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Tuesday, 27 July 2021 11:37

Five questions to ask before undertaking a process automation project

By Chris Ellis, Nintex
Chris Ellis, APAC Technical Evangelist, Nintex Chris Ellis, APAC Technical Evangelist, Nintex

GUEST OPINION by Chris Ellis, APAC Technical Evangelist, Nintex: The prospect of optimising and automating key business processes can be enticing for many organisations. The chance to remove inefficiencies and streamline workflows is seen as a sure-fire way to deliver big benefits.

While big business benefits are certainly achievable, they require considerable planning and preparation to make them a reality. A range of factors needs to be taken into account and final outcomes fully understood.

Before starting work on a new automation project, take some time to consider these five key questions:

1. Is the process necessary?
Before taking steps to automate a process, first take time to consider whether it is still relevant to the organisation. Many processes that have been in place for extended periods may have actually outlived their usefulness.

This can particularly be the case when it comes to reporting. Check to see whether the data generated by reporting is actually being used to make business-critical decisions. Where there are no value-added outputs, or where the process is an end in itself, it might be a better idea to simply eliminate it rather than automate it.

2. Does the process contain unnecessary steps?
Some processes are likely to have become overly complex or bloated during the years and automating them is unlikely to produce the benefits that are expected. Indeed, many processes have internal loops, where one person touches the same data multiple times at different stages.

Critically assess the entire process and determine where and how it can be streamlined. Automation can then be used in the most effective way.

3. Does the process flow smoothly?
The existing order of steps in a process does not have to be set in stone. Before beginning automation, look closely at each step to determine whether it can be improved or even removed. The result could be a big lift in efficiency.

4. Is the process as simple as it can be?
Once all the steps in a process have been examined individually, assess how well it functions as a whole. Is it the best possible process for the required outcome, or does it need to be totally replaced? Spend time speaking with the teams who use the process each day to get their perspective on how it might be improved.

5. Can the process be automated?
A final very important thing to consider is whether the process can actually be automated. While the technology is evolving very quickly, there will remain instances where automation simply can’t be achieved.

It is better to recognise this before an automation project has started rather than realising it halfway through when both money and time have been wasted.

Begin with the end in mind

In some ways, effective business process automation can be likened to creating an appetising pizza. For best results, it’s important to always begin with the desired end result in mind.

Failing to do this could result in the project becoming bogged down as people focus on individual components rather than on the broader picture. If you’re making a pizza, it would be a bit like getting lost in creating the perfect sauce and forgetting about everything else.

It’s a far better approach to have a goal and then gather all the components required to reach it. Then, like following a pizza recipe, you can carefully build until you get the anticipated result.

It should also be remembered that you don’t need to use every topping imaginable to make an outstanding pizza. In the same vein, trying to automate more than was originally planned can cause confusion and unneeded complexity.

Spend time consulting with everyone involved in the process to ensure that the automated version contains all the required features, and nothing else. The result will be new processes that deliver to the business the benefits that were sought at the outset. Like a great pizza, that’s a win for everyone.


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