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By Mikel Lindsaar

How to get your Business Process Automation project approved

In the modern world, Process Automation Software is a hot topic. Every day I talk with reinteractive's clients about the challenges they face to build out the latest aspect of their organisation. But I keep seeing some having a challenging time in getting sign off on their proposal, finding it hard to properly express the benefits of the Process Automation to the organisation's stakeholders.

This article will help you find areas that might contain a return on investment (ROI) you can use to improve your business case to go ahead with your process automation proposal.

Process Automation Software ranges from simple expense claim systems to building entire new business units within the company, introducing new revenue streams. Yet even with their wide range of function, all Process Automation tools are build for one of two simple reasons; they either increase revenues or reduce costs, or both.

As I discussed in a previous article "Is my process worth automating?", I mentioned some areas you could examine to determine if there is sufficient return on investment to warrant the expensive process of building custom software to automate the process. I thought I would expand on the top revenue generating reasons giving examples and perhaps you can adapt some of these to your business case.

New Business Revenue

This sort of Process Automation Software is probably the simplest to show a return on investment because it's task is to build out a new revenue stream for the organisation.

Many of our projects have been along this line. A company has identified a new market opportunity and needs to build custom software to take advantage of it and so generate a new, previously unrealised, revenue stream as a result. Getting approvals to go ahead with this though can be very challenging due to the volume of unknowns in the plan. You are effectively attempting to pitch to the organisation that it starts a brand new sub organisation.

Having helped several companies achieve a new revenue stream through the implementation of custom software, I have found that there is a successful method of doing so which consists of first doing a preliminary investigation to determine market fit and cost / revenue streams. Then we start building a basic prototype that you can show your prospective customers and get feedback, followed by building out the product in stages gathering more and more feedback from those customers as the feature set is built and getting them involved with the development process.

Getting this type of Process Automation approved then consists of getting each successive bit of budget approved, taking back more and more validation at each step. Doing it this way is a lot simpler and also minimises the risk of the entire project allowing the organisation to pull out at any stage without wasting significant funds and time.

Increased volume of products through the process

If your organisation is looking to expand and grow its revenues, then this could be the slam dunk reason to go ahead with building Process Automation Software. One client of ours was running a multi-million dollar business with five staff in two countries. The process they were using was paper based with spreadsheets that they would store on network drives and email to each other. The process worked with five people, just, but file version conflicts were common, and updating the wrong spreadsheet was not uncommon.

This meant that the company could not expand past these five staff. It could perhaps get on a sixth person to expand operations, but with every additional person, the number of potential conflicts raised exponentially.

Building a custom web based Process Automation Software solution allowed the customer to do away with the sharing of spreadsheets and instead have the web application control the flow of the tasks through the business. This in turn meant that they could scale the number of staff with ease as the web software had no practical limits on the number of concurrent users or tasks it could keep track of.

If you can identify that a custom software solution can automate a manual process to increase the volume of products through a system, then the increased revenues will usually offset the cost of building and maintaining the software.

Increased velocity of results through the process

Similar to the volume, you can also increase velocity, or the time it takes to get a task through the process from start to finish.

The most common type of process we have seen benefit from this type of automated build is those processes that require approval and sign offs to move along the line.

One client of ours had an existing automation system, but it took up to two months to get a change from the start of the process to published on the website. As they were a large eCommerce site, this meant that planning for an event like Christmas needed to be done months before the actual event and last minute changes were a nightmare.

In rebuilding the software related to this, the client was able to reduce the completion time of changes from months to just one day and sometimes even as fast as a few hours. This change represented a massive improvement in the bottom line of that organisation due to its increased ability to respond to market changes in a timely manner. The increase in revenue from the eCommerce store more than paid for the work done to implement it.

Improved organisational compliance

One of the particularly useful things a computer does is it's inability to deal with a "maybe". To a computer, all decisions are either "yes" or "no".

This is very useful if what you are trying to handle is organisational compliance, be that with existing policy or legal requirements. A piece of software won't accept "sort of" as the answer to "is this step complete?" It has to be told either "yes it is done" or "no it is not done".

Building Process Automation Software that implements organisation compliance will usually impact the cost side of the business, reducing legal or compliance errors, but also increase revenues making sure the job was done right in the first place.

However, compliance automation can be a particularly tricky piece of software to create, because one has to avoid the rookie error of introducing more steps into an already complex process that simply discourages use of the system. For example if the compliance step is ensuring that 10 tasks are done, this is fine, but if the software requires that instead 16 tasks are done (six of which are "click here, enter this, type that, click something else") then the users of the system will start to resent the time sink aspect of the tool and it could discourage use.

Therefore, compliance automation software should be thoroughly reviewed for user experience (UX) aspects to ensure that the process flow does not make everyone's job HARDER through its implementation. This should be done with usability testing and surveys to ensure the right things are handled, usually building navigable prototypes and watching users go through it's operation in their work environment and seeing where they bog down and where the inefficiencies are.

The best way to get a compliance process automation tool approved is to break it down into stages. First get some broad ideas on what needs fixing, then get a rapid prototype built (as I mentioned in a previous article "Is my process worth automating?"). This prototype can be built for a small fraction of the overall cost and can be used to solicit support from key stakeholders because it is a touchable and real thing they can interact with and better understand the benefits.

Improved reporting capabilities

The last type I am going to cover is process automation tools that provide increased visibility into the operations of the company. Quite often this type of software is an added side benefit of a software build as opposed to the primary function, and because of this, it can be used to sweeten the deal when presenting to your stake holders.

One of our clients was getting approvals for a software build, but before he went to the CFO he made sure that there was a screen in the proposed set of prototypes which showed some of the ideas he had around custom reporting that he knew the CFO would appreciate. This improved the CFO's affinity for the tool now that she could see by investing dollars in the project would improve her ability to help the company expand further.

In summary

While the above is by no means an exhaustive list, I hope it gives you some ideas to help improve your business case in getting approval for your Process Automation Software. If you need any help or want to ask any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. To keep up to date with our business posts you can also follow us on LinkedIn.

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