The demands to leverage technology in ways that help us automate manual processes are ever increasing. All companies want to empower their employees to accomplish more, allow customers to self-serve, and ensure an overall higher level of task accuracy; however, some organizations are slow to achieve these targets. It’s true that unique, external factors (such as regulation) can be a hurdle when improving operations, but, from our perspective, it’s only a small part of the picture.
Successfully streamlining your business operations must be a combination of self-critical analysis and disciplined correction. In this fashion, we can create true accelerations: those that are fast and affordable. Improving your organization can be as simple as asking three simple questions that allow you to determine and prioritize what should be improved:
Can this task be optimized without spending resources to automate it?
Every social group has traditions, and your organization is no different. Ask anybody why they do something and the most common response will be, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Some will be comforted in the past wisdom that statement holds; others will view it as the risk that employees understand how to do a task but not why they are doing it. When you hear it, you should hear nothing but opportunity to improve your bottom line.
Ask the question above – Can this task be optimized without spending resources to automate it?
There is no reason to start automating a nine-step manual process that can first be optimized into a two-step manual process. It is only when a business process can be optimized no more should it then be considered for automation.
However, take heed, a very common trap that occurs when starting to analyze a business process is that it will sound logical. Your employees have been left to solve problems (and they have done just that), but can you see beyond their good reasoning? Many steps within business processes are found to no longer be necessary due to changes over time, but the argument of why they exist as part of the solution are real. We need see past the current solution to see the current problem, and it is then when we can start piecing together a new and improved solution.
Which steps can actually be automated?
We must be intelligent with what we automate. Only technology zealots will suggest everything can (and should) be automated. Automating everything simply isn’t reasonable – humans will always need to be involved. Computers are great at running predictable tasks quickly; while humans excel at applying the reasoning and logic needed to make difficult choices. The ability to oversee an entire business process and discern which steps are essential to automate and which have a dependency on human reasoning is a very important skill indeed.
As you step through our business processes you should always be looking for places to add “lift”; that is, the parts of the process that when automated would give a significant boost to operational efficiency or data quality.
Frequently, there is the perception that automation must be “all or nothing”. In most cases this is not only incorrect but unattainable, so as a result we must create hybrid workflows that allow humans and computers to each do what they are best at. For example, complete automation of a bank’s new account opening process is often talked about, but, with its numerous moving parts, it’s a significant workflow. Online customer input, identity verification, account creation, funding, and communications are all individually ripe for automation, but orchestrating them all in unison is quite an effort. Organizations should instead ask if they can cheaply automate a smaller portion of a workflow that provides significant lift to either operations or customer experiences.
How long will it take for the new workflow yield a ROI?
As with any business, the return on investment (ROI) is where the “rubber meets the road”. Twenty, thirty, forty years ago the cost of automation was extremely high. As a result, employee resources tended to solve problems rather than computerized automation. But as technology costs continue to drop, old processes need to be revisited to see if they are ripe for helping the bottom line.
In most scenarios, the simplest question will determine if the initial effort should be put forth, “Will our organization ever see a positive return?”. Beyond that, truly wise organizations will be able to predict multiple avenues of return from automations.
One technique for multiplying your return on technology is recycling. For example, many banks focus on streamlining mobile check deposits for consumers. But did you know that with very little effort this same optimized process be applied to small business servicing? Helping small businesses cash flow faster would be a considerable value add that was realized with little to no additional effort.
Less tangible returns on automation can also come in form of employee benefit. Accelerated processes increase employee efficiency and accuracy, and empowered employees are in turn happier employees. Lift in employee communication, loyalty, and satisfaction are achieved while decreasing clarifications, corrections, and new employee up costs.
This article was published in the Minnesota Bankers Association's July/August 2017 edition of MBA News. Sycorr is an Associate Member of the Minnesota Banker's Association.