Process management: The Achilles heel of the autonomous enterprise

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As organizations look to give employees more time to focus on business-critical initiatives, many are working towards automating basic functions and processes towards the concept of a self-driving, or autonomous, enterprise – the business of the future.

With machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies becoming more prevalent within the enterprise, we can expect to see a significant move toward this type of business model in the coming years. It’s even closer than we think, with one report finding 98% of IT business leaders say automating processes are essential to business success.

Yet, automation for automation’s sake is not the answer, and efforts can fail without the right processes and procedures in place to bring relevant information and data together.

As we enter into and mature within the early stages of the autonomous enterprise, solid information management is critical for automating monotonous daily tasks. After all, if the information isn’t connected effectively, it leads to complications and inaccuracies. However, carefully crafted process management strategies and tactics can turn the endless mounds of raw data into viable, actionable information.

Below, I discuss how to take a holistic approach the autonomous enterprise and ensure businesses are seeing processes through from beginning to end.

Know the levels of automation and where your business currently stands

Before you understand the role of business processes on the journey to the autonomous enterprise, you must first understand what the typical autonomous enterprise looks like.

When talking about autonomy, there is a five-level scale that that is used to determine maturity. Today, most organizations are just getting started, currently somewhere between levels 1-2. However, we can expect to see more businesses creeping their way to levels 3-4 in the next couple of years as technology rapidly evolves.

Keep reading to determine where your business stands today and where it needs to go to become truly autonomous.

Level 1: Ad-hoc automation

Level 1 is where we see most businesses today. Here, they are typically just beginning to embrace automation by organizing process management efforts and collecting data. What offsets level 1 from the rest is the idea that there is typically minimal analysis implemented automatically – think dashboards and alerts which need to be acted upon by humans. At this stage, processes, methods and tools are often not formalized. Without a formal and clearly-laid-out approach, automation is essentially impossible.

Level 2: Basic automation
This is often considered to be the level in which we finally see the rise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). With this, process management efforts are only partly organized and used for specific projects or in a few departments, meaning basic processes are documented, but they are very limited in what they can do on their own.

Level 3: Conditional automation

At level 3, organizations are finally starting to hit the sweet spot when it comes to automation. First processes are already automated end-to-end, leveraging APIs to integrate with business partners and Machine Learning for complex decision making. A process management strategy is finally in place and efforts are organized, adopted and aligned across several areas with constant documentation.

Level 4: High-level automation

At this stage, nearly all operational work is done by machines – not humans. When they get to level 4, the organization finally starts to get into its groove, organizing and structuring efforts across the organization consistently. Process knowledge and visibility is high, allowing the organization to realize the benefits of standardization and ongoing process improvement. However, processes are still defined by humans – they teach the machines what to do via programming.

Level 5: Leading automation

Seen by most as unattainable today, this is where the machines take over. Instead of being programmed and running on input from humans, everything becomes automatic, with the machines deciding how things are run.

Revise your organization’s approach to business process management

According to the 2018 State of Business Process Management Report, only 52% of respondents said that they occasionally model or document their company processes – which means that their automation must be lacking.

Businesses leading the charge when it comes to the autonomous enterprise manage, organize and structure their BPM efforts consistently throughout the organization. They keep everything well-defined, aligned across departments and integrated within the broader enterprise strategy to be evaluated regularly.

Without a similar approach, the journey to the autonomous enterprise will fail. Below are some key tips and tricks to prevent business from failing and moving throughout the five levels of automation.

Take a step back

Automating work with bad processes behind it (or having no processes clearly spelled out at all) is the first mistake businesses often make. Before getting started, you must identify what you currently have in place, understand what’s working and ensure it is aligned with specific goals. After all, automating inaccurately or not strategically is only going to cause more headaches.

Walk before you run

Don’t jump in and automate everything at once. It’s going to take some time to get your team onboards and machines are prepared to take on more work. Widespread process automation can be overwhelming, compounding problems and revealing additional inaccuracies that do more harm than good.

Think of everything that could go wrong

A misconfigured algorithm can be even more destructive than a rogue employee, so you must be prepared for the worst. In addition to brainstorming potential situations when you kick off any new automation task, organizations must be constantly monitoring activity to ensure things are operating as intended and rules are being followed.

Without the proper processes and an effective process management system in place, automation – and the dream of the autonomous enterprise – is nearly impossible. However, carefully designed goals, metrics and strategies that are communicated and adopted throughout the organization can help you move throughout the five levels of automation without a hitch.

Be sure to keep these tips and tricks in mind to ensure employees reap the benefits of automation to help grow your business and bottom line.

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