Defining a Strategy for Process Automation
As business systems grow to encompass more locations, tools, and organizations, defining processes that keep pace with these changes can’t be left to a hodgepodge of disconnected programs—or worse, manual implementation of paper documentation. You need to automate.
Automation within businesses first arose in the 1960s, alongside resource planning systems. Then, it grew to include things like data collection and ingestion where processing capabilities were lacking, and human intervention was still needed.
Now, nearly everything is in a digital format, and business processes have evolved to eliminate paper wherever possible. The next step is to start automating interactions among digital systems and people. This step is called process automation.
Process automation is essential for minimizing human intervention, reducing bottlenecks and human error, increasing communication, and encouraging workflow efficiency.
But to truly reap the benefits of process automation, you must create a process automation strategy: this means locating areas within your workflow that would most directly contribute to your organization’s productivity and automating from there.
This article will explore process automation, its benefits and use cases, and how you can implement it within your organization.
What Is Process Automation?
Process automation describes using technology to automate business processes that are complex or tedious, maximizing efficiency and minimizing bottlenecks across the organization. Generally, there are three uses for process automation: reducing human input requirements, centralizing information, and automating specific processes. Ultimately, process automation aims to automate the majority—if not all—of your workflow.
Process automation is often discussed alongside Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Though the concepts share certain similarities, they also have some vital distinctions.
RPA uses software to mimic specific IT tasks that humans perform manually. With RPA, trainable or self-trained robots perform tasks like simple desktop operations (e.g., moving a file). In some cases, RPA tools can use machine learning to monitor activity and automatically perform an action, such as replying to an email or performing data extraction.
While RPA tends to focus on a specific task, process automation manages the flow of information among systems and people. Process automation is much broader, focusing on how you can use technology for performing tasks, creating integrations, managing data and storage, and developing software.
When to Use Process Automation
Several areas can benefit from process automation. However, the best time to implement process automation is when a task requires multiple steps. By automating these steps, you can minimize delays, rid yourself of repetitive tasks, and reduce the likelihood of human error.
Let’s explore two instances where you can implement process automation to make your workflow more efficient.
Automating Your Incident Response
Tools like xMatters help automate business processes, such as incident response and service management. With xMatters, you can use automated tools to notify teams of incidents and notification responses to trigger automated resolutions.
For example, imagine that you work for an e-commerce platform. The company’s purchasing website is down, and customers receive errors when submitting orders. Customer trust and profits are waning each minute the site is down, so a quick resolution is key.
Process automation can resolve the incident when you establish the following automated steps:
- A support agent creates a support ticket, automatically initiating a workflow within your incident response tool.
- Initiating a workflow launches the automation process, which notifies the designated customer service team of the specific date and time of day.
- The customer service team reviews and resolves the issue or, if necessary, escalates the support ticket to the appropriate level.
In this example, the flow to roles or groups isn’t dependent on one person of unknown availability. If the system doesn’t receive a response, it will automatically find another person to notify, making your incident response faster and more consistent. This automation also means no tickets are overlooked due to human error or absence.
Automating Your DevOps Practices
You can automate the software development processes within your DevOps pipeline with process automation as well.
Automation tools can make it so that whenever new code is checked into a source repository, the tool automatically notifies developers. Additionally, you can use process automation to perform tests, inform teams of the success of those tests, and deploy newer versions of the software.
Automating operations helps make them repeatable and easy to monitor. If there’s a problem with the DevOps workflow or an unexpected error with building, testing, or deployment, traceable automated error notifications can be made until the problem is resolved.
Many business processes can be streamlined with process automation: reducing complexity and time to respond. Additionally, automated tools can reduce the time a new employee takes to work efficiently, as much of the institutional knowledge is in the automation.
When Not to Use Process Automation
Though process automation saves time and money and increases productivity and workflow efficiency, not everything improves with process automation. Here are a few examples showcasing where you should avoid process automation:
- Uncommon processes: Automation is best suited to common and repetitive tasks that are generally standardized or follow specific patterns. It is not encouraged to use process automation for unpredictable or unusual tasks.
- Complex processes: Process automation helps manage complex processes—sometimes without human intervention. However, it’s important to include some human problem-solving skills during complicated processes or urgent workflows. Process automation simplifies manual processes but doesn’t replace human ingenuity!
- Minimal ROI: Although there’s a lot you can automate, you shouldn’t automate everything. Look for areas to automate that will give you a high return on investment (ROI). Don’t try to automate processes that won’t notably increase efficiency.
Implementing Process Automation
While process automation offers numerous benefits, successful design and implementation require careful planning and coordination. The smaller steps will vary by organization, but the following four stages represent the primary steps you should follow.
1. Identify Where to Use Process Automation
Determining what to automate is the first step. This decision should depend on the value automation will bring to the company. Look for repetitive, rule-based, or standardized tasks where auditing and logging are important. These tasks impact other business processes and workflows, giving them the potential for high ROI. Determine which tasks are best suited to automation and map out how these processes currently perform. Then, you can identify which areas will benefit the most from automation.
2. Determine Your Goals
It’s important to understand the business goals you hope to achieve with automation. Are you looking to minimize the duration of the development lifecycle? Decrease customer complaints? Be sure to have a clear picture of why you’re implementing process automation. Once you have a clear goal in mind, determine the metrics you’ll use to measure success, whether they indicate increases in profit, fewer support tickets, or shorter times to resolution.
3. Choose Effective Tools
The key to process automation is choosing the right tools. There are many automation tools on the market, so do your research and reach out to professionals before committing to any tool. Ideally, these tools should be easy to use, intuitive, flexible, and scalable, so you don’t have to switch products when your business grows. Additionally, you want to ensure the automation tools selected are compatible with your existing systems and software.
4. Monitor and Analyze
Process automation isn’t meant to be static. You’re not automating one part of your development workflow and keeping it that way forever. Business needs change, as will the areas that benefit from process automation, the required tools, and the potential ROI. So, be sure to monitor your chosen performance indicators and re-evaluate which areas most contribute to your efficiency, customer success, and other business objectives.
Benefits of Process Automation
There are many benefits of process automation, including those already highlighted. Additional benefits include:
- Changes to workflow processes can be implemented with no-code visual tools, eliminating issues of outdated documentation.
- Responses to incidents/emergencies happen quickly and predictably. Response processes don’t rely on one person, and available escalation policies ensure that all appropriate team members are contacted.
- Process automation can be used for documenting incident reports, enabling you to create detailed post-incident reviews.
- Process automation can be expanded, and workflows (re)used in different combinations. You can also re-evaluate and readjust your workflows at any time, allowing you to scale and modify your automation strategies to best suit your business needs.
Process automation uses technology to automate repetitive, time-consuming, and multi-step tasks to decrease bottlenecks and increase productivity. With process automation, you can free up your time and resources to address more complicated, high-stakes, and nuanced tasks.
However, to implement process automation effectively, you must develop a comprehensive strategy. In addition to outlining goals for automation and metrics to assess its success, you need to manage the logistics of finding an automation tool that’s easy to use, integrate, and scale.
xMatters provides an approachable and effective way to implement process automation, giving you complete control over your workflow while automating processes related to application health, deployment, infrastructure disruptions, and incident response—all with a straightforward implementation process. When you’re ready to get started try xMatters for free.