What are the risks of automating my business processes? - Automation Thingies

What are the risks of automating my business processes?

Whilst there are many benefits to using automation in your business to help improve it, what about the other side of the coin? What are the disadvantages of using automation or semi-automation in your business?


1. Accidently introducing complexity

When you have complex processes or complex software tools, there’s the possibility of creating a “clumsy” automation. This means that the automation can end up being complicated to use, or requires some convoluted human steps in order to use it. This might mean the ‘input’ tasks to kick off an automation become fiddly to do and therefore makes it harder, not easier, for your team to use this automation.

e.g. you have an automation that takes input from a standard form to create an order for a customer. However, the form is complicated and has 20 questions in order for the automation to work. That means your staff have to think harder (this is called cognitive load) in order to use the automation.

Possible problems: staff members procrastinate using the automation, creating a bottleneck. Or the team resist using the automation, and use shortcuts.

Possible solutions: use feedback from your employees to refine the automation to make it more user-friendly.


2. Overcoming change within your team

Any software systems invariably have a technical element to them, and that’s even more likely when you introduce automation. When you introduce something more technical, or at least something ‘feels’ or ‘looks’ more technical, you’re going to meet resistance from certain employees who will self-identify as ‘technophobes’ or ‘not great with technology’ or ‘hating anything technical’. These staff members will resist any business automation that you wish to introduce, regardless of how simple (or complex) the automation is.

e.g. you have a new piece of software that makes it simple and easy to create audit reports for prospective clients. It’s a simple tool, but there might be up to 35 questions that need answering by your staff in order to create the report. Previously your team have been using Excel spreadsheets to manually create reports. Even though the tool is easier, the automated tool is new, and therefore the technically-resistant staff members complain about using the software.

Possible outcomes: Some staff will complain or create negativity within the team when using a new automation. You might even have staff members resist using new tools altogether.

Possible solutions: You might need to invest in training, or potentially implementing ideas based on feedback from the non-technical staff members. The latter particularly helps your team feel as if you’re listening to what they need.


3. Systems are awkward or uncomfortable to use

This is a problem that’s easy to identify, but might be difficult to resolve, depending on the specific implementation of your automation software. I’m sure that you’ve used an app or software tool before that’s just painful to use. What happens? You don’t use it!

With any automation project you have, as best as you can, bear in mind how you want your employees to use the software. Make it simple and intuitive to use. The more difficult the software is to use, the harder it will be for your team to use the technology with automating processes.

Possible outcomes: You might have team members who won’t even use the new platform.

Possible solutions: As above, you can implement training on a regular basis, or use ideas from your employees to make the automations easier to use (where possible).


4. The automation platform is not flexible enough to handle all situations

If your business automation only works for 80% of situations, but is not flexible enough to handle the other 20% of situations, it’s likely you’re going to create friction (mostly for your employees). When implementing automation, there’s a balance you’ll need between being flexible and ensuring you have efficiency.

e.g. You have a marketing automation form that allows prospective clients to request a quote from you as an accountant. However, whilst most applications can be calculated automatically from the data your prospective customers provide, there is a portion of your applications that can’t be calculated automatically due to some nuances specific to them.

It’s actually really difficult to create automations to handle all situations. If there’s a risk that you have an automation doesn’t cover 100% of what you need to automate your process, then you need a ‘path’ to handle exceptions.

In this situation, you can still collect all of the relevant information from your prospective client, but simply create an automated way for your employees to be notified so that they can create a manual proposal.  As you can imagine, the manual element of this process introduces friction by slowing down the sales path. Yet there are opportunities to have a human conversation with your client, which can often create new sales opportunities once you have an insight into them as a person.

Possible outcomes: You might end up creating new work or challenges by only being able to use automation for some situations and not others.

Possible solutions: You might need to create better written manual processes for the situations that can’t be automated.


5. You end up having reliability challenges with your automation

This is probably the most frustrating element of automation, when you have sporadic glitches with the process. It’s quite normal to have systems that ‘go down’ (i.e. become unresponsive) for short periods of time. There are certainly things that can be done from a reliability perspective to ensure that the automated workflow continues once a system returns to being online again. This is something that often requires further investment to ensure that you have tools within your process automation that ‘tries again’, and notifies you when there’s a problem.

