How to Automate Your Business Processes
In an earlier post, we talked about why small to mid-size businesses need to automate in order to stay competitive. Now, we’re going to talk about how you can make the change. Here are seven recommendations to get you started:
- Start where you’ll get the fastest results
Usually this means picking the back-office tasks that add little or no value to your product or service – human resources record keeping, or automation of client intake forms for instance. These are usually the easiest tasks to automate, because they are repetitive. You get fast ROI because you avoid human error while saving time in getting the task done.
- Embrace technology and automation
Your company’s culture is formed at the top.
Employees are often reluctant to embrace automation because they fear that automation will put them out of work. But, you can set expectations. When you talk about automation, discuss the benefits to employees. Show them how automation will help in their current functions and how it can help them to grow into higher-level positions. Remember, managing an automated process is intrinsically more satisfying for an employee than performing a rote task, and it sets them up for higher performance. Higher performance usually leads to higher-level jobs.
- Don’t try to do it all at once
The biggest mistake companies can make when they decide to automate is trying to do too much all at once. Start small. Pick a function that is performed regularly, that is time consuming, and has defined steps. Functions such as invoice processing; client intake or forms processing are good general examples. The ROI on time-consuming, error-prone functions such as these can be huge.
Or, your company may have an industry-specific function that causes regular headaches for your employees. This is often the case in manufacturing, shipping or technology.
The important idea is to score a win with your first automated process. Once your employees see how well automation works for them (and you see the cost savings and time savings) they’ll be suggesting other processes to automate, and your company’s transformation will be underway.
- Automate the right process
The sneaky thing about process automation is that sometimes, the process you think needs to be automated is the wrong one! As you narrow the focus to one process, so that you can start small, as recommended in step 3, keep in mind where that process fits into the big picture. When a small process is part of a larger process, sometimes you need to expand the automation in order to get the results you need. Take invoice processing for example…
You may decide to begin automation in the A/P department, by scanning the invoices as they arrive in the department and converting the entire approval-payment process from a paper workflow to a digital-workflow. Then you discover a new bottleneck in getting the invoices from the mailroom to the A/P department. In a case like this, you’re better off to enlarge your focus and start with mailroom automation as the first part of the A/P process.
- Document everything you do
Keep track of everything you do – where you started, what you spent, and the end results. Do this for every automation project you undertake. You’ll quickly learn which type of processes give the best ROI, and you can fast-track those for automation. By choosing the right projects early on, you may find that the dollars and time you save in the first few automation projects can actually pay for the later projects.
- Don’t go it alone
There are plenty of reliable companies who understand office automation. They may call themselves “document management experts.” They may offer “document scanning services” and “digital workflows.” These are all forms of office automation. Going from cumbersome, error-prone paper-based processes to time-saving, accurate digital processes is the name of the game. Talk to the leaders in these companies. They’ve done it all before and have insights that will help guide your automation project.
Also talk to other businesses like yours who have automated, and learn what worked and what didn’t for them.
- Pick the right technology partner
Once you get serious enough to start looking at specific technology and services, consider what your five-year plan is. The technology partner you choose will be part of your business life for the foreseeable future – make sure they have the knowledge, innovation and technology to grow with you as your company grows. You don’t want to start with a technology or a vendor who is unable to keep up with you as you move forward.