The Essential Advantage of Process Automation

It’s no secret that the world is changing. And nowhere is the disruption greater than in the workplace. Indeed, thanks to a global pandemic, “the future of work” is today. Organizations today must adapt and automate not only to survive, but also if they hope to remain competitive in the new norm of business. This means fostering the ability to enable remote working, ensure productivity, and drive continued growth despite these challenging times.

One way to do that is by leveraging process automation as a new way of working … and the timing couldn’t be better. Even in the face of so much uncertainty in business today, the convergence of developments in process automation and the driving demand for more agile and virtual workflow has offered organizations the chance to turn these challenging times into times of opportunity, transformation, and growth. The question is: Are you ready?

The automation advantage

Organizations are rethinking their business models and workflows as a result of COVID-19. Remote work and virtual teams will become a more prevalent way of working, with on-site employees becoming a rising exception rather than the rule. Now that work-from-home has, in many cases, proven to be a viable alternative, C-suite executives and business owners are less likely to invest in the resources, infrastructure, and space needed for all of their workers to return to business as usual.

Process automation provides a great deal of potential to reengineer these workflow and business models and improve core business processes by freeing up time previously taken by humans to perform redundant and repetitive activities. This makes sense since a majority of enterprise workers are now working remotely. In many cases, processes will operate in a completely different way; fully automated and autonomous.

As a result, there is a rush to automate and innovate. Forrester predicts that investment in business process automation will increase more than 300% this year and that the RPA software market will grow to total $2.9 billion by 2021. Forrester is not alone in touting the rise of process automation. More and more organizations are working with RPA and other tools to automate, streamline, and digitize workflow.

Digital transformation is no longer simply a nice-to-have, it is essential in order to compete post-COVID. As countries and economies rebound, process automation surfaces as a distinct competitive advantage and an essential strategy for digital transformation.Click To Tweet

Finding opportunity in crisis

The upshot is that digital transformation is no longer simply a nice-to-have, it is essential in order to compete post-COVID. As countries and economies rebound, process automation surfaces as a distinct competitive advantage and an essential strategy for digital transformation. Now is the time for organizations – both small companies and global names – to respond and adapt.

But getting there will take more work. According to research conducted recently by AIIM International, two-thirds of organizations say that their core work processes are less than 50% automated. Indeed, participants indicate that their back-end processes are at least 75% manual – and this is seen as a deep challenge that must be addressed urgently as the demand for automation and digital transformation accelerates.

Applying the advantage

Where are organizations placing their priorities for process automation? According to the AIIM study, cross-department processes are the most important targets for automation. These span a number of core process areas, with the top three being logistics (34%), HR (29%) and finance (28%). 

As might be expected, the top two individual reasons to undertake a process automation project are tied to efficiency and cost. But it is important to recognize that 55% of the organizations participating in the study said their process automation efforts are tied to organizational performance and customer experience. Indeed, more and more organizations are looking to broaden their information management strategies and capabilities beyond traditional notions of “capture, store and protect” to one that works also to improve the performance of the organization by automating core processes and enabling more innovative ways of working that make a real difference to the bottom line.

Best practices

The time to innovate and automate is upon us. In order for organizations to attain a competitive edge, however, process automation needs to be grounded in the core business activities that drive day-to-day organizational performance. How can you make the most of this opportunity? Here are four best practices that can move you forward.

Look to automate end-to-end processes – Applications that streamline and automate core activities like mortgage applications, customer onboarding, and sales proposals and contracts are among those that can provide the highest return on your efforts. Start with these and then expand to cover larger, enterprise-wide projects.

Evaluate the value of pre-trained digital workers – Many developers and providers have solutions that leverage AI and ML to create software bots that are ready to deploy directly into core processes. These digital workers are task-centric and built to augment human workers by performing complete business functions from start to finish.

Work to automate gaps where automation has not been applied – Many organizations have adopted discrete pockets of process automation, but many key business activities continue to require manual intervention and data entry. This is typically because the tools have not yet been applied. Look to fill those gaps.

End the war on paper – While many paper-reliant processes have been converted to a digital workflow, the more difficult document types and processes remain bound by paper and manual workflow. Look to adopt more robust data capture solutions that remove human intervention and leverage information in new and more profitable ways.

Overcome information silos – Organizations today have a lot of information, but it is often stored in disparate, unconnected business systems and databases.  As a result, workers often spend more time accessing information and searching for data and content than they do in activities that provide value to the organization. A common shared content platform is needed for improved performance.

Enable a mobile workforce – Now is the time for organizations to adopt a connected and mobile workforce that not only allows employees to work from home but also out-perform their in-office counterparts. Those organizations that stay tied to tradition risk getting left behind as agility, flexibility, and connectivity become bellwether requirements in today’s challenging business environment.

Moving forward

Transformation is essential today in order to compete post-pandemic. Companies from all market segments are working to leverage process automation in ways that make a real difference to organizational performance. Solutions and techniques that leverage developments in RPA, ML and AI make that happen. Look for providers and resources with the right mix of expertise, perspective and capabilities that will help you make the most of business process automation. 

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Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group. He is writer, podcaster and technology analyst, as well as the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He was named the No. 1 ECM Influencer to follow on Twitter.