Business process automation (BPA) is the use of technology to achieve the automation of activities/services delivering a specific function or workflow. Using business process management (BPM) to identify and implement automation can reduce costs and increase efficiency, creating a win-win outcome. A 2017 report from McKinsey estimated that around half the workplace activities done by people could be automated, but how do you identify which workflows to automate and where to start? It’s important to prioritise BPA where it can save the most time and deliver the highest ROI. Here are six signs you need business process automation – if you have a process that meets several of these criteria, it’s time to automate it.

 

1. The task is boring


Monotonous tasks are not only deeply unsatisfying to perform, but they’re also an unnecessary drain on human resources. Boredom leads to errors, which can have a knock-on effect right the way along the supply chain. Whether it’s a manual task on the shop floor or an administrative chore in the office, most dull and repetitive tasks can be automated, achieving a consistent level of delivery and freeing up your team to do the work where they can add the most value.

 

 

2. The task is dangerous

 

Wherever machinery is manually operated, there’s a risk of injury to your workforce. No matter how diligent your workforce as a whole or how seriously your organisation takes health and safety, accidents are generally a result of a moment’s thoughtlessness or an unexpected malfunction and are extremely difficult to predict or avoid entirely.

 

From lost working time to serious injury, the risks of working with machinery are considerable. In 2017-18, there were 144 fatalities in the workplace in the UK, as reported by the HSE. Three-quarters of these resulted from just five types of accident: falls from a height, being struck by a moving vehicle, being struck by a moving (including flying or falling) object, being trapped by something falling or overturning and contact with moving machinery.

 

McKinsey estimates that 78% of repetitive manual tasks undertaken by humans involving physical activity or operating machinery can be fully automated, using the technology available right now. Can you automate the most dangerous tasks partially or entirely through robotic process automation (RPA), removing humans from the riskiest environments?

 

 

 3. Crossed wires are common

 

If communications are repeatedly falling down and information is dropping into the gaps between team silos, you have a process that needs to be automated to remove the likelihood of human error. That could be in customer services, where order queries are getting lost in the system, causing frustration and, ultimately, lost business; or sales, where leads are growing cold due to lack of clarity regarding appropriate workflows, failure to lead score prospects consistently or confusion over the allocation of contacts.

 

4. No-one wants to take ownership

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve slaved over a RACI chart, if people are still stepping back from taking responsibility, you’ve identified a process that could benefit from being removed from human hands. Once you’ve automated the process, there’s no room left for confusion over exactly who should be doing what – the system will fix responsibility on the appropriate individual for that stage of the workflow.

 

5. There’s no transparency

If there’s one thing worse than a process that no one will own, it’s one that no one can see. An opaque workflow is hard to track; the harder it is to see what the status is, the more likely that something will go wrong. Once BPA is in place, everyone knows who’s holding the parcel when the music stops. For instance, if you can’t easily see what your suppliers’ material availability is, problems with forecasting and fulfilment are likely to ensue. You can read more about how to put that right in our blog post Why you should automate your supplier management processes.
 

6. You’re still filling out hard-copy forms in triplicate

A process that starts with a form is ripe for automation as someone has already done the legwork of structuring the process. If it’s been standardised, there’s a formula in place to follow, it just needs the right platform for channel shift. Not only does the process then become quicker to complete, but you remove the need to store hard copy forms, which can take up valuable storage space, or scan them in. 

Realising ROI from SAP Supplier Portals: 12 process improvements