Last week I was talking to an executive friend of mine about the trouble his company is having attracting talent. There’s a lot of interest from potential employees, he said, until his company’s outdated approach to process management puts them off. The business is digitally immature, and its recruitment is paying the price.
This just goes to show that automating business processes is not just crucial to companies’ success externally but internally as well. It goes without saying that in 2021 companies need to offer their clients and partners a seamless digital experience. What my friend discovered the hard way is that it’s just as important to offer that same seamless digital experience to employees, particularly new (and younger) recruits, many of whom are digital natives.
Companies rushed into digitalization by COVID-19
Even before the pandemic reshaped nearly every aspect of daily life, a 2019 Information Technology & Innovation Foundation report called automation “an urgent societal imperative.”
In both public and private sectors, the report concluded, increased automation has the power to “significantly boost societal productivity, which would help address challenges such as wage growth, aging populations, rising health-care costs, environmental restorations, global competitiveness, and public sector debt.”
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process, forcing businesses that weren’t digitally mature to grow up quickly. The first step was to automate communication (moving meetings online to facilitate remote work). This was the bare minimum that organizations had to do on their way to digital maturity.
To be a digital business in the post-COVID world means having the right mix of software solutions and tools that meet your business needs today and tomorrow. It’s imperative that you are able to leverage these technologies to quickly adapt to expected, and unexpected, changes that face your business. While the pandemic pushed businesses to take initial steps toward digital maturity from a communication perspective, many still have growing up to do when it comes to the next step — automating processes.
Digital automation allows for agility
As the marketplace changes, how do you ensure your business is agile enough to react? Digital automation. We recently worked with a construction company that needed a way for employees to check into a job site. Within 24 hours, we created a digital form that could send data into a system of record. Instead of needing to hire someone to stand at the gate and check people in across multiple job sites, the construction company was able to automate the process. That’s just one example where having a digital business platform or automation software allowed a business to swiftly and efficiently meet marketplace demands as they evolved.
Even if you’re dealing with an old system, digital automation is still an option. While most automation platforms rely on web services that legacy systems don’t have, robotic process automation (RPA) allows for interaction with older systems. RPA is also an ideal solution for highly repetitive processes. Take the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) created by the government to help small businesses during the pandemic. Entering all the loan applications is the kind of repetitive process that RPA is designed to handle.
Prioritizing digital capabilities
It’s easy to present yourself to customers as a digital business with simple options like online forms, but true digital maturity comes from automating internal processes. But this doesn’t mean you need to automate across the whole organization. When it comes to prioritizing digital capabilities, it’s better to be nimble and focus on the highest value opportunities that require the lowest level of effort. That way, you’re very quick to show value and quick to implement changes as you go along the digitalization journey. In taking a strategic approach to automating one thing at a time, you’re able to build momentum, getting more of the organization on board as you go.
Business processes as strategic assets
It’s easy to identify the people in your organization as assets. But what about the documentation and knowledge of processes that are stored in the minds of these people? That knowledge needs to be treated as an asset, too.
I just spent two days with an organization that was working to digitize every single one of its business processes — who was responsible for each of those processes, who executed on them, who needed to be included and consulted on those processes. Why? Because they understand that business processes are part of your organization’s intellectual property and need to be treated as such.
Digitally documenting those processes means you’re protecting those assets, and reducing the risk of an individual not being able to communicate them when they need to be executed by someone else at a later date. Whether it’s pandemic-related turnover or winning the lottery, people are going to leave your organization. Digital documentation protects your assets, making it so that a new employee can step in with minimal disruption.
Documentation leads to improvement
The true value in documenting is that once you’ve captures a process, the transition to automation is a smooth and natural one. Once you get processes out of your mind and down on paper, you start to see a lot of opportunities to automate. Digitizing allows you to easily identify pitfalls, zero in on areas where you need to make improvements, and report and efficiently analyze information. You reduce the number of errors, do away with redundant repetitive tasks, and free up your time to focus on the process as a whole and on how to continuously improve it.
Digital maturity is easier than you think
Many businesses avoid getting the digital ball rolling because they’re afraid it will be too complicated, time-consuming and expensive. But today there are digital business and automation platforms that are surprisingly easy to use and powerful. You don’t need a developer or even technological expertise to automate workflows and business processes. Without spending a ton of time or effort or money, your company can create and sustain its own digital footprint — and attract highly-skilled, motivated employees in the process.