Business Process Automation: The Silver Bullet for Any Business
By Dan Barton, COO and co-founder, Bluestonex
During a time of sustained economic challenges and business uncertainty, most companies are looking to extend as much value from existing IT systems as possible. At the same time, however, existing manual processes are causing significant operational risk and cost, a problem exacerbated by the continued difficulties in retaining and recruiting staff.
From warehouse operations to order processing and Master Data Management, companies have endured slow, often error ridden, manual data entry for years because they could rely on a trusted, experienced long-term workforce to pick up and manage any problems. But that workforce is retiring and the younger generation has zero interest in these monotonous roles. With almost half of all firms reporting problems with accessing key skills, it is now vital to embrace automation to de-risk operations, improve performance and create more workforce flexibility.
The good news is that price and cost are no longer a barrier to change. The latest generation of Business Process Automation (BPA) technology is low cost and quick to deploy. It requires no coding or development, allowing companies of any size to embrace automation alongside existing tried and tested systems. Dan Barton, COO and co-founder at Bluestonex explains how BPA is enabling companies to quickly and cost effectively mitigate the risks associated with continuous uncertainty.
Businesses have endured unprecedented instability over the past few years. And while overall inflationary pressures may now be easing, problems in attaining and retaining staff continue to cause enormous disruption. Almost half (46%) of employers in Britain confess that they are facing a shortage of workers. As a result, wage inflation is now a major concern, with regular pay jumping by almost 8% in the three months to July, according to the ONS.
For many organisations still relying on traditional manual processes, even if higher wages are an affordable option, recruitment remains a problem. The younger generation entering the workforce expect access to technology, upskilling opportunities and a chance to progress – they do not want to spend hours manually entering data. Nor do they have the skills or experience required to manage the complexity associated with many solutions.
Without the staff to handle these essential activities, organisations are enduring inefficiency and data inaccuracy which can devastate operational performance. The staffing issue is not going to change. It is now essential to replace these outdated processes, deskilling roles and reducing the training requirements for new starters, while also significantly improving efficiency and making the business a more attractive employment option.
Of course, companies have been aware of the inefficiencies, costs and business risk associated with manual processes for years but have been deterred by the enormous cost and disruption associated with automation technologies. Right now, with continued economic uncertainty, the idea of making a significant investment in new technology simply to automate processes is not on the cards, however strong the business need.
What has changed, however, is the technology that underpins Business Process Automation (BPA). With the right approach, there is no longer any need for complex coding or expensive, extensive consultant led deployment models. No six figure licence fees. No three-year implementation timeline line. No army of highly skilled, technical SAP experts. Instead, combining human centric design thinking and an innovative approach that simply plugs into the existing software, processes can be rapidly rethought and reconsidered to transform both user experience and operational performance.
Within weeks, using a subscription-based tool, an organisation can deploy new, optimised business processes that are simple to use for staff of any level of experience. For example, by rethinking and building consistency into warehouse administration processes across its 20 distribution centres, Brakes has simplified and improved the staff experience. By removing the need for specific individuals who understand SAP transaction codes and variants and using a highly intuitive new interface, the company has improved staff satisfaction and improved operational performance. 240 hours previously spent on administrative tasks have been released back to the business for other, added value activity every day. Data errors have been reduced to zero. And training time has been reduced by a factor of 26.
Every business will have a different area of manual pain and different corporate drivers for change. Whether it is a lack of staff, new compliance requirements or planning ahead for the move to S/4HANA with its associated demands to radically improve data quality and reduce duplication, BPA can provide immediate benefits.
For example, important documents can be automatically sent to remote stakeholders for approval. Invoice information can be quickly gathered to support efficient tracking, monitoring and processing of paperwork. Furthermore, BPA not only facilitates effective communication across systems and eliminates repetitive data entry by different departments but can also improve the quality and accuracy of existing data resources, a key consideration given the data-linked costs associated with the S/4HANA migration.
Indeed, the introduction of BPA can transform Master Data Management (MDM), another key area facing a skills shortage. Too many companies are just about surviving using old systems held together with string and Sellotape – which is not only adding risk today but will create enormous problems during any SAP migration process. With this new, fast track approach to BPA to automate MDM, companies finally have an easy, low-cost solution to a problem that has become a serious concern for many.
Most organisations will admit there are pockets of inefficiency and manual operations that have been overdue for automation for years. Yet a combination of the potential cost of change and the existence of great, experienced employees has enabled businesses to just about get by. With so many companies now struggling to retain long standing staff and finding it near impossible to recruit replacements, change is now essential.
By automating these processes and tasks, organisations can not only address a key area of business risk but also redeploy employees and encourage them to spend more time on creative, fulfilling, high value activities. It becomes a virtual circle: the business gets a reputation to be a great place to work, boosting both retention and recruitment.
And with the latest innovation in automation technology, this can all be achieved at an affordable price, with minimal change. With benefits that are easy to calculate and quick to achieve, the business case is compelling. It’s time to look again at BPA.