Automate for people, not for processes

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Whether or not you foresee the coming of “hyperautomation” — the notion that every business process that can be automated should or indeed will be automated in the future — it’s clear that the majority of corporations across the globe have already begun to strategize for this inevitability.

An early 2020 global survey of business leaders by McKinsey & Co. revealed that close to a third of all companies worldwide have already fully automated at least one function — and that was before the pandemic. Enterprises in most industries have since shifted their automation attempts into overdrive, hoping to future-proof as much as is possible in the face of such unpredictability.

In their efforts to automate, many businesses prioritize individual process needs without prioritizing user experience. A company can achieve some cost savings this way, but such automations often fail to fully realize their potential.

Why? It risks alienating the people it set out to serve — meaning few people actually choose to use the tool.

According to a November Zapier automation confidence survey, nearly a third of workers said they were not yet convinced that automation is useful in their current role. And 10% felt it overly difficult to find time to learn the new skills required to benefit from automated applications on the job.

The problems with a process-centric approach

In the past, companies largely evaluated automation opportunities using process-driven criteria that targets the lowest-hanging fruit. Processes that occur most frequently, don’t change much, and have the largest user base have been prioritized, often resulting in disparate automations that lead to poor adoption and limited ROI.

Take, for example, the automations that are involved in onboarding a new hire. Human resources is a core enterprise function that’s been particularly transformed by new integrations and interactions amongst automated processes.

In the future, everything automated will be centered around the customer or employee “journey,” essentially employing a library of automated task modules. Instead of dictating what the user should do next, these automations will adapt to bring the right experience to the user depending on where they are in their journey.

What changes when the user journey is prioritized?

With the HR example, a traditional approach to automation involves each group involved in onboarding using a mix of different software and manual steps for their specific tasks. Users need access to different systems and interfaces to complete all the processes. This means a lot of different logins and likely a mix between PDF forms and going through flows in each group’s software program.

With a journey-centric approach, the new user experience focuses on presenting all the tasks in a single interface, providing context for each step such as with a status, due date, and point of contact in a wizard-like UI.

One of the key differences is how the information is presented to users. It provides context about the actions users need to take and shows the actions contextually in the right order. Even if the underlying automation remains the same as the traditional approach, a singular, integrated interface for all tasks related to the process can up-level usability.

Journey-centric automation in the wild

Some of the best real-world examples of the future of automation come from industry titans like Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP. Their automated employee enterprise platforms are steering significant changes to the automation landscape in 2021 and beyond.

Driven in large part by advances in AI and the challenges of remote work requirements over the past year, the largest of these platforms (see Oracle Journeys, Microsoft Viva, and SAP Employee Experience Management) are all essentially tailored to an understanding of the user experience.

Their journey-centric dashboards include features like:

  • An intelligent and organized home for previously disparate onboarding processes like ID and security clearances, equipment assignments, training, location-specific orientation, and essential employment policies and paperwork
  • Intuitive or “smart” to-do lists for the upcoming tasks an employee likely needs to complete next
  • Access to personalized skill-building suggestions and even automated training modules based on the employee’s role and career trajectory
  • A checkpoint for crucial health and wellness data (for example, submitting health clearances as employees quarantine and return to work during the current COVID pandemic)
  • Insightful and customizable impact reporting for individuals, teams, and managers

How will companies maintain a competitive edge in this new age of automation?

Simply put: The automations of the future must seamlessly stitch together these previously complicated process-driven workflows to deliver a simplified user experience. Instead of replicating clunky manual processes as a digital system or only automating the easiest step, the design must re-architect the end-to-end experience, making it better for the people who use it, not just automated.

The businesses currently reporting the most success in automation are doing just that. From revolutionizing legal processes to travel experiences to manufacturing and beyond, the future of automation is about to make our lives easier in many ways.

Vijay Pullur is CEO of Groupe.io.

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