In this episode, Glenn Burnside talks to us about business process automation; what it is and how to get started with a BPA effort.



Glenn Burnside

Glenn Burnside

Executive Vice President of Operations at Headspring

Glenn Burnside has been delivering software projects and leading development teams for over 15 years, ranging from high-speed data acquisition libraries to global e-commerce solutions, as well as enterprise products for both the medical and financial industries. Glenn is also a regular speaker at community user groups.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • The difference between business process analysis, process management, and business process automation
  • How to identify opportunities for process automation
  • How to create a business case for business process automation
  • What to look for in an automation tool

Show Notes

Business process automation (BPA) can lead to increased quality, higher throughput, and increased capacity to take on more business. BPA is any undertaking in which you want to apply automation tools to existing activities that are performed manually today. Process automation often leads to faster processes with less errors.

In some organizations, governance over the process (Business Process Management) doesn’t exist. That’s where business process automation can be used to not only accelerate the process, but to also create the rules and governance around a process. Automation can also provide metrics and intelligence about the process that can be fed back into analysis to continuously improve the process.


Analysis is Key
In order to have a successful business process automation effort, you need to start with an analysis of the process. Business Process Analysis (the ‘other’ BPA) is critical for two reasons. First, the analysis determines the specific process to automate. Secondly, it ensures that you optimize the process definition and quality of outcomes you want to achieve from a process before trying to automate it.

Without analyzing the process first, you may end up automating a process that is inherently ineffective or ought not to be done in the first place. Don’t forget to observe the process yourself so you can see the true process.

“The system of record for an existing business process is the process itself, not anyone’s recollection of it.”


Where to Begin
In any workflow, there are points at which humans need to make informed decisions based on heuristics or expert judgment. The decision points in this process are often difficult to automate. Some of the easiest areas to automate are activities that are administrative in nature, data capture, and the conveying of information to the right end points for humans to make the right decision.

The first place to look for automation opportunities and areas of information transfer, administrative activities, and data capture and logging. Understanding the queues and data validation components of a process will also help in understanding what to automate.

Let machines do what they’re good at, which are objective, repeatable activities and let the people focus on where they add value, which are the expert, cognitive thinking processes.

The next generation of machine learning will change the way we automate processes. Analysts will spend more time defining the decision making model and then allowing the machine learning platforms to start applying that model to large data sets rather than trying to rely on human expertise for every decision.


The Business Case for BPA
The value proposition for automating a business process is waste elimination and increased throughput. Understanding the value added activities in a process and automating them allows for reduced errors due to manual intervention and an accelerated delivery of value. BPA can help reduce or eliminate many of the lean forms of waste such as wait time, hand-offs, and overproduction.

You can increase the delivery of value without increasing headcount and free individuals to contribute more value to an organization in ways that only humans can do.

BPA projects can pay for themselves very quickly through increased capacity and the ability to take on new business.

Business process automation can lead to increased quality, higher throughput, and increased capacity to take on more business.  Begin by analyzing the process to identify waste, understand value added activities and identify opportunities for automation.



Your Homework

When analyzing a process, you’ll need to go observe the process for yourself.  Often, there’s a vast difference between a documented process, what a manager says a process is, and the actual process.  Without this knowledge, your analysis is likely to be incorrect.

What’s your take?

Have you used any business process automation tools or worked on a BPA effort?  Please share your experience and comments in the section below.


Links mentioned in this episode:

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