Automate Your Business Processes for a Smarter, Faster, More Agile Enterprise

Automation can provide solid returns on your investment quickly. The key is to consider your business processes (and the IT processes that support them) as part of the same ecosystem.

By Jeff Rauscher

Your business depends on its underlying processes to run smoothly. You automate many of them for fast, consistent results, but somehow you still spend a lot of time on manual tasks to bridge critical processes across departments, business units, platforms, applications, or geographic locations. Many companies rely on costly time- and resource-consuming manual support to make sure that billing, sales analysis, financial close, order-to-cash, and other key processes happen without errors. Automating business and IT processes in a piecemeal manner helps, but unless you’ve connected and engineered these activities across your company, you know that this level is just the beginning.

How can you improve your IT and business processes and align critical, automated processes so that you achieve your organizational goals faster and easier? Surprisingly, the answer is within your reach.

Break the Silos

Even though your organization may have clear and unified goals as a company, the processes that support those goals are often confined to departmental or technological silos. For most businesses, individual processes and their supporting technologies have evolved separately and sometimes exclusively. They’re designed, structured, supported, and run totally independently of one another. That makes end-to-end process automation seem impossible. Consider how many different people, departments, or technologies need to work together to support your financial month-end close or inventory management process. It’s easy to see how everyday business activities can get far too complicated when everyone’s working on separate teams.

Silos put IT and business process groups at odds unnecessarily. When you add the enormous pressure IT and business process owners endure to support 24/7 demand, the constant need for speed and budgetary constraints, it’s easy to see why business and IT processes often seem to be in constant conflict. However, this rivalry is fuelled by misunderstanding and disorganization. In reality, these groups are always on the same corporate team. They have to work together, but how do you begin to make that happen?

Start with a top-down perspective. Rather than focusing on isolated tasks or IT processes, examine the potential for building connected, automated business processes where they make sense for your business. Examine exactly what makes up your business processes. Which are dependent on each other? How does your credit card processing work? What’s involved in processing your business intelligence (BI) reports? If you start looking at your enterprise as an ecosystem -- a group of related processes that support the business -- you can start to see the potential for real improvement almost immediately.

Engineer Enterprise Business Process Automation

Enterprise business process automation takes an entirely different view of process automation by changing the focus from simple process steps to achieving your higher-level goals. It uses a flexible automation platform, supported by a powerful automation engine, to deliver measurable value by connecting business processes across disparate systems and eliminating manual tasks. Enterprise business process automation gives you the benefits of complete control without the need to micromanage every step of every process. It’s simply using technology to your best business advantage.

When you buy a car, do you really want to know about -- or have to manage -- every single process that’s at work in the engine, or do you simply want to take it for a test drive? In the real world, the results are what matter. If something goes wrong, you want to be able to diagnose it and fix it, but if everything is working, why not just enjoy a smooth ride? Enterprise business process automation allows you to engineer processes so that they keep running smoothly under the hood of your business. That way, you can focus on your strategic goals.

Get Started Now

Right now you can apply this approach to your most complicated business processes. That’s because there are powerful, connected automation solutions that you can use immediately to tie together business and IT processes, end-to-end -- across applications, technologies, and business units. These solutions work for any process or industry.

You can start small. Begin by examining key business processes and determining where you would get the most value from automation.

Ask yourself these five questions about any process you could automate:

  • How much time does it take to complete? What are the associated costs?
  • Does the process cause bottlenecks (i.e., if something goes wrong with this process, does it stop other ones)?
  • How many people are required to complete the process? Could they be reallocated to more strategic roles?
  • Are any regulatory standards/compliance issues involved? Are financial controls or audit trails required?
  • Would automation improve employee productivity and job satisfaction?

It’s relatively easy to see where you can build in almost instant results. All you have to do is consider your business processes (and the IT processes that support them) as part of the same ecosystem.

What You Get

Why take this approach? Clearly, you’ll save time and money while you gain competitive advantage. Automation also:

  • Improves business efficiency and enables growth
  • Reduces or eliminates human error
  • Frees your staff for more productive work
  • Enables complete transparency across your business

In recent reports, analysts have cited automation as a top goal on most IT directors’ agendas. From almost any perspective in the business it’s easy to see why.

Effective enterprise business process automation enables all business and IT stakeholders, regardless of role, to actively participate in process execution, providing role-based interfaces for interactions such as approvals, decision checkpoints, or alert responses. That way, all users can enjoy active ownership of end-to-end process execution with a high level of transparency. With enterprise business process automation, you can actually bridge the gap between business and IT responsibilities. It works for any business process including supply chain, order-to-cash, and business intelligence, just to name a few examples. This approach saves time, empowers business users, and lifts the burden on IT to respond to every process issue.

Jeff Rauscher is director of solutions design for Redwood Software. Mr. Rauscher has had more than 31 years of diversified MIS/IT experience working with a wide variety of technologies including SAP, HP, IBM, and Redwood software. His past work includes 17 years of large data center operations. He has worked in operations management, data center relocation, hardware planning, installation and de-installation, production control management, quality assurance, and customer support.