What is the first step to approaching automation?

Marta Fanega-Valencia

Process automation increases efficiency and productivity and enables business growth. If you are serious about scaling up your start-up or SME, automation is a must. By letting software perform repetitive tasks, employees free up the time they used to spend on boring, meaningless labor. Instead, they can now spend that time on work that requires creativity and thinking, something that only humans can bring to the table.

However, both SMEs and large organizations struggle to get the most out of process automation. For example: with today's technology, almost one third of sales and sales operations tasks can be easily automated, but only one in four companies has implemented automation in at least one of their sales processes, according to a recent McKinsey & Company study.  

Given these alarming figures, one can only wonder: why are so many businesses facing problems with automation? In most cases, it has to do with implementation errors that lead to results that fall short of expectations. Not asking the right questions, not following the right method, or choosing the wrong software solution are some of the most common pitfalls.

However, this should not discourage you. In this article, we will explore some of the most common myths that hold back the implementation of business process automation, and how to successfully approach automation by getting it right from the start.

The top 3 myths of business automation

When it comes to implementing automation in business, there are many perceived barriers and misconceptions, especially in the case of start-ups and SMEs. Let's debunk the top three myths of business automation one by one:

  1. My business is too small for automation to have a significant impact. SMEs are the backbone of the European and American economies. In the case of Europe, small and medium enterprises represent 99% of businesses and employ over 100 million people. The United States’ 30 million SMEs account for nearly two-thirds of net new private sector jobs in recent decades. That is no mean feat: all these companies could benefit greatly from streamlining their processes, helping them skyrocket their growth. Moreover, SMEs have the upper hand in automation. Their characteristic agility and flexibility allows them to adapt to innovation faster and make rapid decisions without having to go through multiple hierarchical levels for approval. The deployment and testing of innovative technologies is therefore easier than in bigger companies. In conclusion: no business is too small for automation.
  1. External consultants and developers are needed to implement automation. This may have been true a few years ago, but in recent times the rise of low-code and no-code tools such as Triggre has democratized access to workflow and process optimization. These platforms allow non-technical users to construct the software solutions they need without coding experience. Such tools can usually be mastered in a brief time, and the possibilities are endless. So much so that Gartner estimates that 50 percent of medium-to-large companies will have adopted low-code development by 2025, and that 70 percent of new business applications, software solutions and internal tools developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies. If you know your business processes, you will be able to automate them by yourself with low-code and no-code tools, without the need for external help.
  1. Automation is expensive and only affordable for big companies. The spread of low-code and no-code tools has opened a wide range of possibilities in terms of cost. Most of these platforms usually operate as subscription services, with tiers starting at as low as 5$/month. But beware: do not go for the most expensive tool on the market, assuming it is the best, in the vain hope that it will pay for itself over time. The key is to choose a tool that, in addition to meeting your technical requirements, has a pricing model based on your usage, which ensures an increasing return on investment as your company grows.  

How to Approach Automation with a Growth Mindset

Now that we have debunked the biggest myths that prevent your organization from becoming more efficient through automation, special emphasis needs to be placed on the mindset with which an automation project should be undertaken.

Many companies try to automate entire workflows at once, but this can easily backfire. This takes a long time to implement, leaves little time for testing, and in practice, has no versatility to adapt the process as new insights emerge that were not contemplated in the original planning.

Rather than a single, one-off megalomanic action, automation is an ongoing process, and you do not have to automate everything at once. As Vincent Van Gogh said: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together".  

The best way to approach automation is through a growth mindset: start small, by automating a rather simple yet impactful business process, and keep on expanding your automation efforts one step at a time.  

Any other methodology that strays from this approach will simply not work in the long-term: that is why the Business Process Automation Cycle is one of your best options to automate processes efficiently and quickly.

The Business Process Automation Cycle

The Business Process Automation Cycle is a framework for planning and executing business process automation as effectively as possible. Used by entrepreneurs, SMEs, and scale-ups around the world, it consists of 3 steps: Select, Redesign and Automate.  

Image of the Business Process Automation Cycle

Sounds simple, doesn't it? The key to the success of this method, however, is its iterative nature. You start with a small but essential process that frees up enough time to reinvest in the next iteration, where another business process will be automated, and so on.

The speed at which an iteration of the cycle is completed is a particularly important factor. The faster you can complete an iteration, the greater the impact it will have. That is why it does not matter if you start small: with each iteration, each small improvement will help automate more processes. Just like the proverbial snowball, the impact of the Business Process Automation Cycle increases in size with each new iteration, even if it seemed tiny at the beginning.

Want to learn more about the Business Process Automation Cycle? Download our free whitepaper now!

The Business Process Automation Scorecard

"But what is the first step to approaching automation?", you may be asking yourself. Indeed, after introducing you to the growth mindset and the Business Process Automation Cycle, the next stage of your automation journey is to choose the first business process to automate.

This is where the Business Process Automation Scorecard comes in: it will help you select the process that you should automate first, because it has the maximum impact and the shortest implementation time.

