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Automation is rapidly becoming an almost intrinsic component of digital transformation; in fact, Gartner analyst Fabrizio Biscotti has stated that “hyperautomation has shifted from an option of condition to a condition of survival.”
The hyperautomation market, which includes robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and other technologies, is expected to see double-digit growth this year as businesses look to reap the benefits of improved scalability, compliance precision and cost reduction.
While it’s clear that automation will disrupt the standard business process model for the better, it can be difficult to know where and how to start implementing it.
A holistic understanding of processes
Regardless of the specific technology an organization will use to automate a process or make it more streamlined, what’s needed is an understanding of all the steps involved in that process. But at most organizations, there’s a lack of full visibility because there are too many handoffs from one group to another. In other words, steps are happening in siloes.
To avoid disaster, take the steps out of the siloes and understand each one. Then you can think about which steps can still work using a low human touch without sacrificing quality or customer experience — and which components need more human intervention or interaction. The goal of automation is not to replace all humans with robots and chatbots. Instead, you want to use automation to free up staff and other resources to focus on those high-touch activities.
Examining four places to get started with business process automation
With the above in mind, here are four areas where there is a lot of opportunity to start using automation.
Finance: The finance department at most organizations typically has multiple repetitive tasks, such as receiving and processing supplier invoices and customer payments. These are ripe for the application of automation and come with very measurable transaction processing cost savings.
Post-sales: The RMA (return merchandise authorization) process — a request for authorization and the creation of a return label — is a low-touch scenario that is well-suited to automation.
Data management: IT departments are actively exploring the use of automation to identify data anomalies and address data protection concerns. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is an area where automation can help by identifying the sensitive data fields and redacting them from specific users as data is loaded or viewed in a system. Fraud detection is another area of concern in some industries, and AI is being used to review significant amounts of data very quickly and highlight and report potential fraud issues.
Lead to cash: The sales cycle of the “lead to cash” process is typically an opportunity for companies to introduce automation. Many companies are separating their selling cycles into high and low-touch categories where low-touch is generally the most simplistic and repetitive sales cycle.
For example, companies can manage B2C software subscription sales using applications like Dropbox, requiring no human interaction. They can address upgrades and renewals in the same way. Automated business processes also work well for selling discrete products with no configuration needs; Amazon is a great example of a low-touch, automated purchase process selling individual items with defined prices.
However, a key consideration for automation of the sales cycle is the customer experience. If the customer expects human interaction during the sales cycle — no matter how simple the transaction — it may not be wise to automate. When the customer expectations and the opportunity to automate align, then automation should be a strong consideration.
Overcoming stumbling blocks to adoption
The first thing to understand is that as automation gets better, it will get smarter and smarter. You can’t go from zero to 100 – it’s a journey. That’s why the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll see positive results, both in the short and long term.
One cause for hesitation is the idea that automation will replace humans, but that’s not the case. Automation is not entirely independent as of now, and for some tasks, it will never be appropriate. There are many instances where humans are needed for high-level thinking. At the same time, automation allows employees to increase their efficiency and productivity.
Another mistaken notion is that automation will only work in large-scale industries. In reality, automation can be applied to almost any repetitive, rules-based and high-volume business activity in any kind of industry.
Business process automation for the win
The automation market is growing quickly — and no wonder, given its many potential benefits. But before you begin your journey toward automation, make sure to examine every step in the process you’re looking to automate. Carefully consider the impact automation will have in your process and where the human touch remains the best approach. Finance, lead to cash, post-sales and data management are just four areas that will benefit from a well-conceived plan. Start small, check your results and adjust as needed, then expand into other areas. Optimizing your business processes with automation helps create better business models and eliminate process inefficiencies and even results in business transformation.
Karin Maday is senior vice president of customer success at Jade Global.
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