I have always been intrigued by the mechanics behind large organisations. How large organisations effectively and efficiently coordinate the resources and capabilities required to deliver customer value. It took several years working in a complex organisation to truly understand that the answer lies in how effective an organisation is in developing and managing their business processes. This means that redesigning a business process so that the delivery of products or services require less human effort, less space and less time is an investment that is necessary to keep up with the increasing competition in the global market.
In this post, we are going to briefly discuss the value in automating your business process using robotic process automation – one of the latest technology in the third wave of business process management evolution, what it is, and what this technology is promising. We will also present a use case in accounting - i.e. accounts payable processing, since this is a business process that exists in most organisations.
The Evolution of Business Process Management (BPM)
The evolution of business process management as a customer-centric and process-centric approach to improving business results is currently in its third wave. Business process management has evolved from process innovation (i.e. using Enterprise resource planning (ERP), Customer relationship management (CRM) and Supply Chain management technologies) to more focus on operational agility and business performance (i.e. business application integration, performance management, and process automation).
Inspired by the Toyota production system that originated during the 1970s and 1980’s - which focused on quality management, continuous flow, and task efficiency - BPM sees processes as important assets of an organisation that must be understood, managed, and developed, which is why this field of study continues to evolve.
BPM software applications are helping organisations define the steps required to carry out a business task, mapping these steps to existing processes and then streamlining or improving these processes so that the steps are taken more efficiently.
Business Process Automation
Most medium to large businesses have invested in developing business processes and systems that ensure that employees are more productive. However, these processes are often bypassed by some employees because they consider them to be boring, complex, demanding or repetitive. Such employees often cut corners by following their own process purely because it makes their work easier to complete. This is often the case in the operations part of the business - where time to complete a task is often a measure of success. For those who choose to follow the process, they often have emotional complaints around stress and frustration which they experience whilst completing their day to day tasks. This is a key problem that robotic process automation is promising to address in today’s business.
Overview of Robotic Process Automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) – an emerging technology in the third wave of BPM - is rapidly gaining popularity across many industries, and businesses are excited about the step change productivity that can be realised by deploying them. These software robots enable the automation of rules-based and repetitive tasks that a white collar worker would do, for example;
• interacting with websites
• entering data into multiple applications
• extracting words off a PDF
• generating reports and spreadsheets
• extracting or importing EXCEL data spreadsheets
• transferring and processing files
• processing incoming email messages,
• managing document workflow etc.
RPA can be used for simple automation on a single user’s desktop or to build a vast digital workforce that spans an entire business. This digital workforce consisting of software robots that can adapt to new requirements and scale along with the business. Software robots can be viewed as disruptive as they are able to mimic what an employee working on a computer would do. Software robots are great employees. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t need to go home at night and they don’t take vacation days. They live and work uninterrupted in the cloud or on the server. They are trained, not programmed and carry out tasks which are rules-based.
Imagine a software robot as a team player in a football game, where the coach (i.e. employee responsible for the execution of a part of the business process) must;
• Plan and supervise training sessions to develop general fitness and specific skills of the software robots (i.e. ensure that they are able to perform their assigned tasks).
• Decide the formation the team of software robots will adopt and explain the roles each player must take in that formation (i.e. design the workflow for the software robots and how they should interact).
• Choose the software robots that should play and ensure that there are substitutes (i.e. ensure that the correct robot is being used in the process at the right time and that there is a replacement in case of a failure).
• If the game is going badly, the coach must decide whether to change tactics or make substitutions to deal with problems (i.e. update workflow and change software robots when there is changes in the business process).
• Monitor the performance of each software robot during the season and must also take account of any injuries (i.e. monitor the performance of each software robot to make sure that they are completing their tasks successfully when a software robot fails a replacement should be made available).
Hopefully, with the above metaphor, you can imagine how a team of software robots can work alongside employees in a business process. As a manager responsible for a business process you will be empowered to have your own virtual team to manage a number of repetitive tasks freeing up your employee time to more value-adding activities. This way you will see more step change productivity from your employees, as they are now able to create their own virtual team which you do not have to pay for. This team of humans and software robots interacting together to complete activities that form part of a business process is a paradigm shift in business process management.
Business Process Automation use case
Our robotics process automation (RPA) journey started in 2016. We were very excited to learn more about this cutting-edge technology and the enormous potential that it could bring to every organisation. This is why we are happy to share a use case with you on how RPA technology can be used in automating an accounts payable business process. To learn more please download our white paper by clicking here
Introducing Data Engineering
Are you looking for a partner to start your journey into the world of intelligent automation? Data Engineering is a digital operation services partner that combines design-thinking practices, process, technology, and domain knowledge, to rapidly prototype next-generation process automation solutions, resulting in quick insights into the size of a return on investment opportunity. We have partnered with world-leading business process automation platform vendors to develop innovative solutions that provide seamless operational experience and step-change productivity for small to medium enterprises (SME’s).
Principal Consultant – Intelligent Automation