When we say automation, it could point towards a lot of things. It could mean self-driving cars. It could mean software-based automation. It could mean full or partial automation of business processes. Essentially, automation means letting technology do new or old tasks either fully or partially. For example, the sponsored or advertised posts that appear on our social feeds are a form of automation. No human intervention is required here. The algorithms figure out who should see the sponsored posts.
But before any automation takes place, you need to ask yourself why bring automation and how and what to automate. Different businesses have different reasons. Some do it to manage digital marketing and social media. Some do it for customer convenience. Some do it for automating business processes and operations. Some do it for more than one reason.
In this blog, we examine the preliminary steps in taking up business process automation. Then, we will try to examine how one particular step could be termed as the first, big step in approaching automation.
Why Automate any Part of Business?
The smartest and most fundamental reason to automate is when machines can do it better than us. The entirety of automation can be summed up within this reason. We can use an endless number of examples starting from calculators, POS machines, ERPs, cloud storage, eCommerce, digital payment, and so on.
Managing massive operations is another strong reason for businesses to go for process automation. The cement mixer would be a good example here. The use of cement mixers is a common sight in construction sites. It is next to impossible to think about manual handling and processing of massive amounts of mixing materials used for construction purposes.
The complexity of business processes makes a strong business case for choosing automation. If you consider an eCommerce business, you could easily read the significance of using automation software solutions to execute various business processes and operations. Consider the sheer number of processes that get affected when a customer places an order on any eCommerce site.
Automation also helps achieve higher operational speeds and efficiency levels. Extending the example of eCommerce shopping, consider the instantaneousness of emails and notifications sent to customers every time they interact with or make any changes to their accounts or orders.
Automation has become a commonplace standard. Almost all businesses, in small or big ways, use automation. This makes automation a tool or platform to gain competitive leverage. This could be in terms of access to analytical insights, enhanced customer experience and support system, operational efficiency, expanded service locations, etc.
While the world is constantly marching towards automation, a business owner may not be able to do otherwise. The reason is compatibility or relevance with the requirements of the stakeholders involved. The stakeholders for a business enterprise are its customers, associates, suppliers, service providers, banks and financial institutions, employees, etc. These entities may not think the same way and they may have shifted to advanced technologies. In such cases, businesses lagging in automation technology may find it difficult to do transactions with these entities.
The need for automation could also be for deriving certain not-so-apparent benefits. Too many notifications or promotional text messages are a prime example of this. It is rampant in the telecommunication sector. But how is that a benefit? Some companies use it to maintain digital proximity to their customers. The strategy also works well when the business case is strong even with a low conversion rate.
Identifying what is to be Automated
In identifying which processes or tasks can be automated, at least one of the following conditions must be fulfilled.
Minimal or no need for Human Involvement
Certain business processes or some part of their operations like system entry of incoming inventory, bar code scanning during checkout, automated reminders for low inventory levels, etc. can be carried out with minimal or no human intervention with the help of suitable technological solutions. Doing so also enhances the speed and accuracy of business operations.
Economical if Machines do it
Today, most business places are guarded by tech-based safety and security systems. With the right mix of manpower and machines, businesses can optimise their bills on safety and security. Take the example of CCTV cameras. It also enables business owners to remotely keep an eye on their business premises.
Machines can do it better
A straightforward example of technological superiority is automated or self-checkout in retail outlets. Although it is yet to gain widespread usage as a marketing automation solution, autonomous checkout technologies are catching up fast, especially among some of the big names in the global retail industry. Amazon Go and 7-Eleven are prominent names in this category.
Only Machines can do it
Business activities or processes like data analytics, digital payments, automated social media monitoring and listening, automated mass resume screening, and a host of tech-ridden tasks emerged from technological developments. Had it not been for technology, these tasks may have never come into existence. Ideally, these tasks are executed by machines.
Developing Standard Operating Procedures
So far in this blog, we covered the why and what of automation. Now we move to the part that provides the script for automation. Suppose that you want to automate the payroll process in your organisation. You cannot simply buy a software and implement it. It need not necessarily meet the specific requirements of your organisation. This gives rise to the need for assessment and customisation of standard software products against the payroll process requirements of your organisation. This is because the software must function as per your organisation’s payroll process requirements. This requires you to have a detailed description of your payroll process inclusive of every minute operational detail and flow of work. This is where SOPs for automation come into the picture.
SOP is a detailed description of a process or operation in terms of the sequence of activities (input to output), description of every activity involved, resource requirements, input and output standards, timelines, accountability and responsibility, etc. When you have process SOPs at your disposal, it becomes a cakewalk for you to define the requirements of automation products and solutions. This makes SOP development and implementation the first ‘real’ step to approaching automation.
If you have any business enquiries on SOP formats, SOP development or SOP implementation, please check out how we can help your business with our SOP Consulting services.
Chief Strategy Officer
Dr. Rupal’s “Everything is possible” attitude helps achieve the impossible. Dr. Rupal Agarwal has worked with 300+ companies from various sectors, since 2012, to custom-build SOPs, push their limits and improve performance efficiency. Rupal & her team have remarkable success stories of helping companies scale 10X with business process standardization.