You’ve probably heard that business process automation—the method of automating tasks that are part of business processes—can help your company work faster, be more productive, and even save money. Sounds great, right? But what does business process automation look like in practice?
In this blog post we’re going to look at some real-life scenarios where business process automation can help your business be more efficient, provide better quality products/services and promote collaboration.
Problem 1: Bottlenecks in your current business processes
You need to order more materials to finish an order for a client. But before you can purchase the materials, the PO needs to be approved by someone. You’re in a hurry: if the PO isn’t approved by the end of the day, you won’t get the materials in time, and your workers won’t be able to finish the order on schedule.
What you do now: finish the PO and email the approver to let them know it’s a rush job. Hope they see your message and review the PO in time.
Automated solution: Set up a workflow to automate the inventory management process. The system reviews current and upcoming orders, reviews material levels, and automatically creates a PO for more materials when it sees that supplies are running low. The approver receives the PO and approves it with plenty of time, and you receive the materials before you even realize you need them.
Problem 2: Human error and data entry
A maintenance technician is writing up a fault report. The fault code for this particular issue is 4001B. The technician enters fault code 4001N—which is a valid fault code, but for an entirely different problem. Fixing a 4001B error is relatively simple, but 4001N is much more complex and requires more time, special tools, etc. Because the technician used fault code 4001N on the report, the customer is billed for significantly more than they should have been.
What you do now: apologize, manually update the fault report, issue a refund to the customer, apologize again.
Automated solution: Set up a barcode scanning solution and take human error out of the equation. Instead of manually entering the fault code, the technician scans a barcode on the machine which transmits the correct fault code (and any other required information) right into the fault report. The system automatically triggers a workflow based on the fault code and guides the technician, step-by-step, through the proper procedure. No more data entry errors, no more incorrect billing, no more apologies to customers.
Problem 3: Silos in your business systems
You’ve received a new order for 100 units of product A. The new order is entered into your ERP, then printed out and handed over to the shop floor. The order is then re-entered into your MES, where it’s scheduled for the next day. Overnight, the customer sends an email to their account manager saying they want to change their order: now they want 75 units of product A and 50 units of product B. The account manager gets into the office at 9am, but the shop floor starts working on the order at 7am. So, the change order doesn’t get to the shop floor until the original order is already in progress. Now the shop floor have to spend another day working on this order, and they have 25 extra units of product A.
What you do now: the shop floor spends twice as much time as they need to on the order. You end up with 25 extra units of product A (and nowhere to store them).
Automated solution: Connect your ERP and MES so that they can share information. When the customer places an order, the order is entered into the ERP and scheduled in the MES at the same time. The account manager can see when the shop floor will work on the order, and the shop floor can see any changes to the order in real-time. This eliminates the need to enter and re-enter information into multiple systems, and makes your whole operation more adaptable to change.
Process automation can make a real impact on business efficiency. Not only that, it can make work easier for everyone involved. But setting up good automated processes takes knowledge and skill.
Learn more about process automation for beginners here, and learn more about the discipline of business process management here.