Photo appears courtesy of John Lloyd. This blog was written by Michael Barnhouse of McAna EDI. For many years industrial process automation was accomplished with such inventions as the moving assembly line, and more recently robotics have been leveraged to further the automation of an inherently physical process. In today’s data rich internet era, process automation is not limited to the industrial process or viewed as an emerging technology, but a necessity for every business in determining how best to serve the customer. Business Process Automation (BPA) allows successful organizations to focus on developing key relationships and differentiating the value they deliver in the marketplace.
BPA in today’s business landscape is a broad topic. To fully explain what it is, how it has evolved, where it should live within the business and supporting infrastructure, who uses it, and the demonstrable benefits that can be achieved are far beyond the scope of this article. What I hope to convey in this article is how to get started with a BPA project.
So, where do you begin with a BPA project? How do you identify which processes should be automated? What else is necessary to start?
The first step in every BPA project is for the business to ask and answer two questions:
- What differentiates the business in the marketplace?
- What are the competitive advantages the business has over its competitors?
Next, companies must identify the processes within the business that are strategic and core to its success. Essentially, the processes that deliver the most value or enable the differentiation and competitive advantage. For instance, improving order accuracy, reducing time to market, improving customer service, or decreasing pricing while improving margins.
Once identified, a process must be well defined, else it is not a candidate for automation. This is most often the biggest barrier for many small and medium size businesses. Most do not have well defined processes, relying heavily on key employees to manage the process, and the all too many exceptions that exist.
Next, companies should rank the processes. The highest ranking being given to processes that consume extensive time or resources and are often rife with human error.
The following is a listing of process types that are opportunities for automation:
- Simple and repetitive
- Document management
- Finance management
- Clear decision tree or matrix
- Order management (Sales or Purchase)
- Tracking and alerting
With the candidate processes identified, there are a few additional tools and resources that will be needed to begin a BPA Project.
A project champion is the most important resource to drive the desired improvement. Business owners and entrepreneurs typically focus their attention toward their products, services, technology and sales teams for the champion. The best champion for the project may come from anywhere in the organization. While it is imperative that the champion is internal to the organization, the knowledge necessary to successfully accomplish the BPA project can come from other internal or external expertise.
The remaining tools are the systems the business already own and use every day. Many of which may have workflow automation capabilities that are unknown or unused. There may be several mission critical stand-alone software applications in daily use that are not but could be integrated. One important tool that likely does not exist in most organizations is an integration platform. This will provide the framework that enables, orchestrates and monitors the new processes established through the BPA project efforts. One such tool is Delta/ECS from Liaison Technologies. Delta/ECS is a full featured enterprise level integration platform, scalable to every business need.
- Data Transformation Mapping
- Event Driven Process and File Handling
- Advance Process Monitoring and Notification
- Trading Partner and Document Management
- Comprehensive and Integrated Communications
If you believe that your organization can benefit from exploring the benefits of starting a BPA project, I encourage you to reach out to a group like the EDI Alliance. We can help you identify your path to BPA success.