Written by: Bob Fox
There has been much written and predicted about robots taking over the world. I do not share that point of view.
What I see automation as is a way to allow companies to focus on what’s more critical – delivering great customer service and pleasing their customers with excellent products and services.
For employees it will be a way of opening up opportunities to do more meaningful work in helping companies grow. In this tight job market, what a great time to evaluate your resources you have tied up doing various processes to free them up for more meaningful opportunities.
Every business has processes – some that produce products and services, and others that produce supporting documentation such as invoicing for those products and services. Some processes for documents are statutorily required while some are just good business practices.
For the next few weeks I will be publishing papers in various parts speaking to how to go about automating a significant portion of your processes that meet pre-defined business case objectives.
What is Automation?
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, automation is the technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically; the state of being operated automatically; automatically controlled operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices that take the place of human labor.
The key is processes that function using equipment and programs and algorithms that have the capability of completing a process with minimal human intervention.
In the world of automation, there are at least three types of automation: (1) the use of control systems to operate production equipment which may include physical robots; (2) robotic process automation (RPA) and (3) artificial intelligence (AI).
The intent of this article is to cover robotic process automation, because of the tremendous business uplift potential from automating repetitive processes as well as processes with predictable outcomes based on certain answers.
True artificial intelligence is an emerging area where machines can learn from experience and develop practices and solutions as they go. coupled with algorithms on personal human tendencies can be a powerful combination. There is still much that needs to be proven out in different business scenarios that can truly provide business uplift.
But going through a thorough implementation of robotic process automation will establish a firm foundation to artificial intelligence as more applications are proved out.
Repetitive processes are typically high in volume, where items (products, documents, data, etc.) are produced in a series of standardized and predictable steps. The goal of the process is to produce an end product or service that is either customer or process required that is repeatable. There can be multiple users involved in producing the product, service or process. The frequency of the process being implemented can be hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
Not every process is a good fit for automation. The ones that are time and resource intensive and repetitive may be a good place to start. Personally, I don’t like to start with one that may impact your customer base until confidence is built in the implementation process.
Every business has repetitive processes. Here are some examples where repetitive processes may reside in your organization:
Business Case Considerations
The key is whether there is enough critical mass to an area to warrant a review and business case evaluation to determine whether to go forward with automation as a possibility.
Here are some times to consider if automation may be a viable option to get a return on the investment in a business case:
Planning for exponential growth of your business over the next 5 years either by organic growth or mergers and acquisitions growth
Profit margins are constrained by rising labor costs
When your planning on adding headcount to address increasing demands
If you have 3 or more people working on a process, or plan to grow to that level
There is a need to reduce lead times and improve market delivery of a product, service or process
There is a need to increase the output of a product, service or process to meet customer demands and increase cash flows
There is a need to reduce headcount to increase profits
What type of return should you be looking for in an automated process?
You are looking for a 2 – 3 times the output as your current processes
Typically use a 3 to 1 replacement target depending on the particular process requirements and internal controls
In an automated environment the ability to run 24/7 with little or no interruptions is possible, except for routine equipment maintenance and re-validating the programs
As in any improvement exercise it is critical that you have your minimum improvement expectations established up front which would tie into your business case parameters so the teams would understand what the expected outcomes should be. This is where it helps to have people that are experienced in these types of areas in order to understand what the true possibilities are of process automation.