are made and documented, and the new revision only comes into force after being approved. In the meantime, users can view and run the current version. At no time is the process unavailable.
So what exactly is BPM? BPM (Business Process Management) is a discipline (methodologies + technology) to automate and improve the business processes that support your operations. We have seen that it is simply not possible to grow while managing business processes manually. Tools like email and Excel spreadsheets are temporary solutions. Excel spreadsheets become unmanageable as the volume increases. This also occurs with e-mails. Consequently, you need an appropriate tool to manage them.
Any process can be improved and refined, and BPM is your best ally in this effort. Learn more about SoftExpert BPM, a solution that facilitates and manages the modeling, automation, analysis and revision of your processes, as well as offering your organization many other benefits.