Imagine a world without computers: you have a small company with a few sales agents selling vacuums. A call comes in. Your sales agent looks at the time, then begins their conversation. They successfully sell a vacuum. They write down all the customer’s information on a piece of paper along with the amount of time the call took. At the end of the day, all the sheets are handed off to the administration who send the credit card information to the appropriate parties for processing. Administration log how long calls took and how successful agents were in order to later calculate KPIs. Then, they send the orders down to shipping for processing. Through all of this, there’s an abundance of expensive human labor and a lot of room for errors. What if someone gets a credit card number or address wrong? What if they get the vacuum model number wrong? What if employees are fudging the numbers on their manually-edited logs? What if papers go missing?
Why automation platforms are so important for businesses?
The importance of automation to business process management (BPM) in 2020 is impossible to overstate – basically, every element in the above scenario can now be automated. Sales are done online, the software automatically checks whether or not a credit card number is accurate, cards are charged immediately to ensure there are sufficient funds, statistics are constantly being recorded and added to calculate KPIs, and automated workflow processes ensure that warehouse and administrative staff are immediately made aware when a sale goes through. No human error, no lost papers – and this is one of the simplest examples of a business process.
One of the few advantages of the old way of doing things was that changing up your workflow process was relatively simple. In the example given above, employees might be given a timer to start and stop when calls began and ended. There was a time, not long ago, where automation led to inflexibility in BPM; in order to change certain elements of your workflow automation, it was necessary to contact software developers. The development of low-code platforms has created a paradigm shift. With low-code, individuals who don’t know how to code can still create ad-hoc solutions to complex problems. Insurance companies are a good example of this. An insurer may decide to change how it processes claims and before low-code, they’d have to get in contact with developers in order to automate those changes. With low-code, they can automate it themselves every time their claiming process changes.
The future of process automation
One can expect automation platforms to become more user-friendly and flexible as time goes on; the surge of low-code platforms is evidence of that. This flexibility extends beyond allowing users to modify existing automated workflows – one can expect the very notion of what can be automated to expand dramatically. Years ago, people didn’t think contracts could be automated, but the rise of blockchain and trustless technology has brought about smart contracts, and they are becoming more popular all the time.
The implementation of machine learning and deep learning in the automation process will continue in the new decade. Flexibility is at the core of this type of programming. As the program sifts through massive amounts of data, it finds patterns, and based on those patterns it can create recommendations for you. Going back to our vacuum sales example, an automation platform might notice that a number of calls are going unanswered at peak hours. The system might recommend that you have more people on the phone during those hours. Moreover, it might notice that by reducing call times by a minute, significantly more calls could be answered during that time. The point is, the platform notices patterns and finds inefficiencies. This means that automation platforms aren’t only automating processes, but they’re also automating the detection of inefficiencies in those processes.
Considerations of process automation
One of the more important considerations when it comes to automation platforms is how they will affect clients. For the most part, automation affects clients positively – things are processed more quickly and with fewer errors. There are, however, times where it can be unpleasant for customers to interact with an automated process, (like automated phone attendants). What to know when automating client processes isn’t always obvious but there are a few key points to consider.
It’s tempting to automate a lot of front-end services because doing so can drastically reduce human resource costs. But when that automation seriously hinders the client experience, you’re doing your business a disservice.
Examples of process automation
Self-checkouts are a great example of good client process automation and use of automation platforms; there are almost always cashiers available for those who want to interact with a human, and those who can’t use the self-checkout. Online automation is another great venue; appointment scheduling software means you don’t have to phone in to book an appointment, and an online sales flow means you can buy products without needing someone to take your order. This all means that you can get things done at the convenience of your schedule.
Where client process automation gets tricky is in complex cases that are likely to have high emotions. Insurance and similar financial industries are good examples where client care may be better served with a human touch; people can get incredibly upset when a claim is denied, or they can’t access their money. Another is where the client experience is paramount; a fine dining establishment is likely to have a host and serving staff even if they could use self-checkouts and conveyor belts to get food to customers.
Automation platforms are going to continue to grow and expand this decade, becoming more flexible, more user-friendly, and more accurate in their predictive abilities. While your business may never be fully automated, there are almost always a number of processes that can be improved by automation. With curiosity and good business sense, you’ll find ways to automate that people wouldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago.