Best Practices For Manufacturers To Automate Business Processes

The time is now for manufacturers to embrace the new world of automation — before it is too late.

Many manufacturers are currently reorganizing and improving their operations and business processes to be ready for an increasingly competitive digital age. Consumers and businesses demand individualized products delivered on short notice forcing manufacturers to adopt new automation changes, cost structures and operating models. At the same time, many manufacturers face increasing competition globally. However, technological breakthroughs in areas such as automation and analytics have also opened new opportunities.

Many manufacturers are currently trying to improve and automate their business processes and core operations such as purchasing, logistics and production, with some relying on management consultants for these major initiatives.

Unfortunately, the projects are lengthy and costly, often delivering mixed results. The challenge is that historically grown organizations tend to become so multi-faceted and complex that they are hard to transform while running full steam ahead. One of the main challenges is to gain transparency about today’s business processes.

For example, let’s take a manufacturer that would like to improve and further automate the procurement process. The goal is to handle 70 percent of all purchase orders fully automatically in the future.

To achieve this goal and implement an efficient robotic process automation, the manufacturer needs to make the purchasing operation fully transparent. Only an exact understanding about what’s necessary and how the organization works can be the basis for automating effectively. Likely, this analysis will be the most time-consuming part of the entire project as defining rules and training robots is easy once you know how everything is supposed to work.

Fortunately, manufacturers now have a new technology at hand called Process Mining that makes such business transformation initiatives much easier.

Think of Process Mining as an x-ray scanner for your business operation. It automatically analyzes how an organization works and creates full transparency about all ongoing business processes based on the data that employees and systems generate using IT systems. Process Mining not only creates full transparency, it also finds inefficiencies and potential for further optimization.

Best Practices for Automating Business Processes

Manufacturers can quickly and easily automate their business process and realize immediate benefits by following these key best practices fueled by Process Mining techniques.

First, manufacturers must understand that data always fuels automation — and data is like the oil robots operate on — it’s the only input they can factor into their decisions and actions. Therefore, for any part of the organization a manufacturer seeks to automate, they need to implement Process Mining techniques to uncover all the data and achieve 100 percent transparency about what’s going on today, including the implicit and explicit data points human workers currently factor into their decisions and actions right now.

Let’s go back to the example of the manufacturer that seeks to automate their procurement process -- which is currently operated by purchasing managers — with the goal of automating 70 percent of purchase order management in the future. The first step is to gather the data to automate the processes. To avoid a long and painful process of interviews, iterations and errors due to details that were accidentally omitted, the manufacturer can use Process Mining to automatically gather all the data that will make the purchasing process 100 percent transparent. They must uncover who purchases which materials at which point in time and for what reasons to define the triggers that kick-off these purchases automatically. And, they must understand how the purchases are conducted as well as which process variations exist and how exceptions are handled so they can properly train the robot on how to manage the purchase order process. Lastly, after implementing the automation, they must ensure that everything works perfectly on a consistent basis. Mistakes must be spotted immediately so they can be corrected as soon as possible. This is another area where Process Mining plays a key role following the go-live of the automation implementation.

With the right automation in place, manufacturers now have the power to completely change business processes and transform their businesses by making dramatic improvements to product offerings and overall operational efficiency, cost-savings and flexibility. And the time is now for manufacturers to embrace the new world of automation — before it is too late.

Alex Rinke is the co-founder and co-CEO of Celonis.