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While business process automation can offer massive gains in operational efficiency for business, not every process can be easily automated. To advance successfully on their automation journey, businesses need to apply a strategic approach to automating business processes, focusing both on quick wins and long-term goals. In this comprehensive guide we explore how businesses can identify processes that are a good fit for automation and prioritise these in view of the business’s broader strategic goals.


Understanding efficiency in business processes

Efficiency means achieving optimal results with minimal resources, including time, effort, and costs. Automating tasks can result in significant improvements to efficiency by reducing manual intervention, minimising errors, and speeding up task completion. But you need to identify tasks that by their nature can be readily automated.


Identifying automation candidates


1. Repetitive tasks

Processes that involve repetitive tasks with well-defined rules and outcomes are prime candidates to become automated workflows within your business operations. These processes are typically rule-based and follow a consistent pattern. You can use task automation tools to identify those which can be most effectively automated.


2. High volume

Processes that handle a large volume of data or transactions, such as data entry, can benefit greatly from automation. Automated systems can process large quantities of information quickly and accurately, reducing the risk of human error.


3. Time-consuming tasks

Automate business processes that consume a significant amount of time for employees, as this will free up their valuable time and allow them to concentrate on more strategic and creative activities.


4. Rule-based decision making

Processes that rely on predefined rules and logic for decision-making are also great candidates for automation. Software can execute these rules consistently and without bias.


Assessing your processes for automation potential


1. Process mapping

Start by thoroughly mapping out the current processes within your organisation. This involves documenting each step, including inputs, outputs, decision points, and dependencies.


2. Data availability and quality

Ensure that the necessary data for the process is available and of sufficient quality. Inaccurate or incomplete data can hinder the effectiveness of task automation.


3. Integration capabilities

Consider the system's ability to integrate with existing technologies and platforms. Seamless integration ensures a smooth transition to an automated workflow and will save time once you start automating.


4. Cost-benefit analysis

Evaluate the costs associated with process automation, including implementation, maintenance, and potential training. Compare these costs to the expected benefits in terms of time savings, error reduction, and increase in productivity.


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How to prioritise processes for maximum impact


1. Impact on core business objectives

Prioritise processes that directly contribute to your main business objectives or will impact cash flow, as these processes will naturally have a greater impact on the overall success of the organisation.


2. Return on investment (ROI)

Calculate the expected return on investment for each potential automation project. Consider factors such as cost savings, increased productivity, and revenue growth.


3. Customer impact

Processes that directly impact customer experience should be given higher priority. Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty will have long-term benefits for the business.


Quick wins vs. long-term initiatives

Process automation is a transformative approach that can revolutionise how businesses operate. However, many businesses struggle to differentiate between quick wins and long-term initiatives. Quick wins are processes that can be easily automated with relatively low effort and yield immediate benefits. Long-term strategic initiatives encompass more complex and critical processes that may require significant planning, investment, and integration efforts. These initiatives typically have a broader organisational impact and contribute to the overarching goals and vision of the company.

Striking a balance between quick wins and long-term initiatives ensures that businesses not only reap immediate rewards but also position themselves for sustained success and competitiveness in the evolving market landscape.


Leveraging technology for effective process identification

Utilise advanced technologies like process mining and business process management (BPM) tools to identify and analyse automation opportunities. A task automation tool can provide valuable insights into process performance, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement. Identifying whether a task relies on structured data or unstructured data as this will influence the type of automation tools and approaches that are most appropriate.


Involving stakeholders in the identification process

Engage key stakeholders, including process owners, employees, and IT professionals, in the efforts to identify and prioritise business process automation. Their insights and expertise can provide valuable perspectives on which processes are most suitable for automation, as well as additional insights around topics such as user interface or how to automate workflows.


Real-world examples and case studies


Case study 1: invoice processing

A major Australian food manufacturer dealing with more than 20,000 invoices per month from thousands of suppliers, worked with Canon Business Services to deploy a fully integrated einvoicing solutions and automated accounts payable automation. Key features of the automated AP solution included automatically matching purchase orders to invoices, flagging duplicate invoices as exceptions, routing invoices to relevant internal stakeholders for approval, and also allowing suppliers to see status updates via an online portal.


Case study 2: customer onboarding

A financial institution implemented an automated customer onboarding process, streamlining document verification and approval workflows. This led to a 50% reduction in onboarding time and greatly improved customer satisfaction.


Conclusion

Identifying the right processes for automation is a critical step towards achieving maximum efficiency in any organisation. By understanding the key criteria for automation, conducting thorough assessments, and involving stakeholders, businesses can make informed decisions about which processes to automate. Learning from real-world case studies provides further guidance and benchmarks for the identification process. With a strategic approach to automation, organisations can unlock new levels of productivity, accuracy, and competitiveness in today's dynamic business environment.

Frequently asked questions

How do you determine if a process can be automated?

First, carefully analyse an individual task's nature and the components of its workflow. Identify the repetitive and rule-based activities within the scope of the process and assess whether it requires a significant amount of human intervention or decision-making. Automate tasks that follow a strict set of rules and actions with the help of existing technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Artificial Intelligence (AI). Automation possibilities and limitations will in part be determined by the level of complexity, data accessibility, and IT infrastructure.

Is it necessary to automate all processes?

It is not necessary to automate all processes. Carefully evaluate each process within your business to determine if automation is the best solution, considering factors such as cost, efficiency, and customer experience. While automation can bring efficiency and cost savings, it can also lead to a loss of flexibility and personal touch. Some processes, such as a creative task or customer interactions, require a human touch and so should remain manual tasks. Normally a balance between automation and manual work will likely be the optimal approach for most businesses.

How do you decide when and what to automate?

Deciding when and what to automate can be challenging for any business, requiring careful consideration and analysis. The cost of automation versus the value it will bring, the potential impact on employee morale, and the organisation's long-term goals are all factors that should be taken into account. Ultimately, it is important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of automation before making your decision.

What processes should not be automated?

Activities requiring human traits such as empathy, creativity, and critical thinking, in fields like customer service, management, and strategic planning are usually poor candidates for automation. Automating such processes may compromise the quality of service delivery and lead to a disconnect between the company and its stakeholders.

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