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Business Process Automation a Key Strategy for Knowledge-Worker Organizations

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October 31, 2010

Business Process Automation a Key Strategy for Knowledge-Worker Organizations

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

During the past 20 years, much has changed in the U.S. business market. Our economy is now very much dominated by service rather than product organizations. It seems clear that organizations with knowledge-worker focuses will be a cornerstone of 21st century business growth. Yet, in this recession, those very companies are struggling to find ways of doing more with less without detracting from the value of their services.

No doubt, technology will play a key role the success or failure of knowledge-worker companies. Just how technology should be used, though, remains an open question. This is the topic of a new Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert) white paper on business process automation (BPA).

The white paper’s author, Interactive Intelligence product manager Gina Clarken, recalls that back in the early 1990s, consultants Thomas Davenport and Michael Hammer pioneered a new business management concept called Business Process Re-Design, or BPR for short. Davenport and Hammer called managers to task for attempting to automate “non-value adding work” by applying technology automation, rather than simply eliminating the work.

BPR caught on for a while, but by the mid-1990s this method of reengineering business failed to consistently produce significant performance improvements as promised. The pendulum swung in another direction as a successor concept, Business Process Management, or BPM, became the new hot idea.

Unlike BPR’s focus on eliminating non-value adding work, BPM emphasized business process efficiency supported by information technology. While BPM may have had a more balanced focus than BPR, it too has come under criticism, albeit for a different reason. Opponents of BPM say it discounts the important role people play in a knowledge worker-driven economy.

Now, further balancing out the picture, another concept has entered the scene: Business Process Automation, or BPA. Business process automation takes a middle-of-the-road, moderate approach to running efficient companies without discounting the value of workers.

BPA, Clarken says, “is not solely reliant on technology, but rather, is best suited for people-centric processes.” As a structured process for helping organizations work more efficiently by carefully utilizing technology, BPA has five key advantages. These are outlined below.

Business Objective Alignment. BPA enables real, fast ROI by acknowledging that, when it comes to technology, cost and revenue objectives may not be mutually exclusive. It allows companies to consider using technology to product the same output with fewer resources or to increase output with the same or fewer resources.

Gets the Right People Involved. BPA requires involvement from internal stakeholders at multiple organizational departments. It’s a business-driven initiative with IT support.

Identifies the Right Processes for Automation. BPA’s goal is to improve processes that involve people, rather than focusing on eliminating work that involves people. It is best applied to highly manual, repetitive, pre-defined, multi-step processes that rely on communication between people across departments or teams.

Starts Small and Grows. BPA works best when applied incrementally to constituent parts or mission-critical processes. Success in one area build momentum, making automation-focused change less overwhelming.

Ensures Selection of the Right Technology. BPA provides a proven structure for determining, on the first go-around, what technology will help people perform their work more effectively. This is key for knowledge-worker companies that can’t afford to wait several years for ROI when implementing technology solutions. 

“BPA should focus equally on strategy, people, the process for automation, and technology,” Clarken notes in the whitepaper. “Beginning with clear business objectives, involving the right people, automating the right processes, selecting the right technology and supporting both ‘quick win’ and continuous improvement initiatives will go a long way toward enabling your organization to realize that value.”

Mae Kowalke is a TMCnet contributor. She is Manager of Stories at Neundorfer, Inc., a cleantech company in Northeast Ohio. She has more than 10 years experience in journalism, marketing and communications, and has a passion for new tech gadgets. She holds a bachelor's degree in communications from Thomas Edison State College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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