Let the machines do the boring work

Low level, repetitious tasks underpin all business activity. However, these labor-intensive activities are still frequently performed manually, to the extent that they stand in the way of delivering value to customers and internal teams.

Frequently performed, standardized tasks are ripe for automation. This eliminates bottlenecks in business processes and frees everyone’s time for activities that deliver value to a business and its clients.

This blog considers the case for creating bots that accurately mimic human behavior, and how this business process automation can be implemented without a large upfront time investment or deep technical skills.

Repetitious, manual tasks slow individuals down

Let us start with a simple, but all-too-common example: the time spent identifying and converting useful information from the mass of data arriving constantly to individuals across an organisation.

Think of a sales representative’s daily routine. They might begin Monday morning with information arriving from numerous sources: 100+ emails, RSS feeds, project management platforms, chat tools, social media, customer management systems, and more.

They must quickly capture all the important information from amongst the bulk of irrelevant data, while not missing business-critical information. This includes project-critical tasks requested by a team member or manager, important commercial information like invoices and quotes, and data that could inform better decision-making regarding a possible sale.

However, many organizations still rely on repetitious, manual approaches to analyzing and aggregating useful information from a variety of sources. This often involves scanning all the information, or skipping over potentially useful data:
Challenges of Business Process Automation

The truth is, with so much information bouncing between so many point solutions, a computer with any degree of processing power and sufficient processes in place will be faster and more thorough than the human brain. Reading every item in a daily feed would constitute a full-time job, while quickly ciphering through is likely to miss at least some insights buried deep in emails or feeds.

Then there’s the impact on time and quality when the useful input must be inputted into the files and tools used across an organization. The same data must be repetitiously and laboriously copied into the range of systems used, from from spreadsheets and sprint boards, to business intelligence and project management tools.

Data entry errors further creep in, while a lack of standardization leaves fields empty and important information is left a matter of guess-work. This hinders the flow of information through a business, impeding accurate business analysis and optimization, while teams working out-of-sync with each other might overlook key opportunities, from a possible sale to the perfect candidate for a job vacancy.

For an individual employee  analyzing, aggregating, and inputting data manually into numerous tools:

    • ✘ Time is wasted repetitiously inputting Information into numerous tools;
    • ✘ Information must then be kept up-to-date manually across teams, files, and platforms;
    • ✘ Data entry errors compromise the quality and efficiency of business processes, and prevent informed decision-making;
    • ✘ A lack of standardization across tools, teams, and partners leaves fields blank and business-critical information down to guess work;
    • ✘ Time restraints mean that important information is missed. This includes commercial data, project critical tasks, and information that could provide a competitive edge.

The myth: automating business processes is prohibitively slow, complex, and technical

Now imagine this same time spent by every employee enterprise-wide, from those reading PDF invoices to update accounts systems and spreadsheets, to warehouse workers working from paper to manage stock. The minutes and errors add-up, hindering an organizations’ ability to deliver valuable services or solutions to its clients quicker than its competitors.

This is one example where there are time savings and quality gains in automating low-level processes enterprise-wide, even if an individual task only takes minutes.

Bots today can be created and effectively trained to mimic the laborious tasks undertaken by a human, doing the repetitive heavy-lifting that facilitates day-to-day work. However, many still think that these intelligent machines belong in the realm of science fiction, or at least that you need deep technical skills and years to create them.

Even if the process was simplified, many are rightly concerned about the complexity of business processes: to automate enterprise-wide, you must reckon with the range of different tools and formats used by each individual, connecting each and keeping the information synchronized across them.

Is the upfront time investment and technical ability required simply too great to make business process automation viable?

The reality: business processes can be automated quickly and easily using intuitive visual approaches

That might have been true in the past, but platforms today enable those with some technical know-how to quickly automate manual processes enterprise-wide.

Visual Integration Processor (VIP) from Curiosity Software Ireland allows users to drag-and drop common processes to a visual flowchart, rapidly assembling complex business processes.

The intuitive model then connects existing files and technologies, working in the background to mimic the work otherwise undertaken by humans. It quickly and easily creates bots that organize information across an enterprise and do the repetitive heavy-lifting for you.

