// JSON-LD for Wordpress Home, Articles and Author Pages. Written by Pete Wailes and Richard Baxter. // See: http://builtvisible.com/implementing-json-ld-wordpress/

Successful Process Automation: A Summary

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.

On the IT side we must have an information infrastructure that promotes automation.  Key components for process automation are workflow and rules engines and the expertise to use them effectively.  This is a major undertaking on its own.

However, workflow and rules engines are simply software components that provide features such as Service Level Agreement (SLA) management, long-running work state management, independently codified rules, rule versioning and so forth.  These engines need access to data and that data must be structured and clearly defined.

Therefore, in order to create an IT infrastructure ready to leverage process automation there must be a set of well-defined data services that all applications (manual and workflow-based) use to read and write data. Those services, which may be web services or message-based solutions, become the common approach by which all applications interact with the data sources.

By utilizing this centralized service approach, applications that allow for manual manipulation of data, through some form of user interface, can be leveraged by a workflow or rules engine to carry out the work on behalf of a person.  The service doesn’t know or care if it is being invoked by a person or system, it simply reads and writes the proper data.

In the article I also discuss the advantages of leveraging process automation beyond simply speeding up processes.  The platform simplifies the inclusion of additional channels (IVRs, portals) and third party access (vendors, clients) to your systems.

The full article can be found on InformationWeek Analytic’s subscription-based website at http://analytics.informationweek.com/abstract/22/3593/SOA-App-Architecture/strategy-process-automation.html.

If you are interested in reading the article but are not an InformationWeek Analytics subscriber, there are a limited number of copies that Blue Slate can provide.  Just drop me a note at david.read@blueslate.net and I’ll follow-up with you.

As always, I am interested in hearing about the successes and lessons-learned from people that are working with process automation.  So please share your insights and stories by adding your comments.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.