Just because it is possible to automate a business process does not always mean that you should. As with any investment in your business, the decision to spend time and money should be driven based on measurable returns and clear business objectives.
At Ei Dynamics, we encounter companies frequently looking to automate one process or another only to find time after time many of these requests simply do not make good business sense. While we always love to sell more software, we are not in the business of taking people’s money when it doesn’t make sense. Below are five reasons why I encourage businesses NOT to automate a business process.
1. Costs Outweigh Benefits
In many cases of business process automation, the cost to implement such strategies exceeds the benefits. The return on investing in an automation strategy doesn’t always exceed the initial spending costs. There are two methods of calculating return on investments (ROI) that can help business owners determine whether or not purchasing the technology to automate their business process is a worthy expense.
- Tangible ROI is the more traditional form of return and deals with concrete information, such as how much money is to be spent and the amount that will be returned over a certain period of time. This type of ROI is tangible as it provides probable financial outcomes for specific amounts invested.
- Intangible ROI is more difficult to predict as it deals less with actual dollar amounts and more on the success of the business and the happiness of employees, including free time away from company duties and a decrease in compliance risks such as missing deadlines and license renewals.
When it comes to predicting ROI in order to purchase the technology needed to automate your business, it’s important to understand there is more than one way ROI is measured and what might be beneficial for one company may provide serious setbacks to another. (To learn more read How to Justify the Costs of Automation; Quantifying your ROI)
2. Too Complicated
In order to automate a process, we first must understand the process that we are seeking to automate. It is amazing how often people ask us to automate something, and as soon as we start digging into the details and asking specific questions, they all of a sudden get a “deer in the headlight” type look. The line of questions can be long and circuitous: What happens if the invoice amount is over x dollars; What if the approver does not approve after x days; After it is approved, who takes ownership from there … you get the picture. Nonetheless, it is critical that we are able to understand each and every step so that we can effectively implement an automated solution. We must be able to document each step in plain English. If a process cannot be documented in plain English, chances are it is too complicated and esoteric and attempting to automate it will ultimately end in failure or will be un-maintainable by future individuals.
3. Lack of Stakeholder Involvement
Ownership and management are crucial for company success, which is why supervisor roles are necessary for almost all businesses. Likewise, it is also important to have someone who is individually responsible for automated workflow processes. As the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” This could not be more relevant than with automation. Often, when we automate something people forget about it and then a few months go by and the owner of the company starts asking why something slipped through the cracks nobody knows why. Even though the goal of automating processes is to reduce or eliminate human involvement, humans still need to be engaged. Someone needs to ensure that jobs are running and continually monitoring the health of these automated jobs. Believe it or not, computers do crash sometimes, Windows services get turned off or stop and IT sometimes does stuff not always knowing the full ramifications. When this happens, sometimes our automated processes stop working. Ultimately, someone needs to be watching the store and making sure all systems are running and functioning properly.
4. Establishes Barriers between Customers and Employees
One of the top reasons why automation isn’t beneficial for most businesses is that it impinges communication between employees, customers and suppliers. Automated systems are helpful when navigating through a general task or problem, but the fact of the matter is that automation generally treats every unit as the same despite how personalized a problem or project may be. In order for customers to feel their concerns are genuinely being heard, automated systems need to provide personalization or they will instantly create a communication wall between stakeholders. For example, have you ever called your cable provider to get help with your internet or cable service and the automated attendant picks up and you get 15 minutes into the call and you cough accidentally and the attendant says, “So you want to hang up and quit this call?” You then quickly say “No,” but you still have something caught in your throat and the attendant then says, “You have confirmed that you would like to end this call…good bye.” You’re screaming at the stupid phone and yelling expletives because you said “No” but the “automated” system thought you said “Yes.”
Performed properly, automation should act and feel the same as if employees are doing the task manually, whether it’s in the form of how an automated email is crafted and presented or how people interact to each step of the workflow process.
5. Eliminates Personal Responsibility
Although automated services may be able to help connect companies with more customers than a physical representative can, it should not relieve employees of personal responsibility. In order to be effective, in terms of increasing business, automation should be designed to help employees become more productive while reducing human error and risk. Personal responsibility is essential in establishing trust with customers and building relationships. Therefore, automating a process that causes responsibility to be shifted from employees to a machine is counterproductive to the end goal of promoting a sense of security.
While there are certain companies that have effectively mastered the system of automating business processes, it’s important to realize that ultimately the benefits of automating a process must outweigh the costs and all potential downfalls to automation should be considered and taken into account prior to spending money on an automation project or software.