Digital process automation and optimization: 4 steps
You have probably come across the following quote before:
"If you digitise a shit process, you have a shit digital process."
Thorsten Dirks, CEO of Telefónica Deutschland, 2015
We could just as well change this quote to:
"If you automate a shit process, then you have a shit automated process."
wemakefuture, CEO of wemakefuture, 2021
And that is precisely the reason why digital process automation cannot succeed without upstream process optimisation. What this quote implies is that digital processes should not necessarily be automated just for the sake of automation. Process automation can, if properly prepared and supported, increase efficiency, save time and map processes in an error-free and lean way. However, this is of no use if the processes involved have not been thoroughly considered, analysed and optimised beforehand.
Using our own internal process as an example, we show how digital process automation can succeed through optimisation and what needs to be considered.
Step 1: Identify processes
Of course, the first step is always to identify the process. However, in our experience, this is sometimes easier said than done. You may have the idea to automate a certain workflow, but underestimate what is involved.
Business processes are rarely completely stand-alone and detached, but are almost always linked to other processes. In some places, the same software is accessed, some steps may even appear identically in completely different workflows. But maybe there are also steps attached to the process that you were not even aware of before.
During this first step, it often becomes clear that the scope is much larger than initially estimated. But this realisation is necessary so that the process can be thoroughly defined in the next step and automated in an error-free and sustainable way.
Step 2: Define processes
Now that we have analysed the process and the scope, it is important to define the process thoroughly and in detail. This includes numerous points, such as:
Involved persons / departments
Aim of the process
Software and applications used
Start and end point
Branches and their conditions
The last point in particular is especially important to us. Because good and sustainable processes should be tested for their scalability before digital process automation: Will the processes still work when new employees or applications are added? If our company grows as predicted, is this approach still feasible?
If you make the effort of all the steps presented here, then the result should of course also be long-term. That is why we include this last point in the process definition.
Branches and their (possible) conditions are also enormously important for automation: Is there a yes, no or if, then... decision within the process? decision? These paths can also be mapped digitally and included in the process automation, but of course they have to be provided with clear criteria in the first place.
For all aspects, we recommend recording the process or processes. We use BPMN for this, a process language that can represent all the points mentioned above and make them understandable. But which tool you use for this, e.g. a flow chart, is irrelevant as long as the processes are visualised in detail and exactly.
Step 3: Optimise processes
This step often merges with the previous step. Often a process is visualised for the very first time and thought is given to whether the processes that have become established in the company are at all sensible and efficient. Often the answer is "no", at least in parts. Individual steps may be superfluous or duplicated. Perhaps they are also extremely error-prone and these errors can be minimised by restructuring. Or perhaps a process is too dependent on just one person.
The reasons for such a need for optimisation are really manifold. That is why it is very important to talk about processes and to get external advice. People who do not work in the processes are sometimes quicker to recognise the need for optimisation (tip: always ask new employees if they notice any potential for improvement, because they are not yet "blind").
Process optimisation can often take a lot of time, as changes must of course also be agreed with the people concerned. Maybe new tools have to be purchased for some changes, in which case they have to be identified and the best one selected for you (we are happy to provide support here, by the way).
But no matter how long or even arduous this step is, it is worth it. Through extensive analysis and optimisation, digital process automation is well prepared from the outset and is more likely to deliver all the benefits hoped for.
Step 4: Digital process automation with iPaaS
And then the time has finally come, digital process automation takes place. After the detailed definition, the naming of the necessary tools, the branches and conditions as well as the scalability, the automation can take place successfully. And this is exactly what iPaaS is the optimal choice for.
iWhat? iPaaS - short for Integration Platform as a Service. Such software provides an interface to "plug together" processes and thus make digital process automation a reality. Tools such as Zapier or Make make it possible to connect process steps, apps and conditions on a platform and thus automate the previously identified process. The technology works with API interfaces and thus manages to integrate a wide variety of applications, such as mail, cloud storage, CRM, accounting tool, email marketing and much more.
Sounds quite complex? Don't worry, it's not, especially if the previous steps are followed. Nevertheless, it can help to get advice from experts. We are happy to support you in uncovering potentials, illuminating possibilities and implementing automation. In an initial meeting, we will discuss all the necessary steps and information. We look forward to it!
Cloud Integration, iPaaS, SaaS, BPA… Ough, hard to keep track of all these terms. They are currently used frequently (and increasingly) in the context of automation, and it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction and distinction. We have already written blog posts on the terms iPaaS, SaaS and BPA, but we’ll take them up again here to make the difference.
But let’s start with cloud integration, because that’s the central umbrella term in which we embed all the other technologies in this blog post.
To illustrate these advantages, an example is suitable that we know well from our everyday work as an automation agency:
The central data to be used here is the data of a major customer. This can be the simplest information, such as the address. This address is required in numerous but completely different processes in the company: on the one hand, for correct invoicing in accounting. On the other hand, in the CRM system, where all the data of the large customer is also stored. But the address is also important in sales, for example, when employees go to the sales meeting on site.
Now the customer announces that the address of the company has changed after a move. This information will reach you by e-mail. There are now two options:
01. The e-mail is forwarded to all affected departments, accounting, sales, customer service, marketing… All persons open their corresponding program, CRM, accounting software, marketing tools (such as newsletter marketing) and change the data already stored there of the customer. This means that in multiple applications, different people do exactly the same thing: change one address. 02. But there is also an alternative: By connecting your applications, thus by integrizing them, the customer’s e-mail, or rather the information it contains about the address change, is automatically passed on to all affected applications: CRM, accounting, marketing, ERP. This does not require any clicks, because the cloud integration detects a trigger, i.e. address change, and thus automatically starts the process.
What sounds unimpressive in a single process becomes more effective when such a process occurs several times a day or weekly. Because there is a lot of data that is available in different applications and should always be correct. If these applications are cloud applications they are suitable for cloud integration.
But cloud integration doesn’t just happen. There are now a variety of applications that enable and implement this. Such tools usually allow us to link the relevant cloud applications on a central platform and define clear rules on when, how, where, how much data should be passed on and what happens to them.
IPaaS, SaaS, BPA, ABC – who can still see through it?
To realize cloud integration, there are various applications and technologies that are sometimes used interchangeably.
Cloud integration cannot be done without SaaS, iPaaS and BPA
Cloud integration is rather an umbrella term that includes numerous technologies, such as SaaS, iPaaS and BPA, and this is also absolutely necessary. Cloud integration is a concept that is made possible by appropriate technologies.
However, all terms share the commonality that they are cloud-based and thus offer enormous potential for growth and scaling. In addition, they are often cheaper to implement and maintain because changed requirements are easy to implement.
As an independent automation agency, we implement cloud integration according to your requirements. We use a variety of SaaS tools and iPaas (strictly speaking BPA) software. Together we find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.