Just a decade ago, outsourcing troublesome workflows was the most obvious choice for businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, worldwide. In 2020 however, workflow automation has begun to gradually overtake outsourcing as the goto solution for businesses. But just like any other business process, it demands a smart automation plan for implementation.
So what is a workflow automation plan and how does it work?
A workflow automation plan is a logical, well-structured program which you can use to introduce workflow automation in your office. We recommend narrowing down your initial automation plan to six steps:
- First and foremost, we need to ask ourselves: What are we going to automate? Make a list of all business processes you would like to see automated. You can present them graphically, using an Excel table, or as an actual list, whatever is more convenient for you. The most obvious examples would be: invoicing; the onboarding process; business travel arrangements, and the like. Sales managers would also be happy to see the process of sales quoting automated. Make sure you have all the important parameters covered — timing, duration, key participants and their interrelations, connections between departments, frequency of business processes per year and/or per month, etc.
- Now make a list of exceptions – workflows that you won’t automate, at least not in the near future. Reasons to exclude some business processes from your automation plan can include sensitivity of data, psychological factors, intricate relations with a highly important client, risk of sudden changes in a particular business context, and so on. For more examples of real business cases when automation is not the best choice — check out an expert discussion here.
- From the first list (workflows that should and can be automated in the first place), choose one or two for your pilot project, these will be the early birds of your automation plan. Criteria for choosing a workflow as your automation early bird can vary, for example the workflow itself should be relatively simple (only a few steps), your office should be fairly well acquainted with it, and the workflow should also be flexible when involving several easily changeable parameters.
- Finally, make a list of all business applications and software your office is currently using. Which of them are already integrated? And which of them are supposed to be included in your automation plan? What types of data within their systems would require data binding and instant synchronization? In which format should all binded and synced data be stored, and where exactly? For example: your CRM or ERP system may already be integrated with an e-signing tool and/or your online banking app, and this can be a good starting point for full-cycle workflow automation. When looking at current and potential integrations, special attention should be paid to opportunities for acquiring end-to-end workflow solutions, or in other words, software that is able to cover the full business cycle. Why so? Because end-to-end solutions save hours of time and thousands of dollars in development costs when integrating several separate solutions.
- Decide on your future KPI. What measurable results are you expecting to achieve from an implemented automation plan? Once you test workflow automation on your pilot project — what exactly can you measure as its success factors? How soon are you expecting to see improvements in your workflow? How would you measure success and on which grading scale? Which parameter is most important for you — time savings? Cost reduction? Number of closed deals per week? Business Process Incubator offers the following seven KPIs of automation deployment: Implementation costs; cycle time; throughput; accuracy; compliance; qualitative indicators; process outcomes. Depending on the size of your organization and the sector you are working in, KPIs will vary greatly: If you are working in sales — your key indicator of business automation success is likely to be the increased number of closed deals per week or per month. If you are campaigning as a non-profit, your number of collected signatures and the amount of funds raised online may be the most vital indicators. And if you‘re working as an HR manager (in literally any sector), the seamless automation of hiring & firing processes, without misplacing a single document, could be your #1 KPI.
- The final step in your workflow automation planning would be to specify the responsibility centers, or in other words — who are the owners of the implementation process? According to McKinsey survey, decentralized governance is one of the key factors named by organizations that proved to be successful in automation. Interestingly, survey participants from organizations less successful in business process automation tend to shift responsibility to the central level, while participants from organizations successful in automation claimed that localized accountability for automation delivery is an efficient tool in managing automation projects. Thus, you need to answer the following questions: Who will be responsible for the launch of your pilot automation project? How soon should they report on its status and results? How can these results be measured? If the pilot project turns out to be successful — how soon should the entire office begin transitioning towards more fully automated processes? If the pilot project fails — what is your Plan B?
How to introduce an automation plan to your office
Apart from having a Plan B, it’s also a good idea to prepare for some resistance (like with any new plan). When you are ready to announce your workflow automation plan to your office, place emphasis on the following key points:
- All key business processes will remain unchanged, only some of them will transition to a more digital format
- No coding or other special skills are required for workflow automation
- The overall financial expenditure for the office will be significantly reduced, while all employees involved will be able to save hours of their time normally spent on routine business processes. (Tentative calculations of some simple examples would help demonstrate the benefits to be gained)