Automation: “Doing” vs. “discipline.”

Written by Jordan McMahon in Software robots in the workplace on September 14, 2014

There’s an enormous difference between doing something and making something a way of life. 

Take fitness for example. Exercising 2-3 times a week makes a difference, perhaps  in terms of maintaining a level of energy, boosting mood, and giving you just enough to claim you’re keeping up with your New Year’s resolution of “exercise more.” But when it comes to being a transformative practice that actually produces tangible benefits, experts agree that fitness needs to be a way of life. For those people who work out 30 minutes every day and are reaping the benefits of weight loss, metabolic increases, and improved cardiovascular health, exercise is more than something they “do;” it’s ingrained. Fitness is a habit. Fitness has become a discipline.

The same can be said of robotic process automation. Those using automation software unarguably would attest to the benefits: hours of manual labor saved, errors reduced, and revenue preserved to name the most obvious ones. A vast majority of these companies purchase automation software to address a specific need, web data extraction for instance, and the software is used almost singularly for that purpose. Those companies successfully automating some processes (think: exercising 2-3 times a week) are reaping significant benefits, but it follows that the next step is changing the mindset about automation from one of “doing” to one of habit. An automation discipline. 

Let’s take a closer look at what organizations “doing” automation look like as opposed to those that make automation a way of life throughout the organization. 

Automation as something that’s “done”

As mentioned before, generally companies—or more specifically, individuals—seek out automation software to streamline or speed a single process. 

The results of automating those few tasks or processes planned for are almost always one or a combination of the following: 

Error reduction

Human error is a silent killer. The most unintentional of actions can produce a ripple effect that negatively impacts a company internally, but worse, can extend beyond a company’s four walls to its customers. An incorrect price copy/pasted from a manufacturer’s website, populated in a company’s sales price sheet, and disseminated to a customer who was expecting a different number could perhaps permanently impact the relationship with that customer, who could potentially take his or her business elsewhere with the click of a button. With that in mind, it is no wonder why companies turn to automation software to eliminate the potential cost associated with human error. 

Time savings

The idea of time-savings appeals greatly to the individuals in the midst of the “busywork” that can and should be automated: copy/pasting, formatting, form filling, data entry, the list is practically endless. The difference between, say, manually transferring data from one system to another as opposed to scheduling a data transfer to occur overnight automatically, is what puts organizations on different levels in terms of efficiency where it matters most.

Productivity improvement

With an overwhelming focus on improving productivity in the workplace (in every department), companies are investing in technology that has the potential to solve problems today and tomorrow, and further, solve problems in as many corners of the organization as possible. The dead horse of “doing more with less” applies here, which is why automation software appeals; it can be purchased for a flat rate and then applied in a variety of ways across the organization, from singular time-consuming tasks like formatting all Word documents in a folder to entire processes, like integrating applications. 

Constant compliance

Automation software helps organizations maintain and prove compliance with industry and/or government regulations in a number of ways: auto-generating reports, surfacing information regarding new regulations, control testing, and assessment of third-party providers to name a few. Arguably, constant compliance could potentially top the list of automation benefits, seeing that the alternative could result in fines, suspension or loss of license, or worse. 

Automation as a “discipline” 

When organizations move from doing automation to making it a way of life, they amplify the benefits above (error reduction, time savings, productivity, and compliance), but also reach beyond them. Automation becomes a strategy, not a solution. The more you automate, the more you increase your corresponding “automation density;” a practice that helps you create a competitive advantage. 

Growth and scaling 

Revenue growth requires scaling a business, and manual processes are pervasive obstacles to that end. As you focus on your projected revenue and expansion plans, it’s also critical to turn an eye toward the systems you have in place to run your business more efficiently, and that includes broadening the use of automation software to ensure as many processes can be completed in the fastest, most accurate way possible throughout the enterprise. Ideally, the concept behind scaling is that your business can grow with no limitations, and with software that correspondingly can automate a potentially limitless number of processes and help your business thrive in all conditions (turnovers, global expansion, etc.), you are creating an infrastructure that equips you to scale well. 

Business agility

Adapting to an endlessly changing business environment is a non-negotiable necessity in business today, and so it follows that an organization must utilize flexible business software that can quickly and easily adapt to internal and external stimuli, including course corrections or completely new initiatives. Through use of automation software, business leaders have access to critical data when they need it, improved ability to make fast and informed business decisions based on that data, the ability to increase automated commerce, and enhanced ability to grow business in new markets as they become available.

Extended value of existing investments

Automation software allows organizations to make the technology they’ve already purchased even stronger by automating functions within them and facilitating integration between them, allowing you to avoid customizations or costly upgrades. Furthermore, by integrating applications, you create a “single source of truth” from which you can draw accurate data with greater confidence. 

Improved morale and focus on overall company strategy

Eliminating cumbersome, tedious processes from your employee’s daily lives is a massive soft benefit for automation not to be ignored. An employee who wakes up on Monday knowing that he or she will be manually entering or cleaning data in a database for hours is an employee who will likely be uninspired, motivated to leave for a new opportunity (forcing you to enter into a potentially long new hire process), and unable to help contribute to the company’s future the way he and you want. The more employee time you are able to free up in every department in order to effectively focus on achieving company goals and strategies, the better chance you have of actually hitting those goals and preventing attrition of valuable talent. 

Positive brand reputation

Perhaps one of the most important continuous goals for a company is to maintain a positive brand reputation, and they way it’s done is through customer satisfaction. The ability to surface the right data at the right time, receive, process, and deliver customer orders in a timely manner, keep in touch with the user base, and have the time and bandwidth to continue innovating on your product to make it even more customer-friendly all are important to making your brand one that customers are proud to be associated with—and refuse to leave.