Three ways improvement specialists impact automation

Automation for everyone; why process people need to get to grips with automating their processes




Boy playing Jenga

Process automation is a vital part of any business’ continuous improvement strategy, with more and more tools becoming available for increasing efficiency and reducing errors. This creates its own challenges though, as the overlapping worlds of process excellence and information technology don’t always blend well in practice.  

Automation has traditionally been an IT function, while the drivers behind process automation solutions are firmly rooted in the line of business. There are real benefits to be gained though by bringing those two together and increasing collaboration between the automation specialists and process experts through tools that lower the technical and organizational barriers. 

How improvement specialists can impact automation 

  1. Share what you know about processes and how to manage them

When businesses ‘silo’ process excellence and the tools for achieving it, the outcome can be much like the children’s game ‘telephone,’ where a whispered message changes and breaks down as it is passed from person to person. When process information is being gleaned from practitioners then sent to be interpreted by tool specialists, the content can degrade. This is sadly the status quo in many organizations, with a small process excellence team dashing back and forth between the line of business and the IT team, trying to facilitate solutions that fit the expectations at both ends.  

That approach makes change difficult, creating substandard outcomes and preventing real agility in continuous improvement. By utilising a process platform that engages teams, process experts can leverage the knowledge of the line of business without also having to interpret it. They can let the people who know the processes best capture the information and focus on facilitating improvement. 

The benefits flow to the other side of the operation too. If the IT team can be freed from creating complex flowcharts around processes they don’t really understand or have any engagement with, they can focus on what they are best equipped for, and the results will be better. It’s the best implementation of the Toyota principle of genchi genbutsu or ‘go and see.’ Rather than IT trying to capture process content from afar, it’s gathered ‘on the shop floor’ by the process subject experts who are in the right place to know what actually happens. 

  1. Embrace the possibility that people-friendly tech exists

The implications for automation are clear. Just like capturing and mapping processes is best done by those who work closely with them, the same applies to implementing automation solutions. Workflow designers and bot developers can only work with the information they have, and where that’s incomplete or not well understood, the resulting automations won’t be the best fit, necessitating time consuming reworks. What makes much more sense is for the automation function to be opened up to the process experts, who know best where automation will support and improve the process. 

That requires a tool that is accessible to the less technically inclined though. Process experts and the line of business teams that work with the processes on a daily basis aren’t likely to be developers. The automation tools they need are low- or no-code applications that enable them to translate the processes they know well into efficient workflows. The best solutions integrate those simple but powerful applications into the process management platform, reducing the need for translating process information and so accelerating automation. 

  1. Work in tandem with IT

Not only does this approach empower the process experts to employ the full range of improvement tools, it also spreads the workload more evenly. The IT department can focus on managing the infrastructure rather than populating it, providing support for the tools and users instead of being responsible for the outcomes. Where the automation platform communicates well with the process tools, much of the work can be done by the software, so users can focus on the efficiencies they’re creating rather than how to build them. 

The wins this approach can generate are across the board. Process improvement accelerates when you don’t have teams waiting on each other, playing ping-pong with refinements. Empowering the process experts to identify, build and execute process automation solutions reduces those wait times. Furthermore, it gives the line of business agency to identify automation opportunities through example and encourages innovation amongst those who know the processes best. The IT team is freed from the responsibility of creating these outcomes and can focus on overseeing the systems and consulting where solutions become more complex.  

 

Improvement specialists and IT – better together 

The days of siloed specialists flinging expertly crafted but poorly understood solutions at one another are long gone. Process automation needs to happen as part of continuous improvement, and it needs to be in the hands of the people responsible for that. All of this depends on a culture of collaboration and the tools that enable it. It requires a platform that reduces the tech barriers, but results in greater communication, faster iteration and stronger processes.

When process experts can work in concert with both IT and the line of business, and have access to powerful but easy-to-use automation tools, the result is process excellence that can evolve at the speed you need it to. 

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