In the fast-changing world of business tech, autonomous business processes have emerged as a game-changer, offering unparalleled efficiency and adaptability. This guide is here to help demystify autonomous processes, understand their advantages, and provide insights into how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can leverage them for enhanced productivity and innovation.
Understanding autonomous business processes
At its core, an autonomous business process is a system that responds and adapts to varying external inputs without human intervention. Imagine a warehouse where autonomous forklifts adjust their operations based on real-time inventory levels or delivery schedules. Instead of just following a set script, the system assesses what's happening around it — e.g. what's in stock or what needs shipping — and decides what to do next — e.g. charging the forklifts to 100% level before the peak in activity is expected, so that they can all be deployed during the peak. It's not quite as smart as full-blown artificial intelligence (bluntly put, it doesn’t teach itself), but it's way smarter than your average automated system that can't change its routine.
Autonomous vs Automated processes: a key distinction
While both autonomous and automated processes aim to enhance efficiency, the key distinction lies in their adaptability. Autonomous processes are dynamic, capable of making decisions and adjusting their actions within preset parameters. This adaptability is what sets them apart from traditional automated processes, which follow a static, unchanging routine.
A good (and massive!) real-life example is the Maeslantkering storm surge barrier in the Netherlands — it opens and closes without human interference, based on an assessment of multiple external inputs. When a storm surge of 3 metres above the normal sea level is expected in Rotterdam, we trust that it will do its job.
Opportunities unlocked by autonomous business processes
Hyperautomation: the path to enhanced productivity
For businesses well-acquainted with their processes, transitioning to autonomy can be a significant upgrade. It's akin to hyperautomation, where you can focus on growing your business rather than being bogged down by routine processes. Consider the example of generating orders or quotes for custom machinery. This once complex task requiring extensive programming can now be autonomously handled with no-code solutions, making it accessible even to SMEs. Especially when information can be fed into an application from various sources (Triggre, for example, can connect seamlessly to other applications using the built-in Web APIs functionality).
Case in point: smart warehouse management
In a warehouse scenario, understanding the flow of goods and predicting future requirements can lead to strategic decisions, e.g. preemptive expediting of shipments — meaning, if many incoming shipments are expected, the warehouse can free up space for these by expediting some other shipments. Such foresight, enabled by autonomous systems, helps prevent potential delivery delays, making sure operations run smoothly.
Navigating the risks of autonomous business processes
Testing and trust: the twin pillars of reliable autonomy
While the benefits are substantial, it's crucial to acknowledge and mitigate the risks associated with autonomous processes. Testing these systems thoroughly is key to ensure they function as intended. Trust in these systems is often built over time, and businesses should start by automating processes they are confident about. The principle of 'better safe than sorry' applies here, much like the operational logic of the Maeslantkering water gate mentioned earlier, where a false positive is preferable over a missed threat.
Rule-based decision making: ensuring predictability
Implementing autonomous processes involves setting clear, well-defined rules, often based on observed human behavior or historical data. This ensures that the system's decision-making aligns with the business's expectations and operational standards.
Realistic benefits for SMEs: practical applications
For small and medium businesses, using autonomous processes can really change the game. They're great in areas where decisions depend on things that keep changing, like customer needs or what's in stock. The goal is to free up valuable time for human interaction and creative tasks where human input adds significant value. For instance, an autonomous quotation system for bespoke machinery that factors in customer requests and stock availability can significantly streamline operations.
Conclusion: embracing the future with autonomous processes
Autonomous business processes are a big step towards smarter, more efficient, and flexible work. After you’ve mastered the first automation steps in your business and automated the core processes, you can take it up a notch. By understanding and using autonomous business processes, SMEs can reach new levels of productivity and creativity, staying ahead in a fast-changing world.