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To Automate or Not to Automate, That is the Question

We need consistency, we need lower cost, we need greater efficiency, we need improved quality.  All of these are reasons that many raise as justification for automation projects.  And while all of these are valid reasons, they may not be a good enough to justify to automation. Let me explain.

While it is true that you can automate most any component of a process, we must first step back and validate whether we should.  To quote my friend Shakespeare, “to automate or not to automate, that is the question”.  Ok, maybe he didn’t say it exactly that way, but if he were able to see the world of today, he may very well have.  If we really break down the actual line from Hamlet logically, essentially the question is “to do or not do to do”.  Unfortunately, many choose processes or tasks to automate based on emotion or feeling which may lead to creating greater problems.  So how do you decide? Well let’s take a few lessons from Hamlet. 

As he opened his soliloquy, Hamlet questioned logically what he would gain from either life or death.  Our situation may not be so dire, so let’s simply ask; What do I hope to gain with automation?  The answer to this question will help us decide what direction to take.  Like Hamlet, we must question our current ‘as-is’ state to provide a measurable baseline for decision making. 

Efficiency:

If we are hoping to gain efficiency, we need to understand how the process behaves today. Is the process operating efficiently in its ‘as-is’ state?  If the answer is yes, this may not be a good candidate for automation.  If the answer is no, how do you know?  Can you pin-point where the inefficiencies are occurring?  Can a simple process improvement bring us to the desired state?  If so, again, this may not be a good candidate.

Cycle Time

It is important to note that efficiency and time are not the same thing.  Better efficiency can lead to improved cycle time, but not always.  Case in point, I recently had the chance to hear Ricardo Badillo - Director, Business Process Management, at Western Union review results from RPA implementations where they discovered, in some instances, a bot took more time than a human worker to perform the same task.  So, if improved cycle time is our reason for automation, we may need to have a back up plan.  That said, Ricardo did emphasize that automation was more efficient because it was not prone to the human distractions of phone calls, meetings, lunch, etc.

Cost

In Hamlet’s speech he feared the dreams and reality of death might be worse than the current pains he was suffering.  Similarly, we need to remember that automation does have a price tag.  Depending on the complexity of the task to be automated, that cost can be quite hefty.  When we consider the initial cost of implementation, and ongoing cost of support and maintenance of our automation bots, it may cancel out—or be even greater than—any process cost savings.

Quality

The same holds true for quality.  In order to ensure that our automated process is producing a quality output, the process needs to have quality to begin with.  If our process is broken, automating it will not improve the quality.  Instead, what we may have is poor quality provided more efficiently and at greater cost. 

We don’t have to suffer the same fate as Hamlet.  He ended his speech stating basically that the fear of over thinking and making the right choice led to either the wrong decision, or worse, no decision at all.  As we have seen in the scenarios noted above, effective RPA and Automation decisions start with a clear understanding of our process.

In my next article in our series on RPA and Automation, we will consider how to better assess if a process is truly a candidate for automation.  In the interim, click here to read more about iGrafx Process Automation or watch this 2 minute video to see it in action.

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