InformationWeek Analytics (http://analytics.informationweek.com/index) invited me to write about the subject of process automation. The article, part of their series covering application architectures, was released in July of this year. It provided an opportunity for me to articulate the key components that are required to succeed in the automation of business processes.
Both the business and IT are positioned to make-or-break the use of process automation tools and techniques. The business must redefine its processes and operational rules so that work may be automated. IT must provide the infrastructure and expertise to leverage the tools of the process automation trade.
Starting with the business there must be clearly defined processes by which work gets done. Each process must be documented, including the points where decisions are made. The rules for those decisions must then be documented. Repetitive, low-value and low-risk decisions are immediate candidates for automation.
A key value point that must be reached in order to extract sustainable and meaningful value from process automation is measured in Straight Through Processing (STP). STP requires that work arrive from a third-party and be automatically processed; returning a final decision and necessary output (letter, claim payment, etc.) without a person being involved in handling the work.
Most businesses begin using process automation tools without achieving any significant STP rate. This is fine as a starting point so long as the business reviews the manual work, identifies groupings of work, focuses on the largest groupings (large may be based on manual effort, cost or simple volume) and looks to automate the decisions surrounding that group of work. As STP is achieved for some work, the review process continues as more and more types of work are targeted for automation.
The end goal of process automation is to have people involved in truly exceptional, high-value, high-risk, business decisions. The business benefits by having people attend to items that truly matter rather than dealing with a large amount background noise that lowers productivity, morale and client satisfaction.
All of this is great in theory but requires an information technology infrastructure that can meet these business objectives.