Business Process Optimization: How to Move from Automation Stage Five to Stage Six
Stage 6 of the KAMM framework culminates the journey from unstructured and unmanaged manual processes to full automation.
The Final Step
Moving a process from Stage 5 to Stage 6 is the final step and removes humans from the process completely. This step can be referred to best as business process optimization. Fulfillment goes directly from a request (which may or may not be submitted by a human) to execution. Our blog series explores how to transform a manual business process into a fully automated sequence of tasks, is a six-stage journey. Each step is fully described in the Kinetic Automation Maturity Model (KAMM) framework.
As is the case at each of the other stages, not every process that’s been migrated to Stage 5 is reasonable or practical to move to Stage 6. But for those processes that can be transitioned to this final stage of automation, the fulfillment time and cost approach is zero. You read that right: zero.
This benefit isn’t only about internal cost savings, as significant as those are. Organizations that are able to transform processes to Stage 6 gain a competitive advantage in the market, create a formidable barrier to entry and optimize the customer experience. You can create differentiation based on speed, accuracy, and lower internal costs.
Here’s a quick Stage 5 process reminder and why some processes may be kept at Stage 5. Additionally, we’ll cover the definition of Stage 6, how risks can be mitigated without delaying fulfillment and reference a brief example.
What is Stage 5 of the KAMM?
The flow of Stage 4 processes is from request to approval to (human) fulfillment to (machine) execution. But at Stage 5, the flow is simply from request to approval to execution. There’s no need for a human to do anything except approve the request.
Business processes will be kept at Stage 4 if they include steps that are difficult to automate (e.g., they involve a chain of multiple human fulfillers or data updates in legacy software systems) or require human-centric interactions to collect data, such as conducting interviews.
Otherwise, Stage 4 processes can be moved to Stage 5 where the human fulfillment steps are first optimized then automated. Workflows move automatically (seamlessly?) from approval to machine execution. There are no human fulfillment tasks involved, and this dramatically reduces the cost and time of completing the process.
Stage 5 is enabled by learning over time: this kind of request always gets this fulfillment, that kind of request always that kind of fulfillment. Identifying those patterns enables you to remove the human fulfillment step and – with human approval – effortlessly move to execution.
Why Organizations May Keep Processes at Stage 5
The main reason to keep certain processes at Stage 5 is because you always want a human to approve those requests. This may be done for legal, regulatory compliance, fraud prevention, security and/or company policy reasons.
Organizations will keep processes at Stage 5 — requests requiring human approval — for high-value requests, and more broadly for those where the cost of making a mistake is greater than the additional process cost of requiring request review and approval.
What is Stage 6?
According to the Project Management Institute, “…a company’s process optimization project must identify ways to make their business processes manageable, with formalized, actionable information about how, and how well, the process is executing. Not unlike any other project, a business process optimization project must define the scope of the process to eliminate confusion and set the project boundaries.” Stage 6 is all about business process optimization.
At Stage 6, requests go directly to execution. This is because the system knows that based on certain rules, a request is “approved” without asking a human. This is business process automation at its finest.
For example, a Sys Admin is making a change in AWS. If that single individual is able to act as the requester, approver and fulfiller, that’s a Stage 6 process. They just make the request, and it gets done.
Although there’s no separate approver, the individual making the request may have to acknowledge risks, agree to certain terms or provide some type of quasi-approval themselves as a legal or policy step in order to execute.
Another example is Amazon. From the company’s earliest days selling books and CDs to today where it sells seemingly everything, it’s had a relentless focus on shortening the time from order to delivery.
Today, Amazon’s highly automated fulfillment processes and next-day (in some cases, even same-day) delivery give it a hugely powerful competitive advantage. Once it has drone delivery perfected, its entire order-to-delivery process can potentially be at Stage 6.
Benefits of Moving from Stage 5 to Stage 6
Optimizing business processes is the movement from Stage 5 to Stage 6.
Transforming a Stage 5 process to Stage 6 cuts the elapsed time for fulfillment from hours to minutes and minutes to moments, making request and execution almost instantaneous. It also slashes the average internal cost of fulfillment by 70%, from $1 to just 30 cents.
