October 28, 2021

Why Process Automation Goes Wrong

With the right practical approach, process automation paves the way to a more efficient and productive business. It creates resilience, allows for flexibility, and increases workforce productivity.  

But if not done right, it will only add more complexity to an organisation. So, what are the most common pitfalls when implementing process automation?  

1. Not looking at the bigger picture

Businesses are complex and function on interconnectivity; what happens in one discipline or process generally impacts others. Often, many companies initiate their transformation journeys and start siloed, by looking either at certain functions or micro-processes that aren't performing efficiently. Although digital transformation aims to unblock bottlenecks, starting with the minutia and automating singular processes doesn't necessarily increase productivity or efficiency.  

2. Limited future-proofing

Many businesses embrace off-the-shelf technology solutions only to realise that these platforms don't really fit the bill for their needs. The response is usually to over-customise them with complex processes that require heaving custom coding. The result? The inability to adapt and migrate to newer releases or alternative software that better fit their needs without complex and manual data mapping and data migration processes.  

3. Lack of consistency in the data structure

Data, in this day and age, is king. However, many companies fail to consider an organisation-wide data strategy as part of their business transformation journey. They don't understand that data cannot be efficiently leveraged without a clear definition of business information requirements, data structure, and organisation-wide data standardisation. Without these critical aspects, businesses risk handling the information manually, which leaves a significant margin for error - a far cry from real-time visibility of key metrics.  

4. Replicate manual processes

Replicating a manual process as it is but in digital form is another common mistake. Digitalising a manual process creates a faux impression of digital transformation, and it doesn't add any real benefits to the process at hand or the business. Moreover, manual processes replicated digitally generally carry legacy issues, which is often the primary catalyst that drove the need for automation in the first place – these issues often result in substantial complexity to an already burdened process.

5. Either no validation checks or too many

Data validation at the source is crucial to ensuring real-time reporting. Data needs to be checked by the correct levels of authority through workflows. The danger of having zero controls means businesses can't fully evaluate the integrity of the information being used. On the other hand, having too many controls creates significant bureaucracy and bottlenecks. Striking a balance between the two and making sure the same data isn't input (and verified) multiple times would free up your teams and allow them to focus more on decision making rather than doing.  

6. Employee disengagement  

Investment in digital transformation becomes futile when employees aren't on board with the changes or if these adjustments aren't fully embedded into the day-to-day running of the business. Suppose automated processes are put in place, but employees still use manual ways of working? Not only is objectivity lost, but so is productivity. Not having employees aligned with your ways of working creates a significant cultural disconnect that hinders progress and results.  

It's undeniable: companies need to embrace automation as part of their business and digital transformation journeys. However, when it comes to process automation, the starting points must always be the business's long-term strategy, values, and objectives – basically, by defining how they need to affect the customer experience and how they actively improve the business. This needs to be supported by a company-wide information strategy and data structure.  

Once these parameters are established, businesses can begin to undertake process automation for each discipline, transforming operations, future-proofing the company, and implementing validation controls aligned with best practice principles of governance.

And possibly the most crucial of all, organisations need to involve the employees throughout the business transformation journey, get their buy-in, and reward their adoption of the new ways of working.  

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