I have spent the last 21 years working in IT and there has been no better feeling than being able to automate some repetitive task I've had. For myself this has applied entirely to technical tasks and I have automated through scripting. Unfortunately, until recently, there was nothing which catered for automating repetitive administrative tasks and business processes in a way that was simple and involved minimal to no code.
Today, I find myself involved in helping customers adopt business process automation, or RPA (Robotic Process Automation). This is a technology which has been around, although in its infancy, since 2000 in the form of business process management and screen scraping. It began to mature significantly from 2012 onwards, and its popularity has exploded from 2018 with businesses pursuing Digital Transformation. So, I felt it would be good to say a few words about this area as points of advice for those who are at the early stages of their automation journey.
#1 - start small. Don't boil the ocean! Don't eat the elephant! - start with the trunk. No seriously, if you start off with aspirations to automate your whole joiners movers leavers process, you'll never actually start. This is typically a high complex process involving many parts of the business and is rarely well understood, let alone everyone agreeing on what it is, or rather, should be. Start with something well understood and reasonably achievable.
At #2 - be ready for change. Successful adoption of automation really comes down to how well the organisation adapts itself and is willing to re-invent itself. It is not simply about replacing full time employees and creating cost savings. As we engage in automating a chosen business process, we will typically discover new information that was either overlooked or not realised by the business owners. This means that the best approach to such projects is to keep an open mind and focus on the business outcomes. If it becomes apparent that the value is insufficient, we should be prepared to re-evaluate and reposition our efforts, or potentially choose a new candidate process.
Whenever I have had a go at something outside of my current skillset, like modifying my motorbike, it hasn’t really gone to plan and has taken a great deal more of my time than it should have. As a result, at #3, I know that I should really get professional help. At first glance today’s automation platforms are pretty easy to pick up and have a go yourself. However, this is a new capability for you and there is a great deal of risk to your business - it isn’t just tinkering with my motorbike which may end up not starting. So, make sure you get an expert to help you kick off your automation journey.
An expert consultancy should assess the feasibility and value in what you are setting out to do. Then once you have a solid candidate process, they can lay a solid foundation with the right automation toolset - enabling you to scale and support your automated tasks, configuring it in a way which is easy to support and modify, through clear organisation of components and logic in the operations, error and exception handling and using the right tool for that particular job.
Lastly, at #4, think about the future. Your first automation projects will take longer - but don’t be disheartened. If you take a modular approach to the components you create to automate tasks and processes, there is significant scope for re-use. Hence, the more you do, the greater efficiencies you can gain and projects can turn-around significantly faster in future.
So, to close, I would encourage you to take a step back out of your routine and take a good look at how your business or organisation operates. Without a doubt, given some headspace, you'll see lots of ways in which your business processes could be improved. I guarantee that automation will feature in your list and it should be focused on enabling greater productivity by bridging the human and digital worker gap!
Come back and check here soon, as I shall be following up with a deeper dive into a few areas of automation.