No matter how ingenious your service might be, there’s no way around paying attention to what props it up: solid business operations. Your business’s efficiency, agility and longevity depend on the behind-the-scenes processes your clients can’t see.
To round it out, we’ll take a close look at the bigger picture: how to achieve true, long-lasting business process automation (BPA).
If you were to zoom out to observe how your team completes work, you’d see a complex map of highways. How clogged or clear your roads are dictates the pace and quality of your service output.
Business process management (BPM) refers to a systematic approach to traffic control, with the goal of making an organization’s roads (workflows) more effective, efficient and adaptable. More than just cutting costs or speeding up production, intentional BPM is understanding processes from end to end and optimizing them for peak performance.
Leaders often achieve this ideal by applying business process automation to streamline everything their teams do. But each business uses automation differently, and it’s essential to be thoughtful about which processes make the most sense to automate. In professional services, you have a lot of options for automation in various stages, from your sales process and project management to client service and invoicing.
As with most business initiatives, business process management should begin with a holistic review. You must first thoroughly understand the current state of your processes.
Begin by asking questions about each process, including:
Ideally, you'll expand this step by following Paton and González's advice from start to finish and aligning with the EOS Model ® before attempting to apply BPM.
A well-orchestrated BPM strategy integrates different types of automation to create a seamless flow of information and action. Sometimes, you can manage to entirely replace humans in an automated sequence. Other times, you’ll need your team to step in at certain steps for quality control or to maintain a personal touch.
There is no “right” level of automation to aim for, but take care not to go overboard if this is your first foray into automated systems: You have to maintain a balance between ambition and practicality so you can stick to the changes. The end goal should be to craft an agile process landscape that can support innovation and growth.
What are the best business processes to automate?
If you choose to apply it to time-consuming, manual tasks such as data entry, customer satisfaction surveys or appointment scheduling, business automation can result in significant cost savings.
We suggest professional services firms automate time tracking, client billing, project budgeting and organization-wide reporting. Read more about why you should start with these four business processes.
For a BPA initiative to succeed, it needs to encompass entire processes rather than just partial ones. Here are the factors to consider as you draft a process map to reduce inefficiencies in your business.
Stakeholder insights provide nuance. The people who are executing and affected by each process are the ones best poised to optimize it. Plus, when you get them involved, you increase buy-in and up the chances of a smooth adoption of new systems.
Like a person, no business can be vibrant and dynamic with artery blockages. Uncover where your processes are at risk using a combination of data analysis and stakeholder feedback. That way, you’ll have more confidence in the routing of new workflows.
Whether they’re for pre-populated forms, standardized email communications or service-specific proposals, templates are a great way to ensure that your automation plan becomes a company standard rather than a one-time trial.
Paton and González call the one-size-fits-all approach “a recipe for mediocrity.” You know your organization’s culture, objectives and challenges. Don’t agree to any form of automation that doesn’t align with those!
Keep in mind that pursuing business process automation does not mean making people obsolete. Instead, you’re able to redefine their roles and make greater use of their diverse skillsets.
A well-designed employee onboarding process is your first line of defense against human error. While it may be tough to transition your current employees to a new, automation-first strategy, new employees post-BPM implementation will quickly become adept at interfacing with the technology that’s part of their everyday tasks.
Long-term success, though, is about continuous learning. Training shouldn’t stop with onboarding. You’ll be upgrading and trying new systems and workflow automation practices going forward, which means unfamiliarity and misunderstanding are looming risks unless you make time for proper training.
When employees are well-trained, they’re empowered. Give your employees the autonomy to troubleshoot minor issues and make informed decisions when necessary. Chances are, they’ll see opportunities for further streamlining because they’re invested in building and executing processes.
Digital transformation is a positive consequence of the decision to dive head-first into BPM. The automated system you choose should be robust and future-proof.
Automation software is not the same as software with some built-in automation. If you’re not careful, you could end up with far too many unused and underutilized platforms. Even if all of them claim to help you automate business processes, they’ll work against your goals if they’re disjointed and limited.
To identify the best use of technology, you should map out processes before you search for an automation platform, then project six months, one year or five years down the road. Will the platforms you’re considering stand the test of time? Adopting technology takes significant time, money and human resources, and switching to new solutions every year or two can counteract the benefits of your automation strategy.
Not all automation technologies will align with professional services. Especially if you go looking for a general BPA software, you could very well come across information about robotic process automation, advanced machine learning and other things that aren’t relevant for a service firm. However, you may be able to make use of artificial intelligence, chatbots or professional services automation platforms.
Always seek out evidence of use cases, including stories about how a business like yours has achieved great results with the tool. For example, read how cloud consulting firm TradiePad applied Accelo’s automation capabilities to increase productivity by 30%.
Embracing BPA is not a one-and-done endeavor. It’s a sustained commitment. The initial surge of efficiency and cost savings can be intoxicating, but these gains can diminish over time.
The following are our top tips for ensuring that the fruits of automation continue to nourish your business.
Your clients notice when you deliver with precision, timeliness and attention to detail. But they’ll notice even more when that quality doesn’t stay consistent. If you aspire to maintain recurring relationships that drive your business for years to come, you need to establish and automate the processes that hold them up.
We’re big fans of business process automation for professional services because we’ve seen it work wonders for so many Accelo users. Get a glimpse of what you could achieve by consolidating processes throughout your client journey: Book a demo of Accelo.
Revisit this series and share your experiences or questions about process automation on LinkedIn.