The benefits of automation are well documented; it increases productivity, cuts cost and minimizes errors. It eliminates repetitive manual tasks, freeing us up to be more innovative. By that logic, surely, we should automate everything possible, right? So, is attempting to automate everything a sensible - even feasible - goal? In a word: no.
Consider this your short guide as to what to automate and what not to automate.
What to Automate
As we know, automation is the driving force behind continuous delivery and agile practices. It's helped change our digital landscape and is shaping businesses into the Modern Software Factories the application era requires. Automation's benefits can be applied to just about any department within an enterprise; from HR to Accounts, Dev to Ops - even the mailroom.
However, certain processes are more suited to automation than others. There are telltale signs to watch out for which indicate a process is primed for automation.
Medium and High Volume
Workflows vary dramatically in size. They can consist of simple processes which are composed of few steps, to processes requiring dozens, if not hundreds of items.
When we think about workflows with minimal steps or items, we should ask 'does it make business sense to automate this process?' Conversely, processes with medium and high volume items are clearly business-pivotal processes, primed for automation.
Manual Completion Requires Three or More Users
Generally, if a repeatable task involves three or more people, the likelihood is that it would be more efficient if it was automated. There is less chance of a communication breakdown, making it more secure and more accurate. Furthermore, by automating such routines, you'll free up the man hours of at least three individuals.
The Process Relies Upon Time-Sensitive Activities
Automation creates a log of when items pass through the workflow; recording when issues occur, when they are resolved and when they are actioned. By analyzing these logs, it's easy to spot where bottlenecks occur in your process. New workflow rules can be attributed to overcome these, thus ensuring deadlines are consistently met.
A Process Impacts Upon Various Systems
If a workflow item requires the aid of, or touches upon, various other systems and tools in the tech-stack, then guess what? Yep, it's ready for automation. Rules can applied which grant and restrict permissions to agents, enabling the timely completion of the process as well as ensuring security protocols are adhered to.
Transparent Processes Require Automation
Remaining compliant and providing full audit trails is crucial. If something goes wrong with a manual process, it's nearly impossible to provide a full accurate trail of exactly what happened, meaning the failure can't be properly identified. With automation, you have no such worries. A dedicated automation solution provides governable audit trails as standard, supporting compliance needs.
We should look to automate the most time-consuming manual processes in our routines. Processes are the heartbeat of organizations. They are the spine of the business. Without them, we would not be able to operate in an efficient manner, if at all.
Ineffective processes are well-suited to automation. They could be streamlined, as they currently require too much manual input, the business requires more transparency, or various other systems rely upon these processes. Sound familiar?
Effectively applying the right automation solution, to the right processes, allows us to become more efficient and more inventive. Freeing highly-skilled technicians from mundane repetitive tasks offers them more time to innovate, helping drive top-line revenue.
What Not to Automate?
It's the inverse of the above: if processes are low-volume, require less than three people, no deadline, don't link other systems and have no need for transparency, applying automation is a waste of time. It could even be a wasted investment, as it would take a long time to see any ROI on these workflow items.
Other instances of what not to automate include, but aren't limited to:
Automation Targets Involve Multiple Decision Points Along the Way
Intelligent automation has come a long way, but there are still times when workflow items need to be manually accepted, rejected or rerouted - which intelligent automation cannot appreciate. As such, human intervention is key, as only we can make the right, informed decision.
Automation can help speed up the building and testing of applications, but when it comes to ensuring the quality of a finalized app, human input is essential. Automated tests can ensure the functionality works, but can't truly appreciate the user experience in the same way a human would.
Even with our most advanced machine learning innovations, automation and artificial intelligence are unable to appreciate artistic endeavors in the same manners as humans. It is unable to deduce information that we take for granted, such as reflections in a mirror, for example. As such, attempting to apply automation to 'soft' skills may be a fruitless task.
Low Return on Investment
If there is no significant or measurable return on investment offered in implementing automation - don't automate. It's really that simple. Increasing efficiency and cutting costs are two key pillars of automation. If adding it to a process doesn't deliver on these promises, or takes a significant time before delivering ROI, skip it.
It's not just a case of introducing automation and sitting back with your feet up. You should critically examine all your systems, workflows and processes. Find the inefficiencies and examine whether it's a suitable candidate for automation. If it is, as the automation experts, we may just be able to help.