Inoperative processes often cause bottlenecks in the business and force the hiring of many employees to handle repetitive and manual tasks. These issues slow down the company's growth, and in fact, start-ups and SMEs must solve these problems before they reach the desired moment of rapid growth.
The key to overcoming the problems surrounding inefficient processes that rely too much on repetitive or manual tasks is automation. However, for business owners who are not familiar with the subject, this may seem like an unmanageable or virtually impossible task. Questions such as: Where do I start? What tools should I use? How much will it cost? and How do I combine a project of this size with my regular workload? are quite common.
While this is often easier said than done, there are simple methods to transcribe the desire to automate business processes into an action plan with concrete steps. One of the most effective methods nowadays is the Business Process Automation Cycle.
The Business Process Automation Cycle
The Business Process Automation Cycle is an effective and efficient framework to iteratively automate your business processes. It consists of 3 simple steps to automate a manual process that can be iterated until the desired level of automation is achieved: Select, Redesign and Automate.
The key to the success of this method is to start with a small but essential process that frees up enough time to be reinvested in the next iteration, in which another business process will be automated. This is a workflow that many companies familiar with agile methods will recognize.
The goal is to fully automate as many business processes as possible to enable business growth without increasing the size of the workforce. In short: grow your revenue, not your workforce.
The Business Process Automation Cycle is especially useful for entrepreneurs, SMEs, scaleups, and other companies that have the need to automate their business processes without hiring expensive external help.
Step 1: Select a business process to automate
The effectiveness of the Business Process Automation Cycle is based on starting by automating the most impactful business processes currently. This will free up enough time to move on to the next iteration and automate another critical business process. In other words, we want to save as much time as quickly as possible. Therefore, it is important to choose well which processes to automate first.
It is important to sit down and think through this first step. The result you want to achieve is a quick cycle of the Business Process Automation Cycle, with maximum impact.
A good starting point is to ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a process consisting of a large volume of repetitive tasks?
- Are there any processes that require several people to execute correctly and therefore the flow of information is essential?
- Are there any particularly time-sensitive processes whose speed of completion has a large effect on the outcome?
- Are there any processes with a significant impact on other processes and systems?
- Are there any processes with a critical need for compliance and audit trails?
Start by making a list of the business processes that you think need to be automated. Look at processes that currently require a lot of manual effort, are repetitive in nature and seem reasonably easy to automate.
There are many ways in which businesses can prioritize which steps of their process they should automate first. The order will depend on a variety of factors including the type of business they are in, the nature of their customer base, and the resources available for automation.
For now, focus on the small processes that make a substantial impact. We shouldn’t try to automate an entire manufacturing process all at once. Some examples of processes worth automating:
- Sales orders registration
- Handling of invoices
- Payrolls and employee requests
- Lead nurturing
- Handling of support requests
If you still feel lost, you will be glad to know that there is a straightforward way to evaluate your current business processes and objectively decide which one to start with: the Business Process Automation Scorecard. It is a simple framework for selecting the process that has the maximum impact, at the shortest implementation time.
If you want to know more about the Business Process Automation Scorecard, download our free whitepaper now!
Step 2: Redesign the business process to be automated
Once you have decided which process to automate in the first place, you will need to redesign it (fully or partially) to make it suitable for automation: that is what step 2 is all about.
In this step, it is easy to get lost in the details and feel overwhelmed. Remember: this is not what the Business Process Automation Cycle is about. Our aim is to start small, and then build up little by little. Because of that, we encourage you to keep your designs small, easy to manage and agile.
To keep your business process designs small, easy to manage and agile, we recommend using two industry standards that provide maximum efficiency for automation when used together: Straight-Through Processes (STP) and Management by Exception (MBE). When combined, they will allow you to iteratively improve and automate any business process.
In a Straight Through Process (STP), we set up and describe all the steps that each item goes through to complete a process. It is a key design principle that will help any organization, harmonizing all process steps and standardizing input and output.
Next, it is important to reduce information overload. Why? Because it limits the total amount of information one can handle: displaying all the data without any filter or sense makes it exceedingly difficult to find the data that needs to be acted upon. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Through the Management By Exception (MBE) design method, we describe which data is actionable and only show that data to the user.
