The case for Human-Centric process automation

The case for Human-Centric process automation

Technology has and always will take a supporting role to human activity.
So why isn’t process automation more human-centred?

In a time of increased pressure to automate everything, here at Near Partner we are taking a step back to reflect on the importance of Humans. Yes, Humans and how process automation should revolve more around us and our needs rather than the current tech fabs or coding languages. For us, each new challenge is a people project, not a systems project.

The rise of process automation

Since the 1960s, process automation has developed greatly, from basic if/then steps to complex analysis and predictive behavior. These achievements have brought automation to many aspects of our daily lives. Businesses benefited as well – from a reduction of labour costs, increased efficiency and enhanced security.

Process automation, fuelled by digital transformation has reduced the human workload, both physical and intellectual, by taking over repetitive and time-consuming tasks. In the meantime, it has also freed up time for human operators to use their cognitive abilities in other, more demanding or creative, tasks.

How did we get here: The rise of Process Automation

As such, system designers have concentrated efforts in refining process automation tools–be it better sensors, more developed algorithms, and so on. However, the more process automation tools evolve, the more important the human role is. And, in this case, a technology-first approach can become counterproductive, as it has little to no regard for human resources.

So, as automation can take on increasingly complex and intricate tasks, it becomes even more important to adopt a human-centric approach to process automation, meaning the user should be in the centre, working with the technology, rather than despite the technology.

Process automation with a human-centred approach

A human-centric approach to process automation is much more than just using technologies to automate previously manual tasks. It refers to using automation to promote, enhance and, ultimately, ease user effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. Human-centred process automation enhances performance and compensates for human operators’ limitations, especially in dynamic and complex systems.

Despite all the menial tasks that, inevitably, are a necessity in any business and any role, there are always some uniquely human tasks which cannot be automated. Qualitative decision-making, report and data reviewing, creating personalised proposals, judging, evaluating, approving, improving, or even authorising certain processes are all tasks that need human intervention. At this level, automation can only do so much.

Human automated-centric process automation acts as a support to people in these challenging tasks, rather than a separate workflow. The results are much more flexibility, adaptability, faster response and handling of exceptional situations, error reduction, higher rates of compliance, and better communication with customers, for example.

Human-centred process automation live

But how does human-centred process automation work, in practical terms? In one of our recent projects, a series of workshops (with Humans!) confirmed that the focus for change should not be technology applications, but rather a reduction in manual, repetitive processes that would alleviate pressure on the staff. To achieve this, Robotics Process Automation (RPA) was recommended.

Humans and machines go hand-in-hand at Near Partner

Humans and machines go hand-in-hand at Near Partner

Far from making the department less human, the introduction of RPA has actually liberated it to become much more people-focused than before. This is because the automation of key business processes has allowed the staff previously overburdened with manual inputting duties to switch to providing a truly human-centric service.

Implementing human-centred process automation

Implementing human-centric process automation in an organisation comes down to finding the sweet spot between human-unique capabilities and highly automated systems–like a marriage between man and machine, so to say.

These are the most important steps to a human-cantered approach.

  1. Define the goal of the process and an objective measure of success.
  2. Identify human work. Start by identifying the tasks that need to be done by people, then the tasks than can be automated but aren’t yet, and the tasks outside the process that are still fundamental to its completion.
  3. Determine conclusions, the choices or options that will lead to the next process or conclude the present.
  4. Define a task order. As tasks are subject to conditions, it is necessary for you to define them and create an order.
  5. Attribute roles by determining who will be responsible by performing what.
  6. Select information. Depending on what the process is, different types and amounts of information will be needed in order to move on to the next stage.
  7. Determine who has access to information, especially with sensitive data–i.e., personal customer data, financial data, etc.
  8. Set deadlines and what happens within the time limit and outside of it. Should it issue a warning? Should it escalate the matter to other people or management?
  9. Display the information in a way that human operators can understand and take the next steps, like decision-making, evaluation, or authorisation.
  10. Integrate the data. The information needs to be collected from various sources (how?) and sent to various destinations (where?).
  11. Build a proof of concept. Test-drive your thoughts with a first proof of concept, a way of assessing the viability of a certain product for a specific business need.

While automating processes isn’t necessarily complicated, making process automation human-centric requires a bit more thought and planning. However, the result is a streamlined human-system cooperation and communication.

Process automation at Near Partner

Need help to find a business process automation tool that puts the user in the centre? Maybe building it from scratch? Or are you struggling with the technical aspect of implementation? Get in touch!

At Near Partner, we’ve made it our mission to facilitate the communication between humans and technology and, so far, we’re proud to say we’ve met our customers’ demands and helped them and their business in their path to success. Talk to us about our OutSystems Services, Salesforce Services or Software Development. Together, we can find the right solution for your business.

Sérgio Cunha

I have been a developer for longer than I can remember (well... maybe not). Does that sum up everything about me? I love tech, but I’m also a husband and a father, I love to learn new stuff and experiment with life."Hack hard and prosper!" has been my latest motto. Take good care of yourself and the rest will follow…