If certain types of requests are “always approved,” it’s a waste of time to require an approval. People are busy; the approver may not even see the request for approval for several hours after it’s submitted. Stage 6 eliminates that wasted wait time.
In addition, Stage 6 is ideal for processes where time is the critical variable, making business process optimization invaluable. For example, a manufacturing production line goes down because a vital part fails in a key machine.
At that point, the cost or risk associated with approval is a non-factor; what matters is getting a replacement part to the facility as quickly as possible, and providing the requester with complete visibility into the fulfillment status and estimated delivery time.
Additional Benefits of Stage 6 Processes
Another benefit is the ability to use robots. A robot is an automated workflow scheduler that functions as a non-human requester to initiate a process. The trigger to activate a robot may be time-based (e.g., enforce password changes every 90 days, perform a full data warehouse weekly backup every Sunday morning) or event-based (a server goes offline, a new worker is hired, an employee leaves the company).
How to Mitigate Risks at Stage 6
With no approval required at Stage 6, there’s a risk of fraud occurring under certain circumstances.
One strategy for mitigating this risk is to implement requests straight to execution, with the addition of an auditing function. As a result, the execution happens immediately, but it can be rescinded or retracted later.
There’s an auditing function that doesn’t slow down the process but does provide after-the-fact verification. That way, things get done very quickly. However, there’s a way to step in and right the ship if something isn’t quite on the level.
Another risk mitigation method is to add qualifiers, such as: if the value is less than $100 and the individual hasn’t made a similar request within the past 30 days, then skip the approval step so as not to interrupt the process flow.
Even if a very small share of such requests are not legitimate, the organization may still be better off keeping these requests at Stage 6. This is because the overall time and cost savings outweigh the infrequent small losses.
This happens most commonly in the world of ecommerce. Under certain conditions, if a customer reports that an item received is incorrect or defective, the retailer may issue a refund or send a replacement. But they tell the consumer to just keep the original item and no need to return it. With proper checks in place to detect abuse, this policy can be more cost effective than paying for return shipping and managing the disposition.
A Stage 6 Example
If you’ve ever seen the Cisco Call Center Administrative Console, you can understand why it takes eight months of training to master. But one common request is that an employee needs an extra ten minutes of space added to their voicemail box, because they are on vacation and their mailbox is full.
At Stage 4, the employee makes a request, then a human fulfiller logs into Cisco Call Center and navigates their way to the requester’s account where they can add the 10 minutes of mailbox time.
At Stage 5, the employee makes a request for those 10 minutes through the workflow engine portal, someone approves it and then the workflow platform makes the change inside Cisco Call Center.
At Stage 6, if the request meets certain predefined criteria, the system fulfills it immediately. There’s no human involvement whatsoever. These types of requests can be submitted and fulfilled 24x7x365.
The End of the Journey
Moving business processes from Stage 5 to Stage 6 is the final step in the KAMM framework. By eliminating the Stage 5 requirement for a human approval step, Stage 6 culminates the journey from unstructured and unmanaged manual processes to full automation. From request directly through to execution.
With the exception of processes that require human approval — generally for cost, risk or compliance reasons — most Stage 5 processes can be moved to Stage 6. This transition holds many business benefits:
- reduces typical fulfillment costs by 70%
- cuts fulfillment time to near zero
- even enables the use of robots (automated workflow schedulers) which completely eliminate the need for human involvement in certain processes
Although eliminating the human approval step can create potential risks, these can be mitigated by applying conditional filters or implementing audit processes at various points.
A highly visible example of an enterprise on the journey to full process automation is Amazon. Most of the online retail giant’s order fulfillment processes are likely at Stage 4, largely automated but still requiring some human steps (e.g., packing boxes, loading trucks, and delivering packages). Absent the need for human approval, automating delivery using drones or autonomous vehicles can take order execution to Stage 6.
To learn more about all stages of the Kinetic Automation Maturity Model, contact us today!