Organizations that wish to automate certain activities in order to eliminate any friction that may be present in their management or business processes should take a pragmatic approach to launching this initiative. Automation usually implicates the elimination of specific manual tasks of little value-added worth. Web-based technologies are increasingly facilitating the elimination of such tasks by ensuring a more efficient sharing of information, automated delegation, digitization of many business assets, etc. It is tempting for organizations to give in to the attraction of automation. But be careful! Automation is not suitable for all tasks! Business activities that are to be technology-assisted must be selected with care, agreed upon by the team concerned and supported by relevant technologies.
Before commencing the automation of a process or activity, it is imperative that you first review all the processes of the business function in question (e.g. distribution). By doing so, you will be able to identify which key activities strengthen your corporate strategy and which ones need to be optimized.
Once this is done, it is advisable that you evaluate the level of formalism and satisfaction of the business activities you wish to automate. Some of you may be very familiar with this popular computer-industry motto, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Those who are not familiar with this saying may quickly understand it if they attempt to automate activities that are already deficient or too informal. A formal process is one that will always have the same outcome regardless of the agent that carries the process out, such as processing customer payments. Activities that are too informal, for instance the renewal of client contracts, cannot be automated because of the risk that the efficiency of the process may diminish – hence the term garbage out. “That which cannot be formalised, cannot be computerized,” a tip confided to me by Michel Chokron, a process reengineering consultant and associate professor at HEC Montreal.
The team’s satisfaction with current activities is another factor to be considered when making your selection. The greater their satisfaction with the current business process, the less profitable an automation project will be.
For automation to succeed and yield the expected results (cost savings, new customer services and interfaces, etc.), the employees implicated in the activity and those that are affected by it must contribute to the project. At the onset of the project, these employees should be involved in selecting which activities should be automated by stating their opinions on the value-added worth of the activity, the current procedure and the degree of formalism of each activity. Next, during the phase in which the processes to be optimized are analyzed, new processes are created and supporting technological solutions are implemented, the employees concerned should contribute their ideas and reservations, and these responses should be taken into account. This is crucial because the willingness of employees to adopt the new working method and built-in technological tools is the key to a successful automation project.
Once the selection and analysis of the activities to optimize is complete and they have been converted into new, more efficient processes, the last step is to choose the relevant technologies to support them. To do so, it is essential that you first conduct a functional analysis and set precise criteria for your desired technological solution before you even consider the technological options available. Once your needs are clearly set out, you will be prepared to identify potential technology providers and compare them on a weighted checklist, ensuring that your decision is objective and effective. Note that it is possible to choose a number of providers for your automation project if necessary, although it is preferable to keep them to a minimum to avoid generating costly system integration expenses.
This procedure is sure to be more efficient and profitable for your company if you are assisted by experts in the domain. In fact, the anticipated benefits of optimization can quickly turn into a hefty financial burden if the project is not carried out in keeping with trade practices.