Use these guidelines to help determine whether your business is ready to automate some or most of its processes, which of those will be made more efficient using automation, and which are better served by the human touch.
Does a Human Do It Better?
DON’T automate it if it’s better done by a human, that is, if it requires any of the following:
- A unique skill set or expertise
- Critical thinking skills
- Decision-making abilities
- In-person interaction
The point of business process automation is not to replace humans but to enhance our work by helping eliminate inaccuracies and to do the types of tasks that underutilize our skills and are boring and tedious. You do not want to automate the kinds of tasks that require human engagement or connection-building.
The idea is to free up your team to focus more on the aspects of the business that require human touch and interaction, those things that require creativity, critical evaluation, or innovation. So be wary of trying to over-automate and complicate workflows. This can easily leave both your customers and employees frustrated or confused. Some tasks truly are more efficiently completed by people.
DO automate if it’s a mundane, repetitive task that doesn’t require the characteristics and skills listed above.
Most companies have many processes that can be automated — tasks that are generally considered boring or uninspiring for employees. Some of the traits of automation-friendly tasks include:
- Tasks that you perform regularly
- Tasks that are the same every time you do them
- Tasks that are tedious for humans to do because they are time-consuming and monotonous
- Tasks that are delegatable (can be done by anyone in your company given a clear set of instructions)
With software handling the busy work, you and your team will have more time to focus on more complicated problems, which means increased efficiency at a lower cost with less room for manual error.
Have You Defined and Documented the Process?
DON’T automate until you’ve documented the process, tested it manually, and refined it.
Before you’ll be able to improve your processes, you’ve got to define them. Make sure that you’ve gone through your processes manually so that you have each step documented, you can be confident that you understand how they work, and you have eliminated any unnecessary steps or inaccuracies. This is a crucial step, because once you’ve automated a system, it will be completed exactly as it’s been built to do, whether that process is correct or not.
If your business processes are still ill-defined or messy, or perhaps done a few different ways by a few different team members, you will want to take time to reach a consensus and define them clearly before ever considering whether to automate them. This can take some time, and you want to be sure that you and your team are on the same page.
DO automate if the above steps have been taken and it is clear that the process is automation-friendly.
Before automating a business process, it needs to be fine-tuned so that it is predictable and repeatable. Process Automation forces you to map out your processes and then to follow those maps. Doing so is a powerful exercise whether or not you plan to automate a process and one that every business owner should undertake at some point.
In addition to mapping and testing the steps of the process, you will want to record how much time it takes to complete a process manually and what the average cost per hour/day/month of that process is. This cost assessment is an important consideration when it comes to your bottom line. One of the main reasons to automate a process is so that it will yield a higher ROI.
Once you have documented and tested a process, it can then be refined and improved for potential automation.
Can You Justify Automation Based on Your Current Growth Rate?
DON’T automate if your business is just starting and you don’t have a steady flow of customers yet.
When you are in the first stages of getting your business going and working with your early customers, your business is in a period of establishing new processes and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. This is generally a time in which you are testing all your processes, rather than documenting and refining them. If your business is just getting off the ground, it’s a good idea to get a handle on your basic processes before considering which of those to automate.
DO automate if you’re on the cusp of rapid growth.
If your business is fairly well established and is on the verge of a period of rapid growth, it is a good time to automate. Most likely, you have most of your processes in place and have been operating for a long enough period that you can easily define and document these processes. If you are in the midst of a growth spurt, you may already be having trouble keeping up with some of the administrative or repetitive tasks that your business requires. The beautiful thing is that, once a process has been fine-tuned and handed off to automation, you’re in a better place to grow and scale at a faster rate because everything is precisely monitored and measured.
Do You Use an All-in-One System for Your Business Processes?
DON’T automate if you have disparate systems.
When you’re looking for information, do you have to search in multiple systems in order to access the data you need? Do you find that you have to enter data more than once to get it in all of your spreadsheets and databases? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then your systems aren’t integrated. It may not seem like a big deal, but it will be as your business grows. Think about how your processes will work when you are receiving much more data each day. If you are having to access multiple systems numerous times a day, it slows you/your team down significantly. If you don’t have integrated systems, this is the first place to start if you are considering business process automation.
DO automate if you have an all-in-one system.
In order for automation to work best, you need to be able to connect the dots between systems and ensure streamlined flow every step of the way. If you already have a single system in which all of your data is stored, and through which all or most of your critical processes are carried out, then your business is well primed for business process automation.