This year is shaping up to be a landmark year for automation. While Forrester initially predicted that this year automation “would become the tip of the digital transformation spear,” their analysts now say their predictions appear to be low.
Though the business case for automation is increasingly clear, the largest annual IT leadership survey in the world suggests most of the headway is coming from early adopters. The rest, it seems, are still in wait-and-see or planning phases. So if you’re trying to figure out the best way to approach automation for your organization, then you’re not alone.
With 40% of information workers reporting that they spend at least a quarter of their work week on manual, repetitive tasks, and three quarters of respondents in the Smartsheet Automation in the Workplace report saying that automation will allow them to focus on work that drives greater value, businesses that delay implementing automated solutions risk ceding ground to their competition.
But that doesn’t mean your organization should jump on the opportunity without first taking a thoughtful approach to how they can best see value from automation, while reducing risks.
“Before turning to automation, organizations need to understand what takes place under the hood,” says Chris Piggott, Technical Director at Synextra. Piggott says that where many businesses go wrong is that they focus on large-scale initiatives instead of taking the time to uncover specific tasks and workflows where the benefits of automating can quickly add up.
“Look for quick wins without chasing a huge strategic change initially,” he advises. Here are the steps business leaders can take to determine the automation tools that are right for them, and recognize the returns on their automation investments
1. Identify Which Work Functions are Ripe for Automation
The first step to uncovering opportunities to automate that will drive the greatest value doesn’t involve automation at all. Rather, business leaders must take a step back and consider the actual tasks being performed by teams to find workflows that can be readily automated.
Typically, these “quick win” opportunities involve work that is routine and repetitive, with predefined rules-based frameworks. Examples of this might include approving invoices, budget reporting or responding to standard customer service queries. Creative, interactive tasks are often best left to humans – though automating underlying repetitive processes can free up resources to promote such work.
2. Determine the Appropriate Automation Tools
After you’ve identified work functions that could be automated, seek out the tools that can help you automate those functions. In some cases, one tool or platform can help you automate a set of repetitive tasks that would otherwise take up mental bandwidth.
For example, Smartsheet includes forms, which can improve efficiency and accuracy of the collection and sharing of data, rules-based approval requests, automated notifications and reminders, and various roll-up reports. Such automation tools and functions can meet the needs of a broad range of business lines, from customer service to finance to marketing.
3. Rollout for ROI
Once you have identified the optimal workflows and tools for automation, the next thing to think about is implementation. To ensure that automation is scalable and to reduce silos, it’s important to look for automation solutions that meet stakeholder needs across business lines and integrate with tools people are already using.
Not all solutions require heavy lifting: if early objectives for automation include quick productivity gains that free up employees to drive more value, then look for solutions that can be configured without help from IT.
Sound too simple? The truth is, implementing automation may not be as complex as you think, if you start by seeking out work that matches readily-available capabilities.