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Top Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Business Process Automation

Business Process Automation Mistakes

Business Process Automation Mistakes

Alessio Alionço—the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pipefy—recently outlined eight business process automation mistakes that companies should be on alert for in their operations. This article originally appeared in Insight Jam, an enterprise IT community that enables human conversation on AI.

Companies worldwide increasingly turn to automation to contain costs and spur business growth. According to Gartner, projected market growth for business process automation (BPA) tools reflects the urgency of automation. They predict the market will grow from $2.6B in 2022 to $3.6B in 2027, a 38 percent increase in just five years. In a recent survey, 75 percent of IT leaders said they adopted automation to increase efficiency. Fifty-four percent said improving productivity was a primary driver behind automation efforts, and as many as (49 percent) saw process automation tools as a way to conserve IT resources.

Automation tools and initiatives have the potential to reduce errors and SLA times, contain costs, and drive business growth. To be successful, businesses need to approach automation from a strategic stance. By doing so, companies can avoid creating unnecessary stress for their teams and ensure they extract the maximum value from their automation initiatives.

Mistakes to Avoid in Business Process Automation

1) Not right-sizing the solution

Businesses have a lot of choices when it comes to automation platforms. Some can be classified as point solutions, which address specific teams or departments. Others are more comprehensive and can be used to automate various processes and workflows.

The appeal of point solutions is usually their lower cost. However, these point solutions come with a risk: over time, they may lead to unnecessary tech stack complexity. As new solutions are added to the stack, IT teams spend more time integrating and managing a patchwork of multiple solutions. In addition, the licensing and maintenance costs for these different solutions can add up, erasing any initial cost savings.

In contrast, comprehensive solutions offer adaptability, scale more readily, and can be used to orchestrate workflows and processes between teams and departments. These solutions vary in their complexity, cost, and maintenance requirements. For example, some of these solutions require expensive licenses, customizations, and dedicated IT resources for maintenance. Other options offer the same flexibility and orchestration capabilities at a more appealing price point with less lift from the IT team.

2) Underestimating the impact of automation on IT teams

Consider the impact of automation on your IT team. For them, automation needs to solve more problems than it creates. One of the most essential ways automation tools can help IT is by freeing up more of their time and resources for higher priorities.

My teams often discuss automation’s potential to help IT teams “move the line.” They mean that business processes can be divided into two categories: those within IT’s zone of influence and those outside that zone of influence. IT teams, especially those constrained by resource limitations, tend to focus their time and energy on processes closest to the business core. In other words, the processes and workflows immediately impact revenue.

Meanwhile, other areas of the business struggle with inefficient or broken processes. Automation can empower these teams to optimize and automate some processes and workflows independently. As a result, IT teams have more time for strategy, security, and innovation. A good automation tool will be easy for business teams to use but also give IT teams total control and visibility.

Of course, automation initiatives will impact IT in other ways, such as the number of IT resources needed for initial implementation and the effort the IT team will have to maintain the solution once it’s up and running.

3) Automating the wrong processes

One of the most expensive missteps a company can make is trying to fix broken processes with automation. While it’s true that automation increases speed and output, those qualities will only amplify any existing issues inherent to the process. Businesses should assess and optimize the process first, then automate it.

At the same time, not every process or workflow needs to be automated. Processes that occur infrequently or depend heavily on human input may not be suitable for automation. The methods that benefit most from automation are highly repetitive, require a lot of manual input, and use structured data. It’s critical to differentiate the “as-is” processes versus the “to-be” processes and act accordingly.

4) Automating without a strategy

Automation is a complex process and should never be rushed. Investing too little time or expertise in an initiative will likely lead to bigger and more expensive issues in the future. It’s much more difficult and costly to retrofit a poorly executed automation initiative than to do it right the first time.

Avoid this common pitfall by clearly defining the objectives of the automation initiative from the start rather than automating for the sake of automation. Determine how its success will be evaluated. What will the relevant KPIs look like? What baselines will performance be measured against? What systems need to be integrated? What will the impact be for both IT and business teams?

