This blog is aimed at those discipline managers whose budgets are under pressure and have as yet not considered the benefits of process automation.
With operating models changing during the crisis, cost reductions can be found without compromising on performance, safety and regulatory compliance.
The pandemic has had a seismic effect on businesses that have to survive the pressures of competitive markets, demanding customers and bludgeoning compliance, and if ever there was a time for management to make use of all the available resources in order to maximise efficiency while reducing operational costs, it is now.
Cutting the workforce numbers will lower the financial overhead; however with less people, the challenge for companies is not only to maintain product/service delivery, but also to continually improve operational performance with limited resources.
The dye has already been cast regarding the permanence of home working as the benefits are irrefutable with better home/work balance particularly for parents, less commuting therefore a greener environment and lower business costs for smaller offices. However these benefits will be negated if the performance output is lower than pre-pandemic levels and below customer expectations therefore processes need to be completed as planned and compliance maintained, but how best to arrange?
Wasted Administration Time
Recent surveys have shown that the average manager spends more than four hours per day on unstructured manual data entries. This area that functions `under the radar` is where the cost of inefficiency becomes significant and worth challenging.
To remove this administrative burden for all personnel regardless of their work location, business process automation is being adopted by many SME’s to reduce repetitive and inefficient manual tasks. The frustration caused by paper handling, scanning, and cumbersome form filling is costly and often demoralising.
While many companies use Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) to automate their financial, procurement and supply chain processes, it is not uncommon to find the supporting processes for disciplines such as HR, Administration and QHSE remain in their original text format due to the restrictive cost of the automation software. Many of the supporting processes that contain repetitive manual tasks can be replaced with automated workflow.
What Processes to Automate?
Not every process needs to be automated, however, the selection process should consider the applications/databases involved and the frequency of human intervention required to complete the process. Pre-determining specific goals and measurable results will clarify the decision of whether to automate or not.
To quote Bill Gates:
“…automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency…..automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”
Here are some of the fundamental attributes of Process Automation to consider:
Process Validation: Validating existing working practises can highlight duplication, excessive paperwork and out-dated work routines. Automation involves taking manual inefficiencies and improving processes by streamlining these into a digital format. This results in identifying improvements to the process by streamlining activities resulting in reduced costs.
Reducing Errors: The aim of automation is for discipline specialists to design processes that minimise errors while maximising performance. Removing the mundane, repetitive tasks that often result in errors due to human fatigue, boredom or short attention spans will save time and lower administrative labour costs.
Mitigating Risk & Compliance: Processes can be configured to address existing compliance obligations and mitigate risk as it occurs in the workflow. Detailed data logs can provide evidence of compliance to both the internal process owner and external auditor.
Performance Measurement: Performance dashboard reports can be provided to support decision-making. Manually inputting data into a scorecard is highly inefficient as instant information can be accessed and sent directly to your mobile phone if required whether you are sitting in your home office, on a park bench or in the garden watching the birds.
This allows workers to be re-allocated to more productive value-adding activities that will enhance job satisfaction and promote professional development.
Business Management System Model
As it is logical to access the automated processes from a centralised information source, the management system is the ideal platform to provide this. Using graphical process overviews and business models to reflect how the business operates, users can quickly locate the required workflow, visual process map or document. (See graphic below)
Graphical Overview – Strategy to Task
By incorporating the process automation tool within the management system structure, processes can be orchestrated to link to portals, extract data from other applications and reflect actual working practise by way of automation.
The need to improve operational performance is important to sustain not just a competitive business advantage but to increase the chances of survival over the coming months as all businesses are faced with the greatest set of challenges this generation has ever experienced. Process automation can play a major part in saving costs while improving overall operational performance.
Those disciplines such as QHSE, Administration and Document Management often suffer from perennially low levels of investment but also in many cases, a lack of innovation by the discipline heads who have process responsibilities but remain in the dark ages with their continued use of text-based instructions.
A step in the right direction is to map out the processes in the swim lane format and then select the core activities that are labour intensive and repetitive for automation. Rooting out inefficient work routines and driving more effective ways of working is a continuous improvement activity that should be embedded within the company culture, which in effect is the business DNA.
For more information on Agility Workflow, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +44 (0)1615 05 05 34 or +44 (0)1224 33 00 00.
Peter Shields, MD
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