Analysis without Paralysis: 8 Steps to Selecting Process Automation Projects

By Jeffrey Piper posted 05-01-2012 23:51



I have an insanely fun job! I get to work with wicked smart people who are passionate about helping organizations of all sizes solve document management and workflow challenges. Best of all, I get to talk to customers everyday and ask questions like: “How could we help you get more value out of our service?”  “What should we be doing more or what should we be doing less?”

Lately, I’ve been hearing, “We think process automation/workflow might be good for us, but how do we target the right process?” “There seems to be several types of “process tools” out there, but which one is right for us?” Isn’t process automation expensive?”  This blog post deals with the “right process” question; I’ll address the other questions later this month.

It’s easy for a CIO or some other executive to proclaim that it’s time to automate business processes and then task a project team to get to work. Or teams may decide enough is enough, and set out to address the largest or most immediate pain point.  We all know that there are so, so many processes that could be streamlined with process automation or workflow. 

So the team dives into the project only to find out later that they don’t really have a grasp on the process, they missed lower hanging fruit or stakeholders aren’t willing to fully engage.  A formal ROI study is certainly one way to begin vetting processes to find good automation candidates, but as a first step you can prioritize using a simple 2-step process

The first place to start is with key stakeholders and subject matter experts (SME) willing to participate in the project?  A bad business process automated is just a bad process fast. Without SME participation, there is little hope of solid requirements, the foundation of any success process automation project.

From there, you can do a rough priority of value using the following checklist of common business process characteristics.  The more points, the more likely it is that you have a good candidate

1.   Do employees, customers or vendors participate in manual repetitive tasks? These processes represent golden opportunities for process automation. (e.g. invoice approval, claims processing)

2.   Would losing a knowledge worker have a significant negative impact (e.g. badly missing KPI’s) on the process?  Good news! It’s actually possible to reduce the risk of losing a key knowledge worker by capturing and systemizing their knowledge.

3.   Is your industry highly regulated? Is security or access control important? Is compliance with standards crucial?  Process automation determines who, what, when and how processes occur, and provides and audit trail.

4.   Is there an opportunity to make this process mobile? As AIIM research has shown, just the ability to make a process mobile can accelerate responsiveness to inquiries 2.7x. (

5.   Are remote employees (or partners, vendors, customers) required to participate in the process? Is work coordinated across multiple departments?  Process automation is great way to organize virtual teams to ensure that right work is done right and on time.

6.   Are there work delays or “stoppage” because an employee doesn’t have or can’t find items to work on? Automation can distribute and “push” work to the next, best available employee rather than depending on them to “pull” a piece of work. This ensures that employees always have work in their queues.

7.   Is managerial or executive oversight important? Is it difficult due to poor visibility into the process? Gain historical perspective based on quantitative data to assist managers make high quality decisions. 

8.   Is access to multiple business systems required to complete tasks (e.g. email, ERP, business applications)? Toggling between systems and interfaces is tedious. Process automation can tie together a variety of systems accessed through a common user interface.

Try this list out on a few of your potential projects.  Your mileage may vary, but I advise customers to start with projects that have at least 4 points, and you may find that you will have many projects at 5 to 7 points.

Now that you’ve identified your projects, check back soon for my thoughts on how to select appropriate process automation tools for different projects, and real world approaches to process automation that don’t blow through your budget. 

#BPM #BusinessProcessManagement #EnterpriseContentManagement #workflow #processautomation