5) Being underprepared

Any time a new platform or initiative is introduced, there is a potential for disruption. Automation is no exception, so adequate planning and preparation are critical. The key areas to consider here are:

  • Implementation
  • Integration
  • Adoption
  • Continuous learning and improvement

Implementation can divert IT resources from other projects and priorities, so it’s essential to clearly understand how long implementation will take and how much of the team’s resources it will consume. Some solutions can be implemented much faster than others, and of course, every implementation is unique.

Integration is also a crucial element of automation. Determine which apps, systems, and components must be connected to the automation platform and how those integrations will be managed. Most automation tools will include some out-of-the-box integrations, but others may need to be set up manually or custom-coded.

Another potential hazard for implementing a new platform is resistance to adoption. If the tool isn’t intuitive or easy to learn, teams may be reluctant to use it. In the worst-case scenario, teams will opt for ad hoc workarounds instead. But this is avoidable. Look for user-friendly solutions and then build a solid plan for rolling out the new platform. This should include customized training for each team or department based on their unique needs and use cases.

Finally, commit to providing continuous learning and improvement (CL&I) for all teams. A CL&I initiative will keep teams engaged, help them uncover new uses for the platform, and ensure that they are most effectively using new features and functions as they become available.

6) Leaving data on the table

Implementing an automation solution provides an opportunity to address existing data silos, but only if the silos can be identified. Process mapping and team feedback can help businesses uncover these trouble spots. As a rule, any point in the workflow or process where information (or work) is exchanged between people or systems should be assessed for potential data leaks and breakdowns in collaboration.

Another way automation initiatives can help businesses get the most from their data is by reducing overreliance on spreadsheets and emails—both common methods teams use to manage workflows and processes. Email and spreadsheets are not only inefficient, but they also make it more difficult to enforce security and governance.

When planning your automation initiative, look for features and integrations that will reduce email and spreadsheet dependency, as well as those that extract, organize, and centralize unstructured data. This will improve IT control and visibility and enrich your data analysis.

7) Losing the human touch

Just because a task can be automated doesn’t mean it should be automated. Some activities and interactions require a personal, human touch. To determine whether or not a task should be automated, it’s helpful to assess the automation as one that improves or degrades the user experience.

For example, automation is increasingly deployed in customer service processes and workflows. Automating some interactions—like form filling, emailing status updates, or locating documents—often positively impacts user experiences. When a customer has a question about their account or needs to clarify a policy, keeping a human in the loop may be best. Other instances where automation may not be appropriate include processes or workflows that require complex decision-making, creativity, or careful judgment.

8) Not seeking feedback

Before automating, it’s crucial to solicit—and listen to—feedback from all internal and external stakeholders. Once gathered, such insights should be analyzed for patterns that can help you use automation to detect problems and improve user experiences.

Employees who are hands-on with the work can provide critical insights into what is working well and what could be improved through automation. Their perspectives deliver a crucial litmus test for determining which workflows and tasks keep them from more critical value-driving activities. Similarly, listening to customer feedback can also provide information to help create customer-centric processes and workflows. Data can also reveal areas where automation will be most helpful. Automation can be beneficial in stages where high instances of errors or frequent bottlenecks occur.

Once the initial implementation is complete, continue to collect feedback from all stakeholders to adapt automations as business needs and customer expectations evolve.

Automating with Confidence

The good news about the growth of the business process automation (BPA) tools market is that companies have more choices than ever. This makes it easier to find a solution that fits the needs of their internal teams and aligns with business strategy. Whichever automation tool or platform businesses select, the blueprint for success remains the same: approach automation as a comprehensive, long-term strategy with defined goals.

By incorporating feedback from all stakeholders and understanding the needs of the IT team, businesses can set themselves up for success and confidently implement their automation efforts.

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