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Greater efficiency, cost reductions, lower error rates, less work for employees - it is obvious that the automation of business processes brings considerable advantages and strengthens the competitive position of companies. But how do you get started in the world of digital, automated workflows? This article provides you with a concrete action guide that will help you to get started successfully.
Despite all the advantages, immediately automate everything that can be automated should not be your goal. Instead, you should start by getting an overview of the areas in which automation would be most beneficial. It is helpful at this point to divide existing business processes into two groups:
- Core processes (key processes): generate added-value and the results are perceptible to customers
- Support processes (back-office processes): do not generate added-value, but support the key processes; have little impact on the external perception of the company.
Core business processes are, for example, sales, customer service and product development. Support processes, on the other hand, are mainly found in areas such as accounting, finance, controlling and human resources management.
To get started, it makes sense to begin with a support process for several reasons. First, processes of this type are often highly standardized, which makes automation easier. Secondly, these processes are often run through with high frequency, which means that there is also sufficient potential benefit from a business management point of view. Finally, initial bumps in the road are more tolerable in this area, as errors are unlikely to be noticed by the customer. Nevertheless, you should not lose sight of the core processes, because their digitization and automation will also be relevant in the mid-term.
Five steps to a successful start of process automation
Do you want to get started digitally and automate your business processes? Then the following procedure will help you get started successfully:
- Step 1: Identify suitable processes
- Step 2: Analyze identified processes, eliminate weaknesses
- Step 3: Plan and prepare process automation
- Step 4: Select tool
- Step 5: Implement solution, start automation
Let's take a closer look at these steps to clarify what is involved in more detail below.
Step 1: Identify suitable processes
The first step is to identify one or a few business processes that you want to automate. Don't take on too much for this pilot project. For example, select a support process that is frequently repeated and ties up a lot of human resources. At this point, you should also prepare a financial estimate of the potential savings.
Step 2: Analyze identified processes, eliminate weaknesses
Once you have decided on a workflow, you should examine it more closely in this step. Find out (for example, in workshops) where there are weaknesses, interruptions and inefficiencies in the current process. Then eliminate the weak points. Common methods and tools from the field of BPM (Business Process Management) are helpful at this point. This sub-step is very important - because automating error-ridden processes should not be your goal, of course.
Also, evaluate the risks associated with automating the selected business process. Here, you should consider factors such as data protection and the likelihood and impact of process interruptions.
Step 3: Plan and prepare process automation
As soon as the optimized target process has been established, the preparation phase can begin. It essentially consists of the following steps:
- Identify new roles and responsibilities that will be created through automation.
- If necessary, update processes so that security risks are minimized
- Define data protection requirements
- Conduct information events to raise awareness among affected employees
The last point is particular important, as there will be reservations and even fears among affected employees. Therefore, show transparently what will change as a result of process automation.
Step 4: Select tool
Now it's time to select a suitable software solution for digitizing and automating your business processes. You have several options at this point and should proceed with a long-term view. Therefore, consider more than just the requirements of the pilot project. For example, also consider that you will need to automate less standardized, more variable and more complex workflows in the future. It's also likely that at some point, process automation will extend beyond the boundaries of your organization. Another important decision criterion for suitable solutions is compatibility with existing (and future) third-party systems.
In general, the following approaches are available to you:
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
- Digital Process Automation (DPA)
While RPA is best suited for standardized processes with clearly defined rules, DPA is a holistic automation approach. For example, Digital Process Automation provides various technologies that can be used to automate both small standard processes and complex, frequently changing workflows. An extension to customers and suppliers is also possible with DPA software. Low-code DPA solutions are particularly advantageous, as they can be used by the end user without specific programming knowledge. RPA and DPA can also be used in combination.
Step 5: Implement solution, start automation
In this final step, you will implement the selected automation solution and map the pilot process in the software. Then you run tests. If the tests are successful, all you have to do is flip the switch - and your formerly manual process is now automated.
After the pilot project has run successfully, you can use the insights and results gained to expand your digitization and automation initiatives. It is best to use concrete facts such as the actual time and cost savings realized for the purpose of promoting and 'marketing' your ongoing automation initiatives.
Automated business processes - get started now with the right solutions
Overall, it turns out that automating business processes is a perfectly feasible undertaking. If you follow the steps outlined earlier, the barriers to entry are low. In addition, starting is much easier if you choose a low-code solution that is easy to implement and use. In any case, it is important to start as soon as possible - because the digitization and automation of workflows are going to be important competitive factors in the near future.