While there are similarities, most business processes are unique, so it is impossible to provide a silver bullet process that will work for every organization. However, using Straight Through Processes (STP) and Management By Exception (MBE) together provides a fantastic framework for business process automation. You are the one who knows these processes best and have all the right knowledge to automate them, and through the combination of these design methodologies, you will be able to do so in a breeze.
Curious about the Straight Through Processes (STP) and Management By Exception (MBE) methodologies? Download our free whitepaper now to learn more!
Step 3: Automate the business process
Once you have redesigned your process, the final stage of the Business Process Automation Cycle is where you automate the process you redesigned.
There are a few things to consider in this phase since there are many ways to automate your business processes, but not all of them may work for your organization. Therefore, it is important to know what to look for in tools to automate and support business processes.
You may be asking yourself: What kind of data is required?, How often will I need to update the tool?, What security concerns or other restrictions might I have?
Before dealing with these technical questions, it is essential to ask 3 strategic questions when comparing automation tools:
- Is it easy to use? Choosing software that is easy to use goes beyond how quickly a person will gain enough knowledge to use it comfortably. It also has to do with selecting a tool that will be useful in the long term, that is easy to adapt to your changing business processes. An enterprise software platform that does not allow for customization can be limiting and eventually cost you more. Furthermore, being able to change and adjust the software yourself limits the need to hire expensive outside consultants, increases the speed at which you can implement changes to your business processes, and produces results faster.
- Is it scalable? It is important that the chosen automation solution is functionally and technically scalable. This means that it can cover as many business processes or sub-processes as possible within the same application or platform, and that it is robust enough to handle a larger number of processed items as the company grows. In short, it must be versatile and robust enough.
- Is it affordable? Don't buy a solution that requires a huge up-front investment with the hopes of compensating it with your business growth. Or a solution whose pricing model is based on the number of users, storage capacity or processor metrics. Look at the pricing model of each alternative and choose the one with a usage-based pricing that matches your value metrics (for example, Triggre's pricing model). This is the only way to make sure you pay a fair amount for the value you are getting.
Consider these three aspects carefully when selecting any application or platform, and you will be guaranteed to have the lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) possible.
The real power of the Business Process Automation Cycle is in its iterative nature.
With the first iteration, you get your first gain of time freed up from operational processes. Although it may seem small, it will allow you to spend more time repeating the process again, and so on and so forth. With each next iteration, you free up more time to devote to automating other processes.
Now, once you have reached this point, it is time to decide again which process to select for automation. There are two ways to decide how to start with the next iteration:
- Horizontal iterations. Consider the adjacent business processes and pick up the automation rollout right where you left it. For example: if you first automated a customer request handling process, an adjacent business process that is up for automation may be the quotation process, or the invoicing process.
- Vertical iterations. Within the already automated processes, there are likely to be sub-processes that can be streamlined as well. For example: if we automate the complaints management, we can automate the follow-up of unanswered or unresolved complaints.
The best way to automate business processes
Automation is needed to stay competitive in today's fast-paced market. However, automation is not a one-time process. It needs to be implemented in stages and with a long-term plan in mind. That is why the Business Process Automation Cycle is the best way to tackle it. Its iterative nature is akin to the proverbial snowball; it will increase rapidly in size as you go along, even if you start small. By starting small, and maximizing the impact iteration after iteration, you set your company up for double digit monthly growth.
No matter how small or large your business is, automation can help you save time, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. The Business Process Automation Cycle is the ultimate method on how to automate any business process, so that you can increase productivity and reach your growth and scale up goals. And there are more solutions on the market today than ever before, especially after the explosion of no-code and low-code, which allows anyone the opportunity to build a custom software solution without code.
In this sense, Triggre is a robust no-code platform that helps entrepreneurs, start-ups, SMEs and large corporates alike in their automation journey. You can sign up for free and try out templates that are fully customizable and ready to use, based on real-world use cases. Or, if you prefer, start from scratch and build your unique software solution, completely adapted to your company needs from zero. Moreover, you don't have to start this journey alone: you can make use of our learning resources to master the tool in no time or contact a certified Triggre expert to help you out.
Automation is the future, and it is time for your business to start taking advantage of it!
Want to know more about the Business Process Automation Cycle? Download our free ultimate scaleup guide now!