Finding key parts of processes to automate can make automation more achievable than end-to-end automation.
AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard may conjure up a limitless future of so-called touchless, automated processes that require no human intervention. But for corporates limited by the budgets and sizes of IT teams, end-to-end process automation is often an unrealistic goal. So some NeuGroup members are embracing “touched less” solutions—adopting a mindset that can go a long way toward making automation more achievable.
- At a recent session of NeuGroup for Technology Advancement, an IT project manager at a private company who works with finance teams discussed how he conceptualizes and implements automation through this lens.
- “If you look at a business process holistically, end-to-end, we can start picking out parts down to the individual process that can be touched less—that’s how we’re deploying, and that’s how automation comes to life,” he said.
Success story. The project manager walked through a recent automation the company implemented to improve purchases by the procurement team, saving hours of research time and improving decision-making.
- For example, the solution, which he calls an “AI-lite” engine, can accept a purchase request for a specific type of pencil. The engine analyzes the entire history of purchases of that kind of pencil that the company’s ever made and recommends the optimal retailer or supplier.
- While a “dream-state” automation tool might see the need for this type of pencil and make the purchase on its own, the additional steps would far prolong the design and development stages.
- Instead, the process is now touched less, as the procurement team member simply inputs the specific need and receives a recommendation they can use to save time and money.
Holistic design. One member advised that when implementing automation solutions, it’s important to think holistically about current processes that may span multiple departments. Doing so allows practitioners and technologists to zero in on designing the best practical application; though it may prolong the design process, it will ensure a more useful final product.
- Indeed, the IT project manager said internal clients often come to him imagining a new touchless process, but after considering the entire business workflow and how to address its pain points, a “touched less” solution is often what emerges.
- To arrive at that solution, the project manager first must understand the entire business process and where automation and technology can result in meaningful change, an approach he calls “design thinking.” From there, his team develops solutions that can be implemented and built upon.
Making your case. Finance teams hoping to adopt either “touched less” or touchless automation can’t lose sight of the need to prove that the effort will pay off. “For tech resources, which are very expensive, to work on big projects we need to understand the P&L impact—it could be related to things like revenue or FTE hours saved,” another member said. “If it’s a small impact, we say they should layer that into another request.”
- NeuGroup’s Kelly McClelland, who ran the session, encouraged members to step up and ask for what they need to make transformation a reality. “Technical resources might not always be where we need them to be,” she said. “Have an argument ready that an automation, however small, is going to save the organization a lot of money—you just have to build the business case.”