An Introduction to Process Automation

An Introduction to Process Automation

An earlier blog questioned why the structure of the traditional management system has changed little in the past 30 years, if at all. However, the recent revisions to the ISO standards for quality and the environment have forced a re-think on document repositories and how these are presented to users; a paradigm shift in thinking towards a process based business management system has now reached the mainstream. By Jove, it’s taken a long time but hallelujah, change is in the air!

The legacy content within the traditional Document Management System is now considered by many QHSE professionals as being inflexible and cumbersome, and therefore not fit for purpose.

While both national and global markets require compliance to regulations and industry standards, the drive for competitiveness is unceasing. With process forming such a major part of the ISO 9001:2015 quality standard, there is now recognition that delivering maximum operational performance is a priority.

The incorporation of these complementary techniques improves the value of the business management system significantly by providing a combination of Compliance and Process Improvement. Maintaining Compliance can be expensive and resource hungry, but these costs can be offset with improvements to the operational processes. Let’s look at how these new standards and practices are changing the way business process management (BPM) and management systems are structured and how a combined process approach provides an efficient means to ISO compliance.

As the phrase Process Automation is used almost daily, all be it individually, I thought I would explain the term as we understand it.

Process Automation is basically where computer software is used to help monitor and refine business processes.

It is still common that business managers physically gather information on performance metrics, costs, quality, maintenance, labour, and output from a variety of sources such as emails, Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. It is then necessary to evaluate this information to find the most effective operating conditions for the best results. This could be a complex and prolonged process that might be impacted by any significant change to the business environment. Then the whole process would have to be repeated. Before process Automation, this was an inefficient and unreliable way of controlling costs and outcomes.

Industry Process Automation

process automation introductionAutomation is most often thought of in terms of industrial process automation, such as plastics, paper, or concrete manufacture. There is always a need to conduct operations that are efficient and safe without compromising quality. With modern technology, sensors or switches are placed on equipment at hundreds or thousands of critical points throughout the facility. They can capture data on humidity, temperature, pressures, flow, elapsed time, and so forth. This information is displayed on a control room display for the operators, but also fed into a computer for analysis and reporting.

When ideal conditions are determined, the control room operators can make adjustments to ensure that every piece of equipment in the process is being utilized at optimal settings. They can also override the process if unexpected conditions like mechanical failure occur that could lead to accidents or workflow bottlenecks.

Cost Control

Industrial process automation is applied to increase efficiency at several levels, including energy efficiency. For every business, producing the greatest output at the minimum cost is always the goal. In many industries, particularly power plants themselves, the energy that goes into the process can be as much as 50 percent of production costs.

The software controls can set equipment to run at the optimally balanced flows that produce the most output from the least amount of energy. By optimizing quality checks, the software ensures that less energy and materials are wasted on defects. It can also establish the most effective maintenance and cleaning schedules so that less time is wasted on fixing or replacing equipment components.

Input on costing can come from a variety of resources, such as total or specific labour hours or wages, materials costs and wastes, ongoing maintenance, damage from accidents, reworks and wasted material due to errors, fuel usage, and nearly everything that goes into a given process.

Change Management

With process software, plant managers can not only track information on processes that are taking place, but run simulations with different elements of the system operating with new parameters. This allows them to investigate various scenarios without creating potentially negative or even disastrous impacts on real events. Experimenting with different conditions can help to determine the best strategies with very little risk.

Modern automation systems are also capable of “machine learning” to identify patterns and make forecasts from high volumes of process data. This helps to improve responses and make proactive decisions even when plant operations experience new influences and challenges.

Wide Range of Business Uses

Automating processes can lead to numerous business improvements in more than just an industrial setting. It can be applied to any business process where measurable information is or can be captured. It can be applied to other areas such as new hire training or invoice processing.
For computer-based work, there’s no need for the expense of sensors and other hardware. Automated logging can determine who accesses a particular file or application in terms of login credentials. Log time stamping can determine when the work was done & how much time was taken. Efficiency can be determined by expectations within any work period vs what tasks are actually marked as completed.

Process automation software also saves time and money on administrative tasks by eliminating the need to maintain unreliable paper records and shift them from one point to the next until they’re eventually collected for labor-intensive data entry. With computer software, this process is entirely digital and performed automatically.

Where Automation is Needed

Automation can be used to refine any business function where managers/operators see room for improvement, or are simply performing routine cost-savings analysis.

A process that can be automated only requires three key conditions:
* The work, procedures, and tools used are performed consistently across all affected employees.
* The process itself is not significantly impacted by any human error.
* The process is repeatable and does not change from day to day.

Process Automation can help to provide continuous improvement in any area of business functions, such as accounting, billing, contract management, marketing, and more.

Process for Automation

Processes can also be restructured to take advantage of digital automation. A seemingly laborious and subjective hiring process, for instance, could be automated with tools for online recruitment, background checks, employer verifications, and skills/psychological evaluations. This allows HR managers to simply put the process in motion to determine the best candidates.

Software automation in both HR and financial management also allows for transparency and instant documentation that can help to protect the company against lawsuits and regulatory compliance issues.

Today’s Business Management Software

Business process software is in use by companies in many industries all over the globe. It enables them to improve processes in order to save time and money by removing inefficient work practices, paper handling and duplication. Physical alerts, paper forms, and disruptive process adjustments are being replaced with automated controls that can integrate processes and functions throughout the organization into a more easily managed system.

Automation also processes to be compliant with regulatory demands and where risk has been identified within the process, mitigating factors can be introduced to remove risk.

Process automation with modern, intelligent software involves many advantages:

* Flexible and fast integration and deployment
* No custom programming
* User-friendly interfaces
* Remote access via mobile technology
* Scalability to business growth
* Cross-platform compatibility
* Built-in tools for analytics and reporting

As more businesses turn to digital platforms and controls, the need for faster and more agile tools becomes more important in sustaining a competitive advantage. Process automation software gives any company the means to increase efficiency and lower costs. This can help to transform and empower business strategy to reach desired goals sooner.

There is a common recognition that the transformation from text-heavy content and home-made flowcharts drains internal resources and is expensive to maintain.

For more information on the Agility System, proven software that delivers process improvement while maintaining compliance, please contact us via our contact page of contact me directly at

Pshields@BusinessPort.net

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Posted in

Daniel