The Business Process Automation Scorecard

The scorecard's system is fairly straightforward:  

  1. Start by listing the processes you want to automate.
  1. Give each process a score, according to the criteria described below.
  1. Prioritize their automatization based on their score.

1. Listing processes to automate

Start with making a list of business processes that you consider automating. Look at processes that currently require a lot of manual effort, are repetitive in nature, and seem reasonably easy to automate. Some examples:

  • Processes involving many repetitive tasks, such as checking invoicing and claiming unpaid invoices, or updating databases.
  • Processes in which several people are involved and therefore the flow of updated information is essential: budget management, anything related to production and/or your manufacturing line, etc.
  • Processes that must be carried out within a set time frame and must be completed at the appropriate speed, e.g. delivery of quotations or complaint management.
  • Processes that significantly impact other processes, for example: sales management or purchase order management.
  • Processes with high compliance standards and a need for audit trails: everything related to HR and payrolls, for example.

Remember: the intention is not to automate a large process all at once. What we want is to find a process whose automation is quick and meaningful, that frees up enough time to invest in the next iteration.

Select 3 to 5 processes that you consider automating, then go to the next step.

2. Scoring processes according to the impact of automatization

For each of the processes on your list, give them a score from 0-5 (0 being the lowest, 5 being the highest, or best) for these categories:

  • Manual effort needed. The more manual effort currently required for the process, the higher the score. An effortless way to calculate this is to translate the number of days needed to complete this task into a number, with days being understood as an 8-hour day. You can use decimals to reflect half a day (0.5) or two hours (0.25). For example: if it takes you one and a half days to send in all pay slips, score this as 1.5.
  • Repetitiveness. Give the process a score on how repetitive it is. Or in other words, how little human creativity is needed for the process. Very repetitive processes are, for example, copying data from one system to another, updating spreadsheets by hand, or typing over invoices or orders. Complaint management could score 1 or 2 since the complaints are usually non-identical and thus require different solutions, but creating and sending invoices one by one could score 4 or 5. The more repetitive, the higher the score should be.
  • Ease of automation. This is an early estimation of how easy you think automating the process would be. The easier it is, the higher the score. This may require a little bit of research into how to automate some parts of the process, which is fine. Just do not overdo it and keep time spent to a minimum at this point.

3. Prioritizing processes to automate

After scoring each process for the previous categories, it is time to calculate the final score for each of the processes by multiplying the values. That is especially important! We do not add values, we multiply them.  

The reason we multiply, instead of adding them, is to accurately reflect the impact that automating this process will have. A process that scores a 3 on all three categories (with a final score of 27) is more effective to automate than one that scores 2, 2, and 5 (resulting in 20) even though they both add up to exactly 9 points when using addition.

The process with the highest score will be the first one to focus on for automation. If there are multiple processes that share the number one spot, simply choose the one that you feel is the most boring one to do currently. Less boring work is always good!

Example case: MÄSTARE

To see the process in action, let's take the case of MÄSTARE, a Dutch call center franchise, as an example. The start-up had to deal with messy data spread across disjointed legacy systems. This led to inefficient processes, double work and a lot of missed opportunities, as well as an extremely high cost to maintain all the software solutions they operated with.

Its founder, Bob Slikkerveer, found Triggre by chance during the weekend. Triggre is a no-code platform for building enterprise applications that automate and optimize processes. During that first weekend, Bob chose one of the processes he wanted to automate and created the first draft of his application.

The process in question was quite simple to automate yet had a significant impact. He devised a dashboard with which employees could accurately report the calls made and the result obtained. In this way, information was always up-to-date and available. This first version gradually grew to replace 7 off-the-shelf software solutions and ultimately saved Bob more than 6,000 euros per month.  

Currently, his business runs entirely on Triggre, through one integrated call center platform offering a customer portal, reporting, and call handling. Plus, the multi-tenancy allows easy scalability to new locations with just one click, so opening new offices does not entail business hassle.

Bob's case is a splendid example of the effectiveness of the Business Process Automation Cycle: start with a small but meaningful process, and automate more and more processes with each cycle. In addition, the use of Triggre, a no-code tool, allowed for greater agility, faster development time, and great versatility and adaptability at an affordable price.

Grow your revenue, not your workforce

SMEs and entrepreneurs are the biggest beneficiaries of automation, allowing them to continue to grow more effectively without increasing their workforce.  

Although until a few years ago, the high cost of automation was an insurmountable barrier of entry for these businesses, the emergence of low-code and no-code tools has democratized access for people who are not developers and do not have technical knowledge.

Nowadays, the only requirement to automate a process is to understand it thoroughly, and if you work with it on a daily basis, it is likely that you already have this knowledge. With a growth mindset and by applying the Business Process Automation Cycle, anyone can optimize their business in a couple of clicks, and at minimal cost. Furthermore, the Business Process Automation Scorecard will help you select the first process with which to begin implementing automation in your business.

Do you want to know the next steps of the Business Process Automation Cycle? Download our ultimate scaleup guide to automating business processes for free!

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