- By Preeti Lobo
- September 22, 2022
Shop floor management, supply chain processes, and back-office operations can benefit from business process automation.
Manufacturers face the daunting task of maintaining a leg up on competition within an ever-growing global market. Business process automation can provide an edge to companies looking to streamline work order, supply chain and back office processes; however, many leaders do not know how to start their journey.
When first installing automation into day-to-day business operations, manufacturers must consider those three distinct areas. Shop floor management, supply chain processes, and customer/back-office operations are the heart of any manufacturing business, yet too often manufacturers ignore ways to heighten efficiencies in these areas. High volume, mundane or intensive manual assignments such as data entry are often prone to error and are a burden on employees. Automation provides relief and heightens productivity for duties that don’t require a high level of cognitive thinking, creating a layer of efficiency that previously did not exist. Companies should consider how to integrate automation into day-to-day procedures to support the business and the workforce in an increasingly competitive global market.
How do I know if my organization is a good candidate for automation?
Just because a task is manual doesn’t make it suitable for automation. When evaluating whether a process is ripe, organizations need to look for unchanging sequences that have been in place for at least 6 months and responsibilities that rely on if/then logic. If multiple people in different divisions are doing the same task, this is a sign it's time to streamline efficiencies and implement automation. It’s important to note that it cannot be used as a quick fix for a faulty practice. Before a manual activity can be automated, leaders must ensure it is already as efficient as possible, even when performed manually. Only then can automation be used to perfect the process.
Leaders who are thinking about how practices can be improved should consider, “How can we make things more streamlined and efficient?” Look at your division, divide it into sub-functions, and ask yourself, within each sub-division: What challenges has our team faced? Are any current duties related or prone to manual errors? Could these assignments be automated?”
For example, imagine the following scenario in back-office operations. Employee A prints an invoice. The physical invoice travels between multiple departments with employees B, C, and D all adding notes in varying degrees of legibility. Finally, employee E receives the invoice. They are then tasked with deciphering messy handwriting and manually inputting several data points into a computer. This is a great example of a broken system that would benefit from automation. Alternatively, each division could directly input their data into a shared system, saving time, decreasing the risk of error, and allowing for cross departmental collaboration.
How do I decide where to start?
For teams dipping their toes into automation for the first time, start small. Rather than engaging within a large-scale project, consider focusing on one division and programming two to three activities. Evaluate to see how the changes benefit your department. Once automated practices have been successfully implemented, communicate your experience with others to determine if it could be replicated within other divisions. The following encompasses a few examples of where automation could be implemented in different areas.
Business automation in action: CRM
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is imperative for any organization trying to create greater efficiency around consumer engagements, improve overall productivity and bolster growth. Happy customers have a direct effect on the bottom line, ensuring revenue is set and helping to cement a strong presence in the market. Manufacturers should consider what steps in the CRM could benefit from automation.
Chatbots are a prime example of automation within CRM. Chatbots can be programmed to answer customers’ basic questions such as “When is my order ready?” or “How do I update my address?” Chatbots can also assist with items such as helping customers change their order quantity. Rather than forcing customers to wait for a representative to be available, chatbots ensure customers can quickly receive their answers and employees can focus on more meaningful work. While representatives are needed for questions beyond the bots’ abilities, chatbots have the capacity to immediately translate questions and identify the proper keywords to transfer a customer to the correlating department, further saving time and streamlining the customer journey.
Soon, businesses may not need to rely on their leaders to decide which procedures are best suited for automation. Nowadays, companies are turning towards process mining software—a program designed to evaluate ongoing responsibilities and propose where efficiencies can be improved. Process mining is a growing field with many organizations wanting a faster way to identify inefficiencies that don’t require prolonged conversations between multiple departments. Process mining is likely to continue to grow in popularity in 2022 and become more widespread in 2023.
In today’s competitive global market, manufacturing leaders must consider how integrating automation into day-to-day procedures could support their organization’s ongoing efforts. Removing mundane and repetitive manual tasks provides relief to employees, heightens productivity and creates a new layer of efficiency. Employers should start small, looking for a handful of tasks within one department that have been in place for more than 6-months and require an unchanging sequence of events. Starting here will help organizations perfect and streamline processes, preparing them for their larger automation journey.
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