The Enterprise Switchboard: all the information you need, at your fingertips

The Enterprise Switchboard from VIP provides a central information processor, which works intelligently in the background to collate and analyze the information arriving constantly from numerous sources. VIP then pushes the up-to-date data out to all relevant files and platforms, providing the latest insights to synchronized teams enterprise-wide.

Let us consider how VIP can help with the above problem of manually sifting information through numerous sources and converting it into disparate files and tools.

Firstly, flowcharts can be built to automatically scrape information from unstructured documents like emails and PDFs, and convert it into usable data. Working  from a library of common activities, this quickly removes the first manual effort described above.

VIP can furthermore automate the second manual effort set out above, the time spent sifting through the mass of data arriving constantly from numerous sources.

The data scraping flowcharts can be dragged-and-dropped into a more complex model, rapidly creating a process to identify and aggregate any useful information based on fully flexible criteria. This bot will then work like a high performance human brain to scan the constant barrage of emails, chat requests, media feeds, changes made in project management tools, and more.

The same automated process can be used to consistently convert this useful information and accurately input it in to relevant fields in files and platforms enterprise-wide. This works as a “Switchboard” enterprise-wide, directing useful information to where it is needed, when it is needed, while removing the time wasted copying the same information several times.

“Always on” monitoring will then pick up on and reflect any new information coming in, as well as any changes made in any given tool or file:

The directed information might be actions requested in emails, which are then automatically populated in Trello or Slack sprint boards, or it might be important commercial information being inputted into spreadsheets and account management tools.

This improves visibility across teams and them into close alignment. Individuals can continue using the technologies and file types which work best for them, without having to constantly convert information from the files and tools used by others. New technologies can be incorporated as easily as adding to the process flowchart, bringing people and technology together across the whole enterprise.

Automated document scraping and active information monitoring free you to focus on delivering value to the business and its clients 

Let us now look at a specific example, to see what it looks like to implement this quick and easy business process automation in practice.

A common application of the data digitization and information monitoring offered by the Enterprise Switchboard is the automatic conversion and movement of data arriving in PDF documents attached to emails.

This might be an invoice from a partner, which then needs to first be checked for any problems, before the useful information can be inputted in to any relevant spreadsheets and accounts management tools. Finally, it might be necessary to send an email update back to a supplier or manager.

These decisions and processes can be automated using a VIP flow like the following:

Automated Document Digitalisation

As seen here, the bot created quickly in VIP performs all the tasks a human might do manually, from quality checks and data validation, to keeping managers and suppliers up-to-date by email and in spreadsheets. The same process automated by this simple model can be represented as follows:

Automated Data Scraping

This is one example of how business processes can be quickly automated. Once automated, this handful of processes can be quickly dragged-and-dropped to more complex models, setting up an enterprise-wide Switchboard which incorporates the invoice management in to an end-to-end, integrated process.

Automated document scraping and the Enterprise Switchboard free your time to focus on activities that deliver value to a business and its clients. You can:

    • ✓ Let bots organise information and perform repetitious tasks, removing bottlenecks and improving accuracy in business processes.
    • ✓ Have enough structured data flowing through your systems to re-imagine and improve other business processes.
    • ✓ Optimise internal processes based on comprehensive, real-time information, to deliver market-leading services to clients.
    • ✓ Closely align teams by auto-synching information across databases, files, sprint boards, management tools, dashboards, and more.

Business process automation made easy

Realizing the benefits of enterprise-wide process automation no longer requires deep, technical skills. VIP instead provides an easy-to-use, visual platform for quickly creating bots that mimic the manual laborious tasks you perform daily.

This allows you to focus on delivering value to the business and its clients faster, and at less cost. The Enterprise Switchboard further allows you to draw on the mass of data arriving constantly into your organization, acting upon informed decisions as soon as opportunities arise.

High performance bots will then work invisibly to analyze the information and synchronize it across tools. New and existing technologies can be incorporated quickly and easily into the automated processes, allowing teams to collaborate seamlessly while using the technology that works best for them.

Image: WikiCommons.