How to identify processes you should automate

In the era of the digital worker, it’s fair to say that none of us can predict how the world of work will look a few years from now from VoIPs to paperless law offices.

The pace of change in recent years has been head-spinning, and with the rise of automation, we can safely assume it’s not about to slow down any time soon.

There’s been a lot of hype about automation, and it’s not always easy to separate the fact from the fiction. From huge, multinational businesses to small business automation, however, it’s becoming clear that nobody can afford to overlook the implications. So, the question is this: how can you make automation work for your business?

First of all, you need to work out what you can automate. There are various processes that could be automated - certain aspects of the sales process, for example. Once you’re equipped with this knowledge, you should be able to make effective use of automation in your business, boosting both efficiency and your bottom line.

In this article, we’ll provide you with top tips to help you identify which processes you should automate. We’ll start by looking more closely at robotic process automation (RPA) and its benefits. Then we’ll list several key points you should bear in mind when working out which business processes might benefit from automation.

What is RPA?

You may have come across RPA before, but without really understanding what it means. In short, RPA involves the application of technology in automating business processes. In other words, robotic tools are used in place of human labour to complete those processes, thus saving employees unnecessary time and effort. 

The processes automated by RPA are generally repetitive and rule-based, with defined inputs and outputs. This makes them ripe for automation, as it’s simple for RPA tools to perform them. So, tasks such as data entry and data processing are particularly suitable for automation with the use of RPA bots. RFP process automation is another option.

You might also have wondered about attended vs unattended RPA. The difference between them is pretty straightforward: unattended RPA runs independently without the need for interaction with people, while attended RPA (such as a virtual assistant) is activated by human users.

RPA vs IPA: what's the difference?

It’s worth stopping here to consider the difference between robotic process automation and intelligent process automation (IPA). The two are often confused with one another. The main difference between them is that IPA uses AI - in other words, IPA bots are capable of machine learning.

Look at it this way. When an RPA bot performs a particular task, it doesn’t learn anything from the experience, so if anything relating to the task has changed, it won’t be able to alter its approach to performing it. IPA is different in that its AI can use machine learning to adjust where necessary, allowing it to perform more complex tasks than RPA.

IPA bots incorporate RPA technology while building on it. As well as machine learning, IPA also makes use of natural language processing, allowing it to understand and derive meaning from human use of language, and intelligent workflows, reducing the risk of bottlenecks and avoiding confusion about how roles and responsibilities are allocated.

Benefits of RPA

So, what are the main benefits of robotic process automation? For a start, it frees up human employees. As many employees will tell you, much of their workday is taken up with repetitive tasks. If some of these can be handed to RPA bots instead, this leaves human staff with more time on their hands, which they can then put to other uses.

This can have significant benefits for business. It could, for instance, help them improve their overall standards of customer service, as employees will have more time to devote to the needs of customers and clients. Needless to say, this can benefit your customers immensely and give them another reason to keep coming back to you.

In addition, this can help to deliver major improvements on overall efficiency levels. No longer do staff need to be tied up with menial, repetitive tasks that can easily be automated. Introducing RPAs can therefore boost human resources efficiency, as well as delivering efficiency improvements across a range of other areas.

Another important benefit of RPA is that it can significantly reduce human error. When performing repetitive tasks, employees can make mistakes as their concentration lags; this is understandable. RPA bots can perform these tasks without these errors creeping in. This, again, allows your staff to concentrate on more engaging and important tasks.

RPA bots are also inexpensive and easy to roll out. Part of the reason is they don’t require custom software or deep systems integration, which makes their implementation quite simple and convenient. Complementing RPA with IPA can allow businesses to automate more complicated tasks.

Top tips for identifying which processes to automate

Now we’ve clarified what RPA is and what its primary benefits are, we need to discuss the key factors you should consider when determining which processes to automate. RPA tools can help your business improve efficiency and save money, but you need to know how and where to use them for the best effect.

1. Be clear and realistic

Before doing anything else, ensure you set realistic expectations when automating processes with RPA. While automation can deliver significant benefits - both in terms of productivity and profitability - you shouldn’t treat it as if it’s a silver bullet. Realism is the watchword here.

Poor expectations management can cause serious problems further down the line. Ensure you set clear goals and that colleagues understand what they can realistically expect automation of the relevant processes to achieve. If you raise expectations too high, you could find this backfires later on.

2. Engage key stakeholders

It’s important when rolling out automation to speak with key stakeholders first. Approach team leaders, project managers, and other members of staff. Explain to them what you’re looking to do and the potential benefits it could have. They’ll be able to help guide the process, using their existing hands-on experience.

Your team no doubt has plenty of in-depth knowledge on which you can draw, so be sure to take advantage of that - it’s a valuable resource. Colleagues will be able to advise you on which processes might be best suited to automation and, conversely, which processes might be less well suited. You should involve them in the automation process from the start.

3. Start simple

It’s wise to start on a relatively small scale, as there’s inevitably going to be a degree of trial and error involved in the automation process. If you’re implementing automation for the first time, make sure you do so with fairly small and simple processes. These must be clearly defined (and not all processes are, as there are often grey areas involved).

Think about those menial processes which are fairly simple to perform but inordinately time-consuming. If you can automate processes of this sort, you could soon see substantial benefits. But, again, you must be grounded in your expectations of what automation can deliver in the short to medium-term.

4. Saving labour

As we’ve mentioned, one of the major advantages of robotic process automation is that it can potentially save a lot of labour time. It makes sense, therefore, to concentrate on automating repetitive tasks that currently require a lot of human involvement. Tasks such as these are among the easiest to automate and offer the most immediate benefits.

Again, think of tasks like data entry (such as entering customer details into a database) and order processing. Inventory management software is one tool that can greatly simplify this process, allowing your team to track sales, orders, and inventory levels and ensure stocks are kept at the right level at all times.

Automating repetitive processes means not only that they’re performed more quickly and accurately but that they allow human employees to concentrate on other things. This lightens the load on them and ensures more work gets done overall.

Trial and error

Technology has given us all a lot to think about in recent years, whether it’s choosing the right hybrid cloud infrastructure or, as we’ve been discussing here, which business processes might be suitable for automation. Many firms are already taking advantage of automation, and if your business isn’t, it could lose out to its competitors.

We mentioned earlier that there’s bound to be some trial and error when implementing specific processes, and it’s important to bear this in mind. It may be that you need to go back and make tweaks to the automation process, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do this where necessary. It could help to prevent issues from piling up later on.

Finally, make sure you have genuine buy-in from colleagues at all levels, from senior management to team leaders and their subordinates. Although RPA automation costs relatively little, it will still require financial resources as well as human resources to make it work. Once you’ve secured this support, it should be (relatively!) smooth sailing