Herman Singh, founder and CEO of Future Advisory.

Herman Singh, founder and CEO of Future Advisory.

Business process automation (BPA) plays an important role in eliminating the "messy middle" business processes which are monotonous for employees and cumbersome for organisations.

This was the word from Herman Singh, founder and CEO of Future Advisory, speaking last week at ITWeb BPM and Automation Summit 2019, held in Johannesburg.

Discussing the challenges and opportunities of BPA, Singh pointed out that evolving technological advancement has led organisations to implement the latest technologies at a rapid pace, resulting in islands of automation within various business units. These islands, unable to easily communicate with each other, result in time-consuming and repetitive "messy middle" processes.

BPA is the golden thread that helps tackle the "messy middle" by bridging the gaps between the islands, creating better collaboration between the finance, procurement, call centres and human resources departments and increasing organisational efficiency, explained Singh.

"BPA is about automating the workflows which move multiple content or tasks from one place to another, while accommodating exceptions and conditions by applying user-defined rules.

"Think about applying for an ID book, which should be a remarkably seamless process: you take a picture, take fingerprints, add a barcode, fill in an application form, make a payment and leave. This should be a seamless process that should only take a few minutes. So why is it that it often takes a few weeks or sometimes even months for the applicant to receive the ID they applied for?"

The answer, he asserted, is the people who are involved in the messy middle everyday operations. These employees are oftentimes perceived as the weakest link, due to their inconsistency which slows down workflows.

"The messy middle is like a service shop with busy panel-beaters and lots of people running around ensuring production takes place. Big enterprises like banks have large transactional engines that run like service factories, with millions of transactions processed every day. Some companies have up to 300 people just handling expense claims.

"This is where BPA comes in; if there are bridges which automate the regular tasks such as customer billing, inventory management, customer support, etc, humans shouldn't be involved in those processes."

While there are often many people at the back-end of organisations, ensuring input/output of business processes, this adds no value to the customer who is only paying for the end-product, continued Singh.

He referenced Domino's Pizza, which was named 2018 tech accelerator of the year for developing an innovative online pizza tracker and a voice-controlled app.

"Domino's Pizza eliminated all the messy middles by understanding customers' unique requirements. They have an app called the Zero Click app, which allows the user to order the same set of pizzas they previously ordered, delivered to the same address, and charged to the same credit card, without clicking a button. This eliminates a huge amount of workflows."

He highlighted the business process hierarchy, which consists of four key elements that can be used as guidelines to re-design, improve or enhance business processes: business process modelling, business process analysis, business process optimisation and business process automation.

"Business process modelling is an essential part of BPM as it is the analytical representation or illustration of an organisation's business processes, while business process analysis is when the organisation analyses all the business processes prior to automation.

"Business process optimisation consists of taking out all the things embedded in your processes which don't add value. The final step, business process automation, is focused on removing the huge chunk of work and cost by removing the messy middle and implementing automated processes."

He stressed the importance of understanding the BPA limitations.

"BPA doesn't completely change the basic operations of a business; it's more about value chain compression, which is what happens when you've moved all the messy processes out of the way and you've given the customer only what they want in a fraction of the time. Also, more time has to be spent understanding the current systems before organisations see significant improvements," he concluded.