Process automation cuts down on “Human error”. How many times has the wrong product been shipped because someone transcribed the wrong part number from an order onto the warehouses’ pick list sheet?
The next point is ensuring accurate delivery. The process automation system routes the appropriate communications to the correct system or person according to the established policies and procedures. A new, untrained employee can be counted on to send the wrong communication to the wrong person. He does not yet know the organization and procedure. A good process automation system does not allow this.
Faster and Automated Message Delivery
Because we are dealing with an electronic database in the backend, the known information is automatically populated onto the electronic form. It does not need to be entered again. This also helps eliminate incorrect information from transcribing errors. Many communications do not need to be entered by a human at all. If all of the information is already known by the system, a completed message is automatically sent to the correct terminal.
Making Sure Communication Actually Happens
How many times have you discovered that important information was not given to you. Ever have an employee who was a “black-hole”, communications go to him but never leave. Process automation ensures that all communications that need to be delivered actually are.
A very simple but powerful example of a process automation system improving communications is a Purchase Order system that I used in my last company. It could be significantly improved but it was a good start and easy to develop using Lotus Notes. An employee that needs a new computer fills out a PO form in Excel. He then uploads this to the Notes form along with priority, description, delivery info and approval structure information. The system e-mails his supervisor of the request. The supervisor approves the request and the next person in the line is automatically e-mailed and so on until the PO is approved at which point the purchasing department is e-mailed an order to purchase the item. If it is rejected at any point, it goes back down the line for amendment or circular filing. If a person on the route did not approve or deny the request within a certain time period, a reminder was sent out.
This saved 1 to 2 weeks over the old combination of fax, e-mail and intra-office courier. It also allowed the purchasing department and managers to see the progress of all PO requests at a glance.
This system did not enforce any policy more complicated than “POs must be approved by such and such people before purchasing”. What this did do was automate and follow up on all of the communications.
Communications is an extremely important factor in developing a process automation system. In fact if you are concentrating most of your energy into improving communications, much of your policy enforcement and improved productivity would come along for the ride.
This all leads us to the Holy Grail of process automation: Dramatically improved productivity. This is really what it is all about. The purpose of policy is to enforce your company’s purpose which more often than not is to get your products made and into the hands of consumers. The role of communications is to facilitate the interaction between your people so that they can make products and get them into the hands of consumers.
Making your products faster, better, cheaper and selling them more efficiently is the ultimate goal of process automation. Enforcing good policy and improving communications is how you get there.
Requirements and Characteristics of Process Automation