What Process Should You Automate First? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

Published By R-Path Automation

Published On July 11, 2022

You’ve decided to bring process automation into your business model. Now you face a crucial decision: what will you automate first? The choice you make is key to ensuring continued trust among the stakeholders and decision-makers in your organization. Early success is vital to convincing stakeholders of the long-term viability of process automation. 

The decision may feel overwhelming. Perhaps you had a process in mind starting out, but you’re now unsure whether it’s the right one. You feel, rightly, that this decision will have a major impact down the line. And you want to balance operational success with maintaining the confidence of the members of your team.

That’s normal—but don’t let the pressure of this decision render you unable to act. We’ve put together a list of five questions that will help you narrow your focus in choosing a process to help build the foundation for your automation capability. Consider these points as a kind of checklist: the more questions you answer “yes” to in regards to a particular process, the better a candidate that process will be for automation.

1. How many people are involved in the process?

At the start of your automation journey, it’s wise to focus on tasks performed by one or just a few people, ideally within a single business function. You can collaborate directly with these employees, communicate with ease, and more seamlessly navigate any issues that come up. Keeping things simple in the early going increases your chances of success in the long run. 

Once you’ve successfully automated a number of processes on a smaller scale, you’re ready to expand into larger processes that cut across multiple roles or departments, such as a quote-to-cash process. By this time, you’ll have worked out various kinks in the process and be ready to tackle challenges at a larger scale.

2. What are the types of tasks involved in the process?

Process automation is, put simply, the delegation of tasks to machines—most often computer programs using automated scripts. Such programs tend to perform better at some tasks than others. With that in mind, your first process automation effort is more likely to succeed if you choose a process involving tasks that are similar each time, rather than dynamic and evolving. 

For instance, data entry is a common first candidate for process automation because it’s highly straightforward, with little variation between tasks. You can develop a bot that will extract relevant data from documents you receive from clients and input it into your relevant database. All else being equal, this is a strong test case, allowing you to demonstrate your ability to integrate robotic process automation into your workflow.

3. How defined is the process?

This question requires you to consider your own understanding of the process. If you had to verbally give step-by-step instructions on how the process is completed to a teammate, would you be able to guide them to successful completion of the task?

You should also consider how common exceptions are within the process, and how you deal with them when they arise. Do you commonly assume a “happy path” scenario—in which there are no exceptions or errors—or have you developed the process to the point where you can readily deal with exceptions? The more common exceptions are, the less likely it is that your process will be an ideal first candidate for process automation.

4. How repetitive is the process?

As in question #2, a process that is the same every time is easier to automate than one which is highly situational. Consider, also, how often the process is performed. High-volume processes are more valuable in terms of cost savings. The process you automate has to occur frequently enough that you can expect substantial time or cost savings or employee benefits from automation. 

For instance, monitoring external systems or websites is a common process that may be a good candidate for process automation. If you’re checking an external system every day for market information, factors affecting your business or supply chain, or other new developments relevant to your industry, using an automated program to pull that information will save your team significant time. It will also give them the chance to devote more attention to interpreting the data since they no longer need to spend time gathering it.

5. Is the process rules-driven?

Bots (or automated scripts) rely on rules to function. There’s no room for indeterminacy from the computer’s perspective. That’s why rules-driven processes make better candidates for automation. With clear-cut, unambiguous decision points, it’s much easier for the script to carry out the process from beginning to end.

Of course, more nuanced automation solutions—developed by an experienced RPA team—can account for exceptions and error handling. But when it comes to the first test case for process automation within your enterprise, it’s better to begin with a candidate that’s guided by straightforward and repeatable rules.

Laying the foundation for automation capability

The first step in any new undertaking is often the hardest. But when it comes to process automation, that doesn’t have to be the case. With the five questions above as a guide, you can find a process that will lend itself to automation with fewer headaches, prove to your stakeholders the value that process automation provides, and lay the groundwork and capacity for further automation.

If you’re ready to bring automation to your business, contact R-Path Automation to learn more about how our solutions work for you.