How Manual is your Automation?
Duncan Lord, November 28, 2016
Odds are, you have witnessed or know somebody who works in a company that has implemented an overarching software solution which was supposed to be a cure-all for electronic records. But when it came down to specific business processes the end result was less than desirable. Typically in these enterprise solutions the automation of key, end-user activities is lagging.
Nearly every vendor – software & hardware – claims to have the answer to your prayers. After all, business process automation is a hot topic right now and just about every software company and integrator is jumping on the bandwagon.
Despite the hoopla, what I find most confusing; is very few ‘solutions’ actually solve the problem. Information ends up being manually checked or pushed down the line to become somebody else’s problem. In other cases, it may be locked away in some sort of exclusive virtual vault, inaccessible to decision makers or the front line when it matters the most. More often than not, additional IT resources are employed to ‘manage’ the software, negating any resource benefits the organisation anticipated once ‘automation’ was achieved.
In the end, the organisation is locked into an expensive, incomplete investment. Front-line employees create workarounds and even worse your customers or suppliers are confused or frustrated by the need to provide the same information multiple times.
So, I ask myself where is the time, effort, and money going once the dust has settled on the initial implementation?
Some companies may act as if the problem does not still persist, while others see the light and decide automation is more than a catchphrase; it is a strategic imperative. In doing so, they assign leaders such as you and they bring on experts to help lead the way.
It is common for companies to experience pain in attempting to make digital disruption through enterprise software solutions work for them. The good news is that there is a way to lessen the impact by taking several steps to address legacy issues that can cause problems.
To achieve automation for business unit functions that continue to lag, it is best to take a targeted approach that is not limited to the enterprise software constraints. Instead, huge gains can be made when scoping a solution that compliments and integrates with core systems to take your performance to the next level.
1. Identify the processes that have the best chance to produce some quick wins. This is important for everyone involved to break the negativity that can sometimes surround a changing environment. Bring hope to end users and senior management alike that real benefits can be enjoyed across all layers. It can be important to understand that the status quo is very rarely the only possibility. Your recent changes have improved certain aspects of the business, but in so doing, may have made others more painful. The best of both is achievable.
2. Get input from representatives from each of departments/locations/roles that interact with the documents or data during the process. From the point it first enters the organisation through to it’s final “completed” state in the enterprise solution. Understand all the challenges that that face the people involved in each of these touch points.
3. Form an in-depth understanding of the causes and impacts that incomplete or inaccurate data has on the process. What is the waste or risk implications? Are people avoiding what should be done? If so, why are they?
4. Identify how, where and when the data needs to be integrated into core systems. Is there a single source of truth? Are there multiple software systems that need to be synchronised so that during every decision-making step along the way people can trust their data?
5. Where does it all go wrong? What are the causes to breakdowns in the process? Things break! The most perfect process comes unstuck when a supplier/customer/contractor/staff member misses a key piece of information, makes a mistake or neglects what was meant to occur.
6. Weigh up the pros and cons of customising the ERP versus a third party integrated software solution. Consider the risk of budget blowouts and the impact to future upgrades.
7. From this grounding, you are now armed with the information to take positive action. What this plan may encompass will depend on the specific situation. It may be any combination of people, process or technology. It may require custom scripting or data modelling to allow for integration in areas that cannot be integrated.
8. Learn to look beyond the clever marketing of your vendors. The trick is being armed with the full knowledge of what the solution needs to address and having a much clearer picture of the outcomes software automation must achieve. In this way, you gain control of the outcome and are not left at the mercy of professional sales people bedazzling you with the exciting story of software robots or other fluff.
As this space can be highly detailed with many variances, I am only just scratching the surface, but rest assured there is a lot more in my head than I’ll ever get down on paper. I’m always available for a chat or a coffee to help in a more useful way.
As the Director of Avantix, Duncan has over 20 years experience digitisation, data governance and document process automation. He is passionate about problem solving and acting as a positive driver in business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org