Three lessons app developers can teach about automation

18 June 2020 | 4108 Shares

When we are embarking on an automation project for a single department, a whole division, or the entire enterprise, it pays to learn some lessons from the experts. The application developers have, after all, been constructing code for end-users for a long time now, and although automators are essentially using “found materials ” — building blocks formed from existing applications — the desired outcomes are the same.

In short, automation experts tasked with bringing efficiencies into enterprise business processes are aiming to make life easier for users, improve customer services and the customer experience, and lower costs.

With this in mind, we can consider three of the mainstays of modern-day application development; concepts that can be rightfully applied when we are looking to manage better the processes inside the enterprise that can be improved by means of a judicious application of a little of the right technology.

Lesson one: identify the customers for your app

Any failed development company will have a back catalog of at least one application that was clever, fast, well-designed, perfectly realized, and well marketed. Overall uptake and use will have been, however, zero.

The short answer to why is that despite an application’s brilliance, if there’s no identification of and empathy with the end-users, the product will fail.

In automation terms, it’s vital to involve the people (and the technology they use) who will benefit. This is where the concept of the citizen developer is highly valuable. Using the latest low-code automation systems can (to varying degrees) empower the end-users to solve their own problems.

And even if the automation systems the end-users create are not 100% in line with the overall aims of the automation professionals that spurred them on, the involvement of “coal face workers” will yield massive benefits to the project as a whole.

Lesson two: look at the big picture

In today’s enterprises, the technology that underpins every business process is a reflection of those processes. In some cases, the technology that is deployed will have had to dictate to the business how a portion of its processes worked. That can be unfortunate.

A simple example would be an Excel sheet that’s held locally on a single person’s desktop. When the sheet needs to gain the input of other users, it has to be shared manually, so the one-person-at-a-time reality creates a process in that particular office. Colleagues won’t necessarily be sat waiting around for others to finish their input into the Excel document, but the overall process in this instance has slowed. Here, the nature of the software is dictating working methods.

An application development team here would be wise to look at the broader possibilities of how the business might work in this instance. So too should automation professionals: automating the exchange of an Excel sheet might create efficiencies but mapping the business process involved would quickly show that automation + inefficiency = slightly quicker inefficiency.

Lesson three: prepare for point releases

The concept of organizations doing one thing for many years is as outmoded as the concept these days of a job-for-life. Without responding to change, companies are left behind, watching their customer base and their profits wither away.

The fluid nature of the modern enterprise is such that any application or service that helps run it will need to change over time, sometimes quite rapidly. Development teams are, therefore, well-conversant with the concept of iterative processes, upgrades, the pushing out of new code, and the continuous attenuation and debugging that’s involved in modern software.

Automation systems are similar in that as the enterprise shifts and pivots, systems that are creating ongoing efficiencies like inter-process automations will also have to move just as fluidly.

Therefore, any framework used for automating business processes has to alter as the processes themselves do. Otherwise, the business processes become as set in stone as a static piece of software might be, and that loses any benefit that efficiency gains might have brought.

The need to keep tweaking and monitoring the automation systems that underpin the enterprise cannot be stated strongly enough. Whether your automation systems allow the smallest of “point upgrades” could be the difference between success and failure here.

Conclusion and recommendations

TechHQ thinks the following two vendors of next-generation automation solutions are very much capable of being on-the-money for most organizations. Each has clearly had its roots deep in experience in the workplace yet has innovative approaches to technology that are akin to code development methodologies.

That’s not necessarily to say that either is an enigmatic, closed-shop for Computer Science graduates only! Both are built with the “customer experience” (that is, the end-user’s experience) in mind. But the correlation between best practice in customer care and automation systems is perhaps best left to be the subject of a further article. For now, we suggest you consider one or both of the following. Happy automating!

CATALYTIC

In addition to the mapping of business processes and automations that the Catalytic platform offers, there’s also a wealth of statistics and a dashboard to present all the data the platform accrues. The dashboard means managers and business section owners can see exactly where the platform is saving them money, increasing efficiency and — conversely — where there are problems and bottlenecks.

That’s indicative of the Catalytic approach, which is highly business-oriented and realistic. On the latter score, it’s designed to be iterative and rely on improvements to automations over time. In fact, it not only expects change, but it has also been architected with the inevitable change to business processes and technology systems in mind.

The Catalytic platform is designed to be used by end-users, not reliant on expert input from (expensive) outside consultants, and yet makes no bones about the abilities required of the people who might deploy it for its advanced automation capabilities: complete IT novices will not be catered for, in the main: users happy building an Excel macro, will, on the other hand, feel fully at home.

In some ways, that’s highly reassuring. In the same way that software development isn’t easy, neither is business process mapping, management, and automation. So, this is a real-world approach to a real-world situation.

You can read more about the Catalytic automation platform, and the differences between it and old-school RPA right here.

NINTEX

With ten global offices, Nintex is a success story with a significant presence in the Americas and Europe. Its approach to automating business processes strongly emphasizes the underlying business process discovery phase of any automation project. It comes with different process discovery and mapping tools, with the same interface then used to build the automations that will drive efficiency in the medium- to long-term.

Nintex Promapp aggregates into one place representations of all processes and gives users a single point of control and access to the process automation systems. This allows different business functions to use the platform in different ways, yet with an underpinning unifying methodology that’s been proven time and again to drive huge efficiencies right across the enterprise.

The cross-platform nature of the solution was highlighted by one of the vertical-specific user case studies that the company has published. Jackie Reid of Thrift Car Rental, for example, said: “Nintex Promapp makes it a whole lot easier to not only continuously improve, but to facilitate the smooth transition from one operating system to another.”

And like all good systems of this ilk, there’s a good deal of emphasis placed on attenuation — tweaking the results — so the business can adapt its now leaner systems to new eventualities going forward.

You can read more about Nintex here.