Business Process Automation

Why this post?

This is a practical example of BPA in the workplace and executable steps I took to (at a very basic level) to assist with simple automation and getting a client to think about more complex BPA. – Mario

BPA – ‘Business Process Automation’ is a hot topic of discussion at the minute in Management Boards throughout the land! As companies continually face market pressure to cut costs and reduce spend wherever they can, the look inwards to where existing processes can be enhanced, streamlined or automated is something I’m now often asked about how to take forward. People recognise the importance of not only Business Process Management and sticking to them (see graph below) but also what options there are to automate these processes.

Social Impact

With BPA comes the impact it will have both immediately on the workforce alongside potential societal impact at scale, and these are things which should be thought about also as BPA is adopted across businesses. Successful BPA needs to be done with buy-in from the workforce as a general fear of  ‘we’ll lose our jobs’ which comes from the age old fear of ‘Robots taking all our jobs’ which was the headline of the day back in the 70’s and 80’s. Income impact is a thought as many middle-tier technology & IT roles are heavily automated leaving only the requirement for generalist System Administrators needed.

To start us off strong, the predicted value of the BPM market by 2021 has been pegged between $13 billion and $14 billion. The growth of the market as a whole has been steady as more businesses realize the power of documenting and managing their processes alongside exploring the options to automate these processes.

Within any company asking about BPA, I like to have considered conversations about how it will impact the workforce, their perception of BPA, what will happen to roles which are prime for BPA and has the company thought about offering potential re-skilling or job swaps for it’s staff.

Background Research

When I refer to automation then, I’m talking about BPA or ‘Business Process Automation’ as this is often the key win for me I see in businesses who need to reduce costs. Despite the impact it can have on people, there’s no doubt it can help cut costs and streamline businesses dramatically. Whether it’s a staff on-boarding process, an IT Helpdesk, a Customer Service department, you get the idea.

With one client I’ve recently been on-site with, they had an IT Helpdesk who amongst other things, often had to service hundreds of call’s per week with a common theme often around password resets, general computer issues and other fairly basic user support queries alongside more mission critical things such as server availability and asset management, software installation and new user set up.

It’s often a missed point where we think about BPA as clients typically think of their externally facing processes which impact their customers. Maybe external customer service, or bookings or reservations or that type of thing. Automating them can be great! However, looking at your internal processes is often where some real savings can be made especially when it comes to saving your internal team’s time.

Lost Productivity and poorly managed processed cost companies $1 trillion per year – Statistica

The Problem

I spent some time watching the IT Helpdesk and pulling reports from their JIRA instance, indexing and categorising the types of requests they received per day and week, into buckets. I then targeted the requests which could be automated. From this, I was able to ascertain that approx. 35% of their weekly support activity was on the following;

  • Where can I find my asset tag
  • Why can’t I print
  • How can I reset my password
  • Where can I get new software and how to install it

These requests were common, and on average (having experimented and sending through requests myself) they took around 3 hours of work per request (not including the stated SLA response time). Each time the use of a Service Desk environment implementing a quasi ITILv3 never worked (through both cultural and technical issues, more on this later), where Support Analysis would physically walk over to resolve the issue or talk to the user.

This was haemorrhaging costs (I’m sure there’s a calculation here, but Mathematics’        was never my strong point!) and a cost that could you could consider doubled when it comes to lost productivity for the Employee requiring the assistance. General statistics suggest on average 22 minutes a day per employee are wasted on IT issues which are often caused through lack of knowledge and

The Solution Proposal

All of the above were a perfect case study for the application of automation – I had an opportunity to sell in the idea of a Chatbot. By using pre-programmed auto-responses to common questions, nudging users to the right place to find answers for themselves in a way that was native to them, it reduced call’s to the Helpdesk by a substantial amount!

Keyword matching on the companies Yammer! channel allowed a Microsoft Flow to be run which triggered an inline instabot.io 

Instabot is a classic example of the low barrier to entry for Chatbot technology, where previously it would require considerable development input and investment. I was able to demonstrate the power of delivering contextually led correct messaging to the right user at precisely the right time to increase their likelihood of success by self-serving.

From interactive information guides, to SharePoint links with process information or general IT advice, empowering the users with knowledge to resolve their own issues had a profound effect.

Using the IFFT logic (If This Then That) allowed me to demonstrate some really clever process automation. Setting up a new project? All the folders were automatically created in SharePoint in the correct place. Needed company branding guidelines? These were sent to you via a link. Needed a password resetting on your Active Directory account but couldn’t log into your computer? Delivering an ‘assistant’ via an app on the users phone side-loaded from a link as part of their on-boarding process meant the user got a level of contextual response the IT Support desk didn’t have to even concern themselves with.

This wasn’t about replacing real fleshy human beings with a piece of code. It was about augmenting what they didn’t have the time to do effectively. However I don’t want to be naive. Businesses who see success at this very simple level will want to scale up and yes that may include reducing head count in key departments.

Further research

It’s clear to me commerce and the UK in particular aren’t particularly ready to tackle the problems created by the societal and work force impact of successful BPA. Whether it’s call centres being eliminated with a quoted 60-80% of all customer conversations now not requiring a call centre agent to the elimination of human beings in automated factories and distribution centres. Workers need to adapt in a now entirely constant changing landscape. What the future of jobs will look like in twenty years is something to consider, the recruitment of those positions & how staff can equip themselves with the skills now, to protect their own futures.

The importance of Business Process Automation

Adapt or die – how to cope when the bots take your job

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