Six steps to successful business process automation |…
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Six steps to successful business process automation

James Luxford

Former VP, Digital Solutions



Business process automation has the potential to bring about real change to your daily workflows. You can get more work done, with greater speed and at lower costs. But just adding business process management software (BPMS) into the mix doesn't deliver results overnight. There's considerable planning required to execute an automation project correctly.

How effective and well-thought-out your strategy and plan is has a direct effect on the ultimate flow of work and desired outcomes. So, before implementing a BPMS, make sure you do the following:

1. Understand your goals and the capabilities of a BPMS

When beginning an automation project, you first have to determine what you want to achieve. Then, compare those goals to the capabilities of a BPMS. It is also important to establish what a BPMS can accomplish and the benefits it brings to the organization.

2. Define the project, its scope, objective, and timeline

Establishing a clear goal with each BPM project is essential to success. These objectives and priorities should be set and communicated clearly among stakeholders and employees who will be the daily users. Later, as the project progresses, be sure to measure your achievements against objectives to see if anything changes over time. Objectives and priorities can change but need to do so in a controlled manner.

3. Carry out a cost and technical feasibility study

Once you define your objectives and priorities, carry out a study on the costs and technical requirements of the project. You might need to reevaluate your objectives if you find the estimated costs are too high. Or the project may need to be phased over a longer period of time. On the technical side, look at what functionality comes out of the box with the software, what desired functions need customization, and how much time and effort the customization will take.

4. Develop the business case

If the objectives are feasible and can be achieved at an acceptable cost, a business case should be prepared to justify and secure the budget. The potential for savings by implementing a BPMS is huge and can be explored using case studies of organizations that have already made investments in this area.

5. Define the scope of your project

Having set the objectives, priorities, and budget, a project manager can then define the scope of the project in more detail. Moreover, it is necessary to define the different stages of implementation, including what will be done at each stage and who will be involved from managers to users. Do this for each implementation stage, while also clearly identifying the end goals.

6. Measure success against objectives

Set objectives for the complete project and look for metrics to measure success at each individual stage. Comparing objectives and any identified measurable benefits can demonstrate that the business case was justified. Further, it provides useful input for subsequent business cases.

Risks of a process automation project

In addition to the common IT project risks that are familiar to every project manager, process automation projects have three risks that you need to consider:

1. Missing the business case

The biggest and most common problem in implementing a BPMS is creating an application that is well equipped but does not solve the business case. For example, a company may build an expense-approval workflow that automates the company expense process but does not solve the business problem of credit-card expenses. Or maybe the workflow doesn't actually notify managers before expense budgets run out. Missing the business case can usually be solved by having one or more end users on a project team who can oversee the functionality of the workflow as it is being built out.

2. Change requests after sign off

In most projects, there is usually a risk of additional change requests after the project design has been signed off. Look for workflow software that can easily deal with rapid and sudden changes. Project managers should be able to approve change requests without causing delays or adding costs. Otherwise, even a small change request not supported by the software could require modifications.

3. Changing the way people work

The main objective of implementing a BPMS is to improve organizational efficiency, responsiveness, and profitability. It usually results in changes in the way employees work, which is generally not well accepted. When attempting to instrument a process automation change, it's a good idea to mitigate resistors who may slow the project down and cause it to be sidetracked. To control this resistance, it is important to be diplomatic, address employees' concerns, explain the benefits of process automation, and ensure that you have executive sponsorship.

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