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How to Automate Business Processes: 3 Pieces of Advice to Help You Succeed

Automating your business processes can deliver a world of benefits. Make sure you start on the right foot by following these BPA best practices.

Over the past few years, organizations have been seriously pursuing business process automation because of the vast benefits. However, many organizations have unintentionally created new inefficiencies because of oversights in their implementation strategies. 

What kinds of oversights? They have invested piece by piece in quick-fix automation solutions that only address an immediate need. These narrowly scoped solutions didn’t scale, preventing the organizations from realizing the full benefits of automation. Not only that, but this approach meant managing increasingly complex automation journeys that felt disjointed to employees and customers, rather than making their lives easier. Thanks to these islands of automation, IT teams have become burdened with high maintenance costs, complex upgrades, complicated integrations, misaligned governance, unnecessary contracts for overlapping tools, and a lack of skilled resources to manage multiple vendors. 

Obviously, there are a lot of pitfalls that can get in the way of success when automating your business processes, and we’ve seen them all. So we developed these three specific guidelines to help you know how to automate your business processes.

1. Adopt a platform approach.

If you have multiple process automation tools that don’t work well together, you’ll run into substantial challenges when trying to automate your business processes. Using standalone systems for different automation tasks is part of what’s led to such difficult management for IT teams and stunted growth for business leaders. A platform that unifies these technologies enables you to use the best-fit tool that works well with your data and enables automation-native operations.

Get the comprehensive guide to achieving end-to-end process automation excellence.

Use the best-fit automation technology.

Adopting a strategy built on a process automation platform empowers you to integrate a full range of process automation technologies, which work seamlessly together. You can choose the best-fit technology for the task and bring in digital workers to participate in workflows alongside humans. 

You’ll have elements like AI, robotic process automation (RPA)business rules, and process modeling all in one place as you design processes for your organization. And by using a platform, you steer clear of the high costs required to maintain different software, complex integrations, and the need for skilled resources to manage each separate instance of your automation technology.

Use data effectively.

Automation needs a solid data foundation to succeed, and a platform approach gives you that foundation while enabling easy access to your data. Platforms should allow you to access enterprise data throughout the automation process regardless of where it lives, with well-defined structures and properly enforced security.

Tip: Look for a business process platform that offers a data fabric. While there are plenty of data management solutions out there (data lakes, data warehouses, data meshes, etc.), the strategy that offers the fastest and most effective interaction with data regardless of where it's located, is a data fabric.

Learn why a data fabric approach is faster with The Data Fabric Advantage: De-Silo Your Data for Rapid Innovation.

Enable automation-native operations.

An automation-native operation means that the operation runs on an automation platform and employs an automation-first approach. To be automation native, your organization needs a platform that enables users to collaborate in any aspect of operations. With automation-native operations, automation experts, citizen and professional developers, and end users have a central place they can collaborate, aligned in a way that ensures automation needs are met and that user experience and business outcomes meet expectations.

Seek out platforms that operationalize AI.

Finding an automation platform that breaks down or significantly reduces the barriers of AI adoption and addresses real-world use cases will serve you well. These AI-augmented tools can deliver even better results for streamlining your processes. You should also ensure the vendor will deliver AI in a way you can trust—by protecting your data and your customers’ data privacy.

2. Start small and iterate.

When you’re ready to begin your end-to-end process automation journey, the road ahead may not be clear. Starting small and then expanding can be a great way to test and refine your end-to-end process automation strategy without taking on too much risk.

Look for opportunities with well-defined and measurable outcomes, where you can achieve success quickly while still making an impact on the business. Then, use those successes to evangelize buy-in and broader use across the organization. Delivering successful automation results can spark interest from other areas of the organization, driving new automation projects and earning buy-in from leadership.

You might be wondering how this approach differs from using standalone automation systems to get quick automation wins. Here’s the crucial difference: When you take a platform approach to process automation, you have the technology you need for quick wins, but you also have what you need to scale and grow your automation program across the organization later.

Ultimately, you want to scale and grow your automation program to its full potential, and the capabilities you get in a platform will prepare you for both immediate success and future growth.

3. Plan for future growth.

Vested interest from executive-level leadership is essential for successful end-to-end process automation initiatives. Involving all stakeholders—including employees, customers, and partners—early on in the automation planning and implementation process helps ensure that the automation approach is aligned with the needs of the business and leads to better representation as it is evaluated by leadership. With a platform approach and early automation successes, you’re well-positioned to gain this buy-in and bring your success to the next department or process.

Think through how you can use and scale automation in a well-governed manner in your department and across departments. One way to do so is to create an automation center of excellence (CoE). This internal business unit is typically dedicated to defining and enforcing the policies governing end-to-end automation initiatives. A CoE takes the lead on responsibilities like selecting a process automation platform, training employees, reviewing automations before they go live, and overseeing ongoing maintenance and optimization.

An automation CoE can help leadership build support for automation among employees by educating them about automation’s benefits while ensuring teams follow development best practices. The CoE can also help coordinate automation projects across business units and identify and vet reusable components for future projects.

3 questions to help you consider how to automate your business processes.

If you want to follow these guidelines and create a business process automation program that reaps the benefits of BPA—and avoid the pitfalls that get in the way—think through these three questions:

  • Can I orchestrate, automate, and optimize my business processes from end to end? 

  • Where can I start to get a quick win and gain buy-in for my business process automation (BPA) initiative? 

  • Am I creating a foundation that will allow me to expand my BPA program past just one process?

See who’s competing in the business process automation market in this Gartner® research: Gartner® Competitive Landscape: Business Process Automation.