It’s no secret that process automation is driving technological advancement. Process automation promises benefits such as streamlined processes, cost savings and reduced data errors while freeing up time for business development or value-added efforts elsewhere. It’s therefore not surprising that more companies are looking at ways to implement process automation in their business.
For most firms, the business case for process automation is clear. Process automation can provide a business with a substantial competitive advantage. Implementing automation standardises workflows, includes an audit trail, provides a single source of truth and lowers admin costs. With real-time data, businesses can become more agile, make faster decisions, increase productivity and improve business operations.
As with all new technologies, adopting and embracing process automation can be challenging. Rushing into process automation without a well-thought-out approach can lead to costly mistakes. If implementation projects are not managed correctly, they will either fail, produce undesirable results, or cost much more than planned.
Key benefits: reduce costs and improve productivity
For Professional Services, the leading reason for introducing process automation is to reduce or eliminate costs. Reducing the number of hours spent on non-billable work could substantially affect the profitability of a business. By automating back-office tasks such as invoicing, purchasing and data input, employees can spend more time working with clients, developing new business opportunities or building new service offerings.
Whether the process is reviewing legal documentation for specific words, running audit checklists, recording and tracking invoices, or archiving data, process automation offers a rules-based solution that will perform consistently.
Process automation enhances productivity by allowing employees to accomplish more in the same time. When repetitive tasks are automated, employees can complete more valuable work, including activities requiring complex analysis, creativity, making decisions or getting input from others. This provides an opportunity to achieve higher margins on fixed-rate engagements while at the same time improving the quality of these engagements.
What should be automated?
Getting process automation right can be tricky. Most businesses don’t have a structure to assess whether a process should be automated, nor decide which solution will provide the best outcome. This heightens the risk of either the wrong process or a faulty process being automated. Automation won’t fix a flawed process; it will just make it faster.
It’s essential that there be a framework that identifies the suitable processes for automation, ensures that they are optimised, monitors and controls the end-to-end processes, and provides a way to review and analyse performance improvement opportunities. The result will be to reduce the number of errors and inefficiencies in operations and ensure positive outcomes.
Not all processes are suitable for process automation. The best processes are those that are labour intensive, repetitive and rules-based. To assess whether a process is a potential candidate for automation, a process maturity and readiness assessment of some form needs to be completed. A process automation readiness checklist should ensure that that process:
- is rules-based
- is repetitive and prone to human error
- follows a clear set of instructions
- is high volume with low complexity
- involves data manipulation
- has a high rate of error or high impact when errors occur
How to start
Even a small automation project, implemented successfully, can achieve significant time savings and improved productivity. By choosing a discrete process (for example, proposal development or audit checklists) or team (for example, legal or compliance) to focus on, you can minimise disruption while demonstrating the value that can be achieved from an automation strategy.
When deciding what process or team to automate first, consider mapping out your businesses processes to uncover potential bottlenecks or intensive administrative activities that, if automated, would enable employees to spend more time with customers and prospects. Having a process map in place will help you understand if other departments or activities would be impacted by automation.
Before starting any automation, the process itself needs to be optimised for automation. There needs to be clear documentation, clear owners for ensuring data integrity and an assessment to ensure that the process has been optimised for automation.
It’s also important to be clear and transparent with employees about what and why you are undertaking an automation program and have a plan in place to support the training and implementation of new processes. Your employees are ultimately responsible for driving and accepting the change throughout the business, so it’s essential that they are brought on the journey from the beginning to minimise the chance for failure.
Any process automation project needs to have alignment between business and IT functions. Having teams aligned to a common purpose sets the foundations for success. Operational teams can provide the business insights and articulate the process and potential impacts, while IT are not only the enablers but can ensure that the automation integrates with other systems and complies with the businesses technical, security and data standards.
The right partner makes process automation easy
Process automation has the potential to be a game-changing growth tool for professional service firms — whether by expanding margins or using savings to invest in new markets or service offerings. By employing automation for routine tasks, staff are freed up to add further value to the business, increasing profitability and enhancing customer experiences.
Coxswain Alliance has partnered with Parker Software to deploy ThinkAutomation™, an award-winning, scalable process automation software that helps you achieve demonstrated performance improvement across your business. We work with you to identify and optimise the process to be automated, build and implement the workflows, and deliver the process with a robust change management plan to meet your business objectives.
No matter where you are in your process automation journey, we can help. Coxswain Alliance has over ten years’ experience providing business improvement solutions to a broad range of industries, both locally and internationally. We use personal, hands-on collaboration techniques to gain a deep understanding of your business and deliver a blueprint for operational excellence. Our proven methodologies provide flexible and innovative solutions to meet your business needs now and into the future.