To fully realize the benefits of automation, executives must set realistic and measurable goals for business process automation (BPA), understand the tools available to ensure a smooth transition and the issues of change management they will face when automating. One approach that works for one organization rarely works for another.

What’s the Real Goal of Business Process Automation?

BPA aims to eliminate unnecessary customer-facing processes and replace it with automation in the hopes of increasing productivity and strengthening accountability. Ideally, by adopting automation, businesses want to achieve more without having to spend more in the long run. Many organizations see the investment as worthwhile and rightfully so – customers are satisfied with the service speed and employees don’t feel as overloaded – compared to when everything had to be done manually.

The reality though is that many organizations who implement automation think that never having phone call inquiries from customers is a winning situation. However, this shouldn’t be the focus. Technological advancement can easily become a liability if it diminishes the integrity of a business.

The objective should be to move as many “transactional” items over to automation – approvals, purchases, profile updates, reminders. The real goal should be to free your staff, a limited resource, in order to engage with customers in “higher value” communications, not avoid them. Remember, automation doesn’t solve every problem – weigh the pros and cons first {link to Can You Spare a Pencil blog post} and think very carefully before introducing automation to your customer-facing processes.

When Automation Isn’t a Good Idea

Imagine this: You missed your flight and are desperate to get on another flight ASAP and the airline website is offering little to no help. The first logical step is to call the customer service hotline, but unfortunately, the automated helpline is not doing anything for your situation and it sounds like there’s no option to speak with a real person either. The airline’s “customer service support” served no support after all.

The above scenario is a great example on why automation may not be a good idea. When decisions need to be made immediately or special requests are required to assist a customer’s unique situation, then dealing with anything other than a real human being can be frustrating.

Voice-prompts and visual-based automation are especially great for straight to the point transactions, but it can also miss many environmental cues. For example, as promising as self-driving cars can be, it can also be dangerous as it’s been reported to give drivers false confidence, especially when maneuvering through rough weather conditions.

Best Practices for Implementing Automation

Understanding the actual process you’re automating is the key. Have a clear vision of what the end state of the automation will look and behave like. Like many other innovations available out there, the only way to maximize its potential is to have a plan in place to make the best use of the time and resources required to implement automation. Here are three important manual best practices to keep in mind as you integrate automation into your workflows:

  1. Define specific automation goals, and measure results on a phased-in approach to adoption. BPA investments aren’t cheap. Unless the investments are well integrated into business workflows and can achieve cost, revenue building, safety or other business goals, they run the risk of being categorized as “nonessential” when revisited a year or two later. Avoid this by carefully reviewing your business goals and processes and then determining what the payback must be for the automation you invest in. Some important questions to ask are “How can this new process improve business production?”, “How user friendly is this to my customers?”, and “How will BPA complement my employees’ skills?” Introduce automation in phases so you can measure against the expectation metrics that have been set.

  2. Provide adequate training. Change can be good, but not everyone is comfortable with change, so don’t expect 100% compliance at first. Automation can be intimidating at first, and employees should have the proper resources at their disposal to understand what the new process will be and what their revised roles in it will be. The training process will require significant time and effort, so consider this as part of your initial BPA investment. Perfectly designed automation will only work as well as it is adopted by the people who use it.

  3. Always have a human failover option for all automation. Technology is not foolproof – it can fail. Even if you’ve carefully assessed all the possible risks involved, such as security lapses or technological bugs, things can go wrong. A human should be able to intercede when needed, so the company can continue to function if automation is disrupted.

  4. If you align automation with business objectives, get the right people involved, identify the right processes for automation, and start small and grow, you will greatly increase your odds of success.