How to Prioritise Processes to Automate

At the risk of being the bearer of bad news, any companies that are yet to embrace automation – let alone even consider it – are in danger of falling behind their competitors. At the same time as fearmongers rail against a future where robots take the place of human workers, smarter operators are getting on with the job of allowing technology to complete repetitive and time-consuming tasks so their employees can focus on more productive, higher value and creative jobs. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one of the greatest opportunities to sweep the business world in decades and the time for hesitation is over.

How to Prioritise Processes to Automate

Fortunately, the unconverted are few and far between. As highlighted in a 2020 global survey by consulting firm McKinsey, 30% of companies have fully automated at least one function of their business and two-thirds are piloting solutions to automate at least one process. More importantly, research and advisory company Gartner has found that 85% of large and very large organisations will deploy some form of RPA by the end of 2022. The evidence is clear that an increasing number of business owners and executives believe automation is the key to driving significant operational improvements, which leaves one crucial question – what processes should I automate?

For businesses dipping their toes into the automation pond for the first time, there is an argument that it is best to tackle simpler processes and leave more complex activities until they are more familiar with RPA. Alternatively, some experts believe greater gains can be made by automating higher-level work immediately and thus generate more enthusiasm to continue on the RPA journey.

The reality is there is no simple answer for what processes should be automated to drive the best outcomes. Instead, organisations should consider a variety of factors to help them decide if a business process is a quality candidate for automation and how it will benefit from RPA.

Feasibility Test

It may seem the most obvious thing in the world but determining that a process can actually be automated is a key next step. Many businesses make the mistake of setting their sights on a task for automation, only to find it is akin to putting a square peg in a round hole. Factors to consider when assessing whether a process is a good RPA use case include:

  • Select a process that is rules-based as opposed to one that requires decision-making
  • Make sure the process is routine, well-defined and uses systems that rarely change
  • Consider the input and output involved, with the likes of spreadsheets, databases, XML and HTML files more suited for RPA due to their digital and structured nature.

Humans v Robots

Before even considering potential business processes for automation, decision-makers need to recognise the difference between humans and machines. After all, you would never replace an established employee with a recruit without first comparing their strengths and weaknesses. While humans can deal with uncertainty and make judgement decisions, machines need structure and often cannot handle unexpected changes. Computers excel at delivering consistent execution of the same repetitive processes, whereas humans are inclined to lose concentration and make mistakes the longer a tedious task unfolds. RPA also allows businesses to rapidly scale up and down at minimum cost, as opposed to the headaches of doing the same with human workers.

Ease the Load

Time-consuming tasks that are highly dependent on employee attention are prime candidates for automation. From order and claims processing to data migration and entering customer information, too many businesses ask their people to dedicate the majority of their time to repetitive manual jobs at the expense of more rewarding roles for both them and the organisation. Automation of such activities will mean they will not only be completed more quickly with less errors but allow previously overloaded employees to focus on more meaningful and innovative tasks such as enhancing customer experience.

Open All Hours

Modern businesses increasingly do not operate on traditional opening hours. Between a rise in digital online capabilities and a spike in customer expectations, managing high volume orders, requests and complaints needs to be done around the clock and regardless of weekends and holidays. That clearly poses problems for companies that are entirely reliant on human employees as it is a case of either shutting up shop at 5pm or paying big dollars to ensure someone is on hand all day, every day. Of course, the other option is to identify high-volume tasks that would benefit from RPA’s ability to tackle such jobs even when employees are not in the office. Automation can turn the dream of 24/7 service into a reality without costing the earth.

People Power

There are two key reasons to involve employees in any discussion about potential candidates for automation. The first is they will know better than anyone what tasks they tackle that best lend themselves to RPA. Tapping into their thoughts is essential to ensure that automation can address their specific needs, with each person no doubt completing their work in a unique manner. Saving one employee one hour of work per day is a win - doing the same across an entire department is game-changing. The other reason to bring staff on the automation journey is it will only prove fruitful if they buy into the process. Empowering staff to suggest their own automation ideas and reassuring them that they will in turn be able to focus on more meaningful work will ensure they are invested in the change.

Summary

A rise in automation may be inevitable but it should not be done on a whim. Identifying and outlining robust automation criteria, involving staff in the process and establishing key performance markers are crucial for organisations to stay ahead of the game. Discover one expert’s experience on how to set up proposed RPA projects for success rather than have them fail to see the light of day.