In Part One of the “Automating Segments of Your Organization to Save Time and Money” series, we defined some terms to help readers understand what Process Automation is and what the next step, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is and does. RPA uses technology to automate the actions within or between workflows or processes that were done manually in the past. We find that some benefits of RPA include streamlining repetitive workflows, so your employees no longer have to do mundane “busywork.” For example, sending out invoices is very important, but paper invoices sent by snail mail (REALLY OLD SCHOOL) can now be handled electronically.
The topic of this post is related to mailing invoices because deciding WHAT to automate is part of deciding to automate in the first place.
- How do you decide what to automate?
- Which people do you ask to the decision-making table?
- What criteria do you use to make a decision?
- When should you begin the transition?
- How long will you be waiting to see results?
- How much does it cost?
How do you decide what to automate?
From the list in our PART ONE, you remember that the criteria for tasks to be automated are:
- Rule-based — EXAMPLE: Send a reminder notice if a customer’s payment is five days late. Collating and making simple choices
- Repetitive— EXAMPLE: searching, cutting and pasting, updating the same data in multiple places, moving data around.. Formatting reports over and over again in the same way.
- Computer-based— EXAMPLES: Price increases. Personnel statistics. Specified data are captured and delivered into daily/weekly/monthly reports.
- High-volume— EXAMPLES: Sales tracking. Inventory counted (manually) by SKU, PLU, in-process, etc. Production statistics (i.e., times, input and output quantities, quality, etc.)
Rely on structured, readable input — EXAMPLES: Excel files or database fields as well as a PDF remittance advice in searchable Using these criteria, start to pay attention to those tasks that fit these categories and effect the biggest change with the least disruption. “Check your gut,” as they say. You’re probably already thinking of places that will be easiest to “sell” to the rest of the team.
Another way to achieve a fairly easy transition is to limit the first round of changes to five. As you complete the process, you make a list of ten or fifteen, knowing that you’re ready for the next steps immediately, but you don’t have to do it all at once. As the top person at your organization, you know that you’ll also make a better decision if you include your team in the decision! But who?
Which people do you ask to the decision-making table?
The answer is…. drum roll…it depends. Certainly, the management team would be invited, but it might be best to choose people interested in “new technology” and not afraid of trying something new. It’s also a good idea to pull in some of the Doubting Thomas’s and Doubting Tinas. They will provide the necessary push-back arguments to help you know what the objections might be—knowing the enemy, as it were—to plan a better switchover to automation in your workplace.
As you have already identified some of the departments that would benefit the most in your initial assessments, you can guess they will have better chances of early success. Those managers might be on the first-to-the-table list too. Be warned: the “What Do We Automate?” decision meetings will probably not be a once-and-done. Having more than one meeting with different departments and a diverse mix of early adopters and naysayers from across the company would be a stellar idea.
What criteria do you use to make a decision?
Cost is of primary concern. However, it’s not the only one. Consider these:
- Ease of use
- Existing versus new software/hardware
- Acceptance-level by the troops
- Customer and/or vendor impact
- Cash-flow enhancement
- Time! (Do you have the time/bandwidth/staff to implement one RPA innovation? What about another?)
When should you begin the transition?
Knowing when to begin incorporating automated business processes is like trying to figure out when you should have kids. It’s hard to tell, and you can argue that you have neither the time nor the money for kids or RPA. Similarly, your life is full, you’re busy, and you’re not awash in income. You wonder if kids are a good idea. There’s a biological time limit for kids, but with your business, there’s also a deadline of sorts.
If you’re at the point where your organization is growing but is held back by antiquated systems and processes, you may find you’re ready for RPA. Another “tell” is if you’re spending more money on fixing mistakes or paying penalties than you should. Or if you’re having a hard time hiring that staff person to do the tasks.
How long will it take to see results?
The length of time to see results will vary with the type and scope of the processes you want automated. A simple automation in handling invoices can see a change in cash flow within the next billing cycle. A more complicated automation may require input from more departments (e.g., sales, inventory management, customer expectations, utility billing, and much more). These can be taken from a strictly manual to an interim automation before being advanced robotically. It might take six months for these more extensive interventions to see results, but if you don’t start them, you will be six months down the road with no improvement.
How much does it cost?
Costs related to RPA fall into several categories. For instance, consulting services depend on the number of sessions for analyzing existing situations/business processes in your organization. It’s not a cookie-cutter solution because every organization is different. Beginning assessments are helpful to understand timelines and see if you already have some systems and/or software applications that are there but not being used properly or at all. Every organization has a different entry point. Sometimes new software must be purchased, so the costs can vary. However, the implementation can be gradual and matched to your budget.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions — Our Advice
Before starting a transition to RPA, it’s a good idea to ensure that the team does not suffer from “decision fatigue” in the process. The move to RPA or to step up to Artificial Intelligence (AI) – and Machine Learning (ML) – assisted RPA can be done over time.
Deciding on which business processes to automate can be met with failure, which is okay. These days, the unicorn’s* motto is “Fail Fast.” Knowing what doesn’t work quickly is a part of rapid growth. Rather than being a demotivator, failure invites the departments to reassess their new business processes to think of even better ways to get their work done. Here’s what Elon Musk says about failure: “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
If you and a member or two of your team would like to know more about RPA and its benefits, the LSL Technology Solutions team can answer your questions.
LSL offers consulting services to help you decide what to automate, and we can also put it in place for you. Ask us about our 5 Processes for $5K Evaluation SPECIAL, which runs through the end of the 2nd quarter of 2023. Contact us today!
*A “unicorn” is a young company, privately owned and valued at more than $1 billion. Airbnb (before it went public) was a unicorn as was SpaceX. Musk’s SpaceX is still privately held.