Chapter 2: How to Automate Business Processes: Departments, Operations and Procedures Where Workflow Automation Excels
How to Determine Which Processes to Automate
It is neither technically demanding nor seismically laborious to begin automating various parts of your department workflow processes — but it is something that involves careful planning, collaboration and critical thinking.
Many managers assume they alone must be up-to-date with the latest automation technology and methodologies to see transformative results. Yet this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, how to determine the right processes to automate in your business is more about asking the right questions with the right group of people, listening to their answers and pairing them with a long-term business goal.
Step 1: Outline places you see burdened by the most problems or inefficiencies.
Start with any processes you know are still being done manually, large or small — employee mileage tracking, expense reporting, accounting invoicing, network surveillance tasks, customer service touchpoints, social media posting, email marketing funnels, trainings and onboarding tasks, meeting scheduling, processing returned items, even filling out employee time sheets. Break down every stage it takes to currently complete this target task, as well as who’s involved and what technology is used.
Step 2: Outline ideal goals for those inefficiencies or solutions to those problems.
In a perfect business world, what would these workflows look like? Ideate their exact steps — or lack of them — and assess how that’s different from the process currently in place. Ask for insights from team members in these domains for bolstered ideas.
Step 3: Assign numbers to your goals if you haven’t already.
Allot an improvement metric for the whole team to get behind that rounds out the newly outlined process. Want to decrease the time it takes to re-itemize a warehouse item returned by a customer? Great — aim to cut it in half. Wish you could speed up a new hire filling out human resources forms, and those forms getting logged in the system? Excellent — employee onboarding software can do this in one hour versus one afternoon.
Step 4: Get team feedback.
This is the critical part. Yes, you might have some pretty solid insights into process headaches at work. To get the most comprehensible and adaptable automation solutions though, you must make sure everyone else experiencing pain points gets a seat at the table as well. Add team feedback to your outlines and move onto the final stage.
Step 5: Research tools and equipment that directly contribute to reaching the new process goal.
Whether it’s computer software, an updated program feature, a collaborative suite of work documents or equipment installed into your company vans or mobile assets, technology will likely round out the way you move toward successful process automation.
Common Business Processes That Can Be Automated
Every business has its own process pain points. Yet there exist routine places across today’s industries where organizations can implement business automation best practices.
Look to see if the following departments in your company could benefit from more streamlined workflow-accomplishing systems:
1. Finance and Accounting
Financial and accounting processes require precision, but inputting all those numbers can be monotonous. This department is perfect for automation.
- Accounts payable and accounts receivable progressions, especially approval workflows.
- Enterprise content management (ECM) documentation systems.
- Data inputting, data query and data extraction practices.
- Secure data storage, both for your own information and that of your clients and customers.
2. Human Resources
Your employees are your company’s greatest asset — and they likely generate the greatest amount of paperwork. Simplify your HR systems by going digital.
- Human resource management systems’ (HRIS) functionality and capabilities, including access, retrievability and editing.
- Filing new employee paperwork and onboarding materials, from local, state and federal tax forms to direct deposits, emergency contact information and network access forms.
- Completing and documenting training programs or modules.
3. Product Orders and Distribution
Keep better track of your products and services by making information available everywhere.
- Work order processing, whether paper, digital or both.
- Shipping and receiving confirmation and documentation.
- Delivery updates.
- Inventory management.
- Vendor contract and file management.
- Fleet and field asset management.
Basics to Begin Automating Parts of Your Business
There are more than a few automation technologies available on the market today that can reshape the way core business processes — such as accounting or human resources — get done. Organizations desiring to adopt business automation can begin their foray with the following baseline systems.
1. Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Applications
ICR and OCR are the key reasons why automatic data entry can be implemented into a business. These are types of software that can scan and “read” text, both digital fonts and manual handwriting. ICR and OCR software take what it’s read and funnel it into relevant data logs or programs. Your employees can then access and edit that data but no longer have to spend hours originally inputting it. ICR and OCR are particularly helpful for any form that needs to be translated from hard copies into a computer system, from direct deposit slips to customers contracts. They are over 98 percent accurate yet take a fraction of the time.
2. Automated Documentation Software
These programs are complete enterprise content management systems that import, export and log all business-relevant files and data. Think of them as a library for your files — only a modern, user-friendly and hyper-accessible library merely a few clicks away for all your employees. Most automated documentation software is platform-agnostic as well, so it’ll integrate with your current filing system and won’t cause disruptive system downtimes.
3. Smart Forms
Smart forms are an easy and contemporary solution to business paperwork creation and management. You create customizable documents in several different formats, digital or print, plus you can save those documents right into your content management system (CMS). You can link to form-generated data too, so it automatically gets entered into system logs or programs using ICR and OCR technology described above.
4. Automated Cloud Storage of Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
Automatically sending and storing your customers’ PII in the cloud is an inevitability many businesses still resist. There’s a fear this kind of conversion is too complicated, too expensive or will pigeonhole too many business resources. Yet the functionality and affordances of this IT best practice remain indisputable. An automated process which securely transmits private information and ensures its security with off-site data-management best practices means you now have more compliant audit trails and access controls.