Implementing Agile Business Process Automation

How to use technology to quickly automate your business and save time and money

Last week, we introduced you to business process automation and discussed why BPA is worth the investment. This week, we’re going to detail the process we use when working on business process automation software (you may also know this term as business process re-engineering (BPR), or business process automation (BPA)).
But first, let’s discuss the philosophy behind our business process automation approach. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned after hundreds of successful enterprise and small business software deployments, it’s that business processes are constantly evolving. That’s why IOTAP strongly believes that an Agile development methodology is a correct approach to business process automation: it allows you to start small, build momentum with quick wins, and continue to grow your automation capabilities as your business evolves.
Below are the steps in our agile business process automation process:
  1. Identify What You’ll Automate (and Plan How You’ll Do It)
  2. Outline Opportunities to Simplify Operations
  3. Standardize Processes
  4. Implement Automation

IOTAP’s Agile Business Process Automation Approach

Business Process Automation Approach

Business Process Automation Step 1: Identity What You’ll Automate, and Plan How You’ll Do It

Identifying Which Processes You’ll Address

Efficiency can be realized across numerous areas of any business, which can be both a positive and a challenge. We recommend beginning your BPA planning process by identifying which tasks are likely candidates for automation and prioritizing them in the work plan. Ideal initial candidates for business process automation include:

  • Paperwork-heavy processes (both physical and digital)
  • Manual/ employee-dependent tasks that must be delivered with a high degree of reliability or fast speed
  • Key activities that need to be regularly tracked and reported
  • Areas where record-keeping, compliance and approval have high importance

People, Partner, and Technology

The typical business process automation project may start small, but it won’t be long until you’re starting to affect a number of different teams and departments, which has the potential to be very disruptive if not managed correctly.

That’s why it’s critical to identify the people who will be leading your BPA initiative, the partner you’ll be working with, and the technology that you’ll use before beginning any development work.

Finally, choosing the best business process automation software is no easy task. We’ll cover this topic in more depth in a later blog, but for now, know that the two most important criteria that we evaluate are a speed of implementation and tool flexibility. Think Agile!

Business Process Automation Step 2: Define Opportunities to Simplify Operations

Before development begins, your business process automation partner and project manager should work closely to vet the ideas you put together in Step 1 and identify areas where you can simplify your operations. At IOTAP, we focus on three areas:

  • Disentangling: establishing a clear process and defined authority for a particular task

o   Example Situation: A customer service department that accepts tickets via email to a common support address. Whoever receives the email first acts on the ticket, but reps generally do not have good visibility into priority or assignments, and management does not have good data on case open and closure rates.

  • ReducingRemoving manual work from employees and having software do the work

o   Example Situation: Manual sales reports aggregated from CRM, accounting, and other systems each week for distribution to and review by sales managers.

  • Parallelizingidentify areas where work can be sped up by having different processes performed in parallel.

o   Example Situation: An employee onboarding process that requires a new staff member to provide documentation for payroll, insurance and other benefits, complete training courses, and gain access to required systems, with all of these functions carried out by a different staff member at different times.

A few questions to ask during this process include:

  •  What repetitive tasks can be taken out of an employee’s hands?
  • What are the criteria for sending an alert, and who should be notified?
  • What actions should be taken based on a trigger such as an event or elapsed timeframe?
  • Where will a human need to make a decision or use judgment in the process?
  • What records and data need to be captured? Where do they need to be saved/visible, and by whom?

Business Process Automation Step 3: Standardize Processes

Once you’ve identified where you can simplify your operations, it’s time to standardize those business process automation workflows so that development can begin. At IOTAP, we use a three-step BPA standardization process:

  1. Define: At the outset, we define exactly how business processes should be completed in order to provide a blueprint for automation. During this stage, all potential system inputs, outputs, and conditions should be reviewed and discussed with stakeholders so that processes for the most common scenarios and exceptions are agreed upon.
  2. Document: Once your business processes are defined, the next step is to build a flow-chart that documents exactly how, from a technical standpoint, your business process automation will be addressed. This documentation should include both manual and system-generated activities, as well as interactions across different systems.
  3. Set Service-Level Agreement: Finally, the standards for successful business process automation must be set. If a customer requires a response to a service ticket within 2 hours, that criteria should be known so that it can be built into the system. If customer data must be stored and accessible for five years after a transaction, that requirement must be defined.

At the completion of Step 3, you’ll have the blueprint and architecture ready to develop your business process automation solution.

Business Process Automation Step 4: Implementation

Remember the Agile Development motto: start small and iterate. The requirements that you identified in Steps 2 and 3 above should be prioritized for a speed of implementation, with the goal of delivering a few key quick wins and gathering user feedback on the experience to guide further work.

These quick wins could be solutions for the most tedious chores employees are currently working on that help build stakeholder goodwill or systems that solve a frustration point for customers.

Once you’ve achieved your first BPA wins, it’s time to iterate your solution. Business Process Automation is an ever-evolving field, and your goal should be to continue to identify opportunities for improvements. These improvements could include supporting additional functions, moving to “version 2.0” of automation systems as your employees gain experience with the system, or adding capabilities to provide more self-service to customers. But your goal is to establish a mindset of continual evaluation and improvement of your business process automation.

We hope that we’ve provided you with a good overview of how to approach business process automation and re-engineering. As you can see, the possibilities in this field are virtually limitless. If you’d like to discuss how to start the process or improve your current operations through business process re-engineering, talk to IOTAP’s business process automation experts today.