Possible outcomes: Data or information can go missing when an automation fails.

Possible solutions: Invest in systems that repeat failed tasks until they complete successfully.


6. Having technical support to help you fix automation errors

Things will go wrong sometimes. And some systems will give you very cryptic error messages when there’s a fault or error in an automated workflow.  Unless you’re very technical yourself, you’ll probably benefit from a technical specialist in automation to fix the errors that occur (or to just reassure you if something isn’t a problem). In some cases, you might need monitoring tools to be implemented within multiple processes so that you can have a birds-eye view of what’s going on with data within your company.

Possible outcomes: Errors in your automations could slow your team down, depending on the severity of the fault.

Possible solutions: Work with someone who’s a specialist in creating and fixing business automations.


7. Data compliance – ensuring that you meet the right standards

If you belong to a governing body or have an ISO accreditation, you’ll have certain standards you’ll need to commit to. That might be audit trails, speed of implementation, specific data privacy policies, metrics and more.

Some software tools will be designed to implement those compliance requirements. Whereas some software tools will not. That is likely to pose a challenge for you when you wish to automate manual tasks but you have the additional governance requirements placed on you and the organisation.

Possible outcomes: You might have challenges finding software suitable for your automation needs for certain requirements and regulations.

Possible solutions: Work with an automation specialist and your compliance consultant to help you craft technical solutions that meet the standards you’re expected to meet.


8. Protecting your data (and that of your clients, customers and prospects)

A critical element of any process you use for replacing manual tasks, is how you’re going to ensure you’re protecting the data of your clients and prospects. There are often several moving parts when you have even a modest number of automations, which means there’s a risk with each system that holds or processes data.

Each system or application you use within an automation is at risk of a security breach (i.e. being hacked). Therefore what steps are being taken to protect your business data? How often is data being removed? How much data are you storing? If there is a breach, and information is released, what impact does that have?

This is a general risk of business as I’m sure you’re aware. If you hold any data or information, it needs to be protected.

Possible outcomes: Each system in your automation ecosystem is at risk of being hacked.

Possible solutions: Verify what steps each software platform uses to protect your data, and ensure any custom systems protects (and regularly purges) data to avoid retaining data for any longer than necessary.


9. Implementing automation is often front-loaded

This simply means that when you have automations designed and implemented, your investment is likely before you see the returns. The return from your investment (ROI) can take months to become apparent in the business. And, in some cases, that ROI might not even happen at all. Or, measuring the ROI might be practically impossible as the metrics are difficult to identify.

Your strategy for using automation within your business simply needs to be considered to ensure it’s a good fit for you at that moment in time.

Possible outcomes: It might take months or longer for you to see the returns from investing in automations.

Possible solutions: In some cases, you may be able to implement prototype or ‘good enough’ automations so that you can benefit from some returns on your investment to help you raise cashflow for a more complete and detailed automation.


10. Losing your personal touch and becoming ‘too automated’

As a final risk, and arguably the most important, there’s a risk of your organisation losing its personal touch with your customers and clients. If your customers or clients do not feel you’re listening to them and what they’re saying, they will naturally switch off from talking to you. How often have you avoided buying from a company that ‘just makes you feel like a number’ or ‘doesn’t really get you’?

Whilst you might use automated chatbots for your website to field initial enquiries, or automated emails within your marketing to help nudge a customer to reach out to you, use analytics and customer feedback to check that you’re not removing the human touch from your customer interactions.

Possible outcomes: You might find customers get fed up talking to you, or simply become less excited about talking to you.

Possible solutions: Use automations to prompt your employees to reach out to customers personally, and have human conversations.


Final thoughts

Automating business processes comes with its set of challenges alongside the efficiency gains. There’s the potential for adding unintended complexity, facing resistance from team members, and addressing data security and compliance issues. Furthermore, it’s imperative not to lose the personal touch with clients in the pursuit of automation. To mitigate these challenges, it is wise to seek feedback, invest in training, and balance automation with human engagement.