Don’t automate chaos, will you?

If you do automate chaos, the only thing you’ll get is automated chaos. Everything is true about this joke, but there’s a catch — professionals would never wish to tackle such a problem. Before you engage contractors to automate processes at your company, you should ask yourself a few brief and very clear questions. The main one is “Why?” This question will haunt you throughout the entire journey that is automation. Invento Labs experts Daria Kasperova, Deputy Director for Project Management, and Eugene Shishkov, Deputy Director of Business Development, are speaking about the questions that you should ask yourself in order not to automate chaos.

The most important question is “WHY?”

Analyze: 

  • Whether the company has automated processes in place or something is missing;
  • Whether you need management accounting, because your bookkeeping processes stop you from making strategic and tactical decisions here and now, while speed is instrumental to business success;
  • Whether there are processes with constant quality and response time control;
  • Whether you need to automate manufacturing processes or quickly obtain and process primary information to deliver analytics.

“Sometimes, when the customer answers the question “Why?”, we manage to address its problem without automation. For example, Excel can be enough to tackle a small business’s challenges. In case of a manufacturing company, focused automation may be required. You can engage external observers to ensure impartial assessment of the situation inside a company. Such assessment should be conducted at two levels — business and IT. Analyze which tools you already have, which are effective enough, which don’t perform, and where assistance or replacement is required. It is always cheaper to try to figure it out for yourself, because you can deal better with a primary basic review than any invited specialist,” says Eugene Shishkov.

Is there a bottleneck in your processes?

To answer this question, analyze the processes. Treat them as blocks that build your business. Think about how these blocks engage with each other. It becomes clear — often already at this early stage — that the relationship, say, between the warehouse and procurement, is chaotic. This is a bottleneck, which requires particular responsibility and focus. It is not necessary to embrace all the blocks at once; move consistently and reasonably to dissect all business processes one after another, to find all of your bottlenecks and points of profit.

“The bigger the business, the harder it is to perform this analysis. In a large company, there is an entire team that will conduct a study. In a smaller company, a solution may be found already at this phase: you can set new KPIs, hire or fire employees,” comments Daria Kasperova.

What exactly needs to be automated?

As soon as the Customer has figured out their business processes and analyzed their bottlenecks, he or she will quickly get where extra money can be saved or earned. It is easy to identify the need for automation: if it brings about a reduction in the number of employees involved in the process, alongside quality and response time improvements, then you are doing the right thing. The money and effort you invest must be relevant to the result. If labor costs increase following automation, that’s definitely a waste of time and money. 

“Automation must increase the speed of operations, slash labor costs, and reduce the number of employees involved in operations. It will help improve quality, transparency, and controllability of processes, as well as to gain lost profits if employees’ time has been misused. For example, in one company, employees would spend eight hours a week putting together info from various sources in a single report. In other words, their unit used 20 percent of their time to manually pick data and put it into a single report, and the company would pay for this work on a monthly basis. This process can be automated and accelerated a few times, whereas employees will be engaged in their direct duties, bringing real profit to their company”, says Eugene Shishkov.

Where do you want to arrive, and what are your expectations?

Gap analysis will help you answer this question. It consists in assessing the difference between the current performance and the indicators you wish to achieve. First, you analyze how processes in your company are currently built. Then you describe what you want — it is where fantasy meets common sense. Think about how you can refine your processes. As soon as the starting position and the ultimate result have been described, a roadmap is elaborated — it outlines the path towards the objectives. When performing a GAP analysis, remember that you are not supposed to try automating everything. Sometimes, optimization of a single process will lead to the desired goal.

“When you realize where you want to arrive and what you expect from automation, you should invite experts. If you have any questions left, they will help you get to the core of the problem and will try to ensure in-depth understanding of your issue. Contacts with developers should not be reduced to the contractor’s desire to automate everything. Experts always welcome a specific idea to give a concept a concrete shape, so be ready to answer the question “Why?” once again. It is quite possible that you will identify new problems, whereas expectations will be reformulated,” says Daria Kasperova.

A check-list

Before having your processes automated, answer the following questions:

  • Why does your company need automation? 
  • How are business processes built in your company? 
  • Where, in your opinion, are the bottlenecks that require focus and control?
  • Highlight specific processes that require automation. 
  • What is the result that you expect from automation? Formulate and put your expectations on paper.

An important tip: it is always cheaper to perform initial preparation on your own. Be sure to take your time to answer the questions and do the analysis, as it will help maximize the efficiency of automation at your company.

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