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How Empowering Your Workforce with Automation Leads to Innovation

Alex Zekoff

Today's business landscape is more brutal than any we've seen in recent years. Business leaders are facing unprecedented challenges, and all at once. These challenges include supply chain disruptions following the pandemic, The Great Resignation, quiet quitting, rising inflation, and an increasingly uncertain economy. Perhaps more worryingly, new challenges could be just around the corner. 

In times of crisis, we tend to focus outwards, putting all of our energy into the chaotic situations unfolding around us. However, this is often a mistake, and a costly one. An individual business has very little control over evolving market dynamics or global supply chains. 

But that doesn't mean you're powerless, either. The key to success in uncertain times is focusing inward on the things you can control. For example, you can't control inflation, but you can control and empower your workforce and the technology you use to support them. 

Your employees hold a treasure trove of information that you can capitalize on. Every worker in your company will know at least one outdated and clunky process or system that they have ideas on how to improve. But sadly, this information often never makes it to the top - to the decision-makers who can drive innovation. That's what needs to change, and this is what we're going to be diving into today.

Why Empowering Your Workforce Leads to Innovation

Before we dive into how to leverage automation to empower your workforce and prime your business for innovation, it's essential to understand the current climate around automation in today's business landscape. 

Here's the picture in simple words. Many people fear automation because they think its sole purpose is to replace jobs or, to put it another way, displace humans with cold hard machines. This isn't true. 

Technology helps improve jobs, and where it replaces them, it opens the doors for new and more creative work. For example, around 72% of the American workforce worked in "farm occupations" in 1820. Today, it's about 1.4%. That's an awful lot of jobs lost, primarily due to advancements in agricultural technology. But we don't see a world where vast swathes of the population are without work, and you don't see many people calling for bans on tractors, combines, fertilizer, GPS, and irrigation systems. 

Automation works similarly. Automation technology, like robotic process automation (RPA), leverages software robots to mimic most human-computer interactions to carry out tons of error-free tasks at high volume and speed. Or in other words, smart bots occupy a niche that humans would rather not do. 

When employees are freed from tedious, manual, and time-consuming work, they have more time to spend on more value-adding tasks - tasks that can drive a company forward even in a crisis. 

The way we think about workers has also shifted over the last five years. Today, reputable thought leaders are promoting the importance of soft skills over hard skills when it comes to innovation and business growth. 

While hard skills (technical skills like coding ability, computer skills, and industry-specific certifications) are important, they're also more vulnerable to disruption via automation. Hard skills are often repeatable, rules-based, and can be taught. But soft skills, like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, decision-making, leadership skills, adaptability, and emotional intelligence, are much harder to imitate with technology. 

By leveraging smart bots, you allow your employee's soft skills to surface. They're no longer using their brain power for mindless data entry but for tackling the most pressing issues in your business with their problem-solving skills, fostering meaningful relationships that can take your business to the next level, and coming up with innovative ideas that give you the competitive edge. 

The Quick Guide to Empowering Your Workforce With Automation

Okay, so you're ready to embark on your automation journey, but you're unsure where to begin. Don't worry. You're in the right place. Here we'll look at the different approaches you can take to leverage automation with the help of your most important resource - your employees. 

Create an RPA Team or Governance Board

Creating an RPA team or governance board with IT backing is a great place to start. You can engage employees across the business to find out where the most significant pain points exist. Which tasks take up the most amount of time? Which processes are needlessly complex and involve far too many keystrokes? Which systems are clunky, unintuitive, time vampires? 

By talking to your workers, you can begin to compile a list of processes you can automate. Next, you can assess each potential automation by its predicted ROI, efficiency boost, or time-saving ability. 

The key here is to find high-value and high-impact RPA processes. So, you might start with a long list of automation opportunities but then whittle it down to a short list of high-potential candidates. To narrow your focus further, you can assess your shortlist more closely. For example, you might assess the automation complexity of each automation opportunity. Processes that involve a high number of applications have a lot of steps, or involve a lot of discretionary decision-making may be rated as more complex. IT will be crucial in determining complexity. 

You can also assess the business value of your shortlist automation opportunities. For example, how far will it advance your organization toward its business goals? How much will it improve the customer experience? Or save on full-time employee costs? 

Start Here and Search for Use Cases by Function, Industry, or Application

Workshopping your automation opportunities is a great idea, but it's also time-consuming and relatively subjective. For example, due to competing opinions, you may run into problems assessing the business value or IT complexity of an automation opportunity. 

Sometimes, the best place to start is by seeing what's already out there. For example, thoughtful has tons of bots for almost every business process. By browsing the Thoughtful bot library, you may find certain RPA bots jump out at you. For example, you may not have considered a Case Preparation, Batch Payment Reconciliation, Credit Scoring, or Customer Intake and Setup bot because you didn't know it existed. Well, now you do. 

Define How You'll Measure RPA Performance and Start With a Single Automation

One crucial aspect to determine is how you will measure the impact of your RPA automations. Your exact metrics will vary depending on your goals, but your focus should be on demonstrating clear, quantitative value. Here are some of the factors you can consider to measure RPA success:

  • Manual hours saved: For this, you'll want to look at the number of processes you have, how many hours are saved by automating this process, how many times the process runs in a week, and the total number of hours saved in a year. 
  • Error reduction: What is the average cost per error? And how many errors occur for every hour of manual work? Understanding these metrics can help you work out the total savings due to error reduction in a year. RPA bots can leverage Optical character recognition (OCR) to extract information from the original document, eliminating the risk of typos, duplications, and missed data. 
  • Productivity gain: How much additional work can be completed due to hours saved from automation? How many new projects can happen now?

Do you have any automation opportunities that significantly boost productivity, reduce errors, or save hours? Then, this opportunity might be the best place to start. Alternatively, you could start with a very small and simple but impactful RPA bot to test your success metrics. 

Implement, Analyze, and Refine

Your work isn't done after implementing the RPA bot. Once your smart bots are up and running, it's time to assess the data and determine how much value the bot has added. This data can become your baseline for further refinement. For example, are there other systems this bot can pull data from? Are there other ways it can save man-hours? 

It's also important to note that your assessments are crucial in shaping your decision-making when choosing your next RPA bot. For example, you may find that your productivity gains are much more significant than anticipated, and select your next bot to maximize these gains. 

Final Thoughts

Employees are the backbone of your company, so let them play an active role in engineering your success. People are happiest when performing meaningful work and exercising their agency. Smart bots help usher in this more fulfilling way of working, but that process doesn't just begin when the bots go live. Instead, it happens in the days, weeks, or months beforehand when you engage your employees in automation discussions. It starts when you ask your workers what would make their job easier or what projects they'd like to work on if they weren't stuck doing manual tasks. 

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