No matter the industry, it seems every recent report on business trends includes predictions around automation and its ability to transform the workplace.
Whilst it’s true that automation has indeed become part of everyday life for many businesses, it’s worth noting that it remains a largely misunderstood process.
As our years of automation experience with Lucy have revealed, the belief that automation is a simple plug and play exercise is widespread. There’s a common misconception that you simply choose a task to automate, buy the software, flick the switch, then sit back and watch the dollars roll in.
But the reality is something quite different. Done properly, automation happens more incrementally. It’s a deliberate journey, with significant benefits to be gained at each step along the way – and not all of them monetary.
This article is the first in a seven-part series on the journey of automation. Using Lucy sales order automation as an example, we’ll provide a high-level overview of the entire process. In subsequent articles we’ll explore the various steps in more depth, so that by the end of the series, you’ll be armed with the questions to ask, know the pitfalls to watch out for, and understand what to expect on your path to automation nirvana.
Mapping the journey
Before embarking on an automation project, it’s important to have a sound understanding of what the process looks like. Diving in unprepared is unlikely to net the results your business is hoping for. In fact, failing to ask – and answer – the right questions at each step can lead to problems like a drop in staff morale, process upheaval, and disgruntled stakeholders.
As you map out your business case for automation, consider each of the following steps and their evaluation requirements:
Step 1: Identifying the process to automate
- First and foremost - what problem are you looking to solve? And why now?
- What are the expected benefits of automating this process? Reallocation of staff to higher value activities? Lower cost to serve?
- Who will be impacted by the automation in terms of change management? It’s preferable to automate a process that won’t require a complex overhaul of customer behavior or business logic.
Step 2: Researching options
- Is there a product designed especially for this purpose? What about more generic one-size-fits-all options?
- How do the different solutions compare? In addition to cost, consider self-service features, contract obligations, and support and training resources.
- How are the solutions implemented in terms of speed, complexity, and up-front cost? Where does each vendor's integration capability sit?
Step 3: Calculating ROI
- What does the process currently cost when performed manually? Be aware that this can be difficult to accurately quantify. A stopwatch can tell you how long it takes to key in the average order, but it doesn’t take into account the human distraction factor and loss of focus time that constant switching between tasks brings.
- What do the proposed solutions cost by comparison?
- Are there adjacent savings to be made as side effects of automating this process? Your true ROI could take the form of fewer keying errors, fewer returns, less time spent resolving invoice disputes, faster service, happier customers...
Step 4: Evaluating early results
- What do the numbers look like one month post-implementation? Your vendor should be able to provide stats on agreed automation metrics such as number of orders processed, average order lines, and interventions required.
- Has uptake been as expected? Again, your vendor should ensure you understand what is realistic in the initial stages of automation, and help you take action if results aren’t aligned with expectations.
- What is the feedback from internal and external stakeholders? Are staff on board with the changes?
- What do the numbers look like 2, 4, 6 months in? Revisit the stats regularly with your vendor.
Step 5: Acting on insights
- What are the issues humans have been masking up until now? Automation can uncover a multitude of sin - in data, entrenched processes and accepted logic.
- How can the forensic findings help you address underlying problems, perhaps with customer behaviour or outdated business process?
Step 6: Extending/expanding automation
- Having successfully digitised this process, how can your business apply these newly acquired automation skills elsewhere?
- Other inefficiencies and bottlenecks most certainly exist within your operations. How would automation improve them?
Automation is a journey. Expecting a set and forget experience is a surefire path to disappointment and sunk costs. But set out on the right foot, and your business stands to reap profound benefits and learnings along the way.
In 2021, Lucy processed more than 1.5 million lines of data from over 300,000 purchase orders. Whilst Lucy quite literally saved her customers millions of dollars in manual labour, she also delivered benefits far beyond the cost of data entry.
From faster order fulfillment and improved customer experience, to more engaged staff doing more meaningful work - automating the sales order entry piece has allowed these businesses to do what they do, better.
In our next article, we’ll dive deeper into Step 1: Identifying the process to automate.
In the meantime, if you’d like to chat about whether automation is right for your business, we'd love to hear from you.