Process Automation

by | Oct 10, 2011

When implementing a scheduling system, process automation is usually one of the factors that is used to show an ROI savings. And that is absolutely legitimate. But is all process automation good? Well…to put it bluntly: No.

 

In this next entry in our Healthcare Scheduling Implementation Roadmap Series, I want to look at two different types of process automation. One is a good kind and one is not so great. The goal coming out of this is for you to understand the difference between the two and, equally as important, to be able to push for the good kind without settling for the bad kind.

 

So let’s start positively. What comprises good process automation?

 

Leveraging your scheduling system to automate manual processes which would otherwise burden your schedulers and slow down the scheduling process is good. That’s where a certain amount of ROI is, and the end result should be a more automated system that either reduces the amount of time your schedulers spend on scheduling tasks or, even better, increases the number of scheduling-related tasks that they can accomplish during the same amount of time.

 

I say that this latter option—increasing the number of scheduling-related tasks that can be accomplished—is more ideal because odds are, your schedulers don’t have the time or data available right now to make intelligent decisions about scheduling that let you proactively balance your workforce. (Yes, that’s a not-very-subtle reference to Axsium’s latest whitepaper!) By freeing them up from the more mundane, time-consuming aspects of scheduling and giving them an intelligent system to work in, you are providing the opportunity for better decision-making, which still takes up valuable time, but with a better ROI on time spent.

 

That all may seem blazingly obvious to you, in which case at this point you’re wondering what bad process automation looks like. Here we go:

 

Taking your existing scheduling processes and automating them in the scheduling system is bad. How is that different than the good automation? The key word is “existing.” A project that implements a scheduling system by taking whatever the existing process are and attempting to replicate them in the system, thus automating them, is fundamentally flawed. You cannot make the assumption that your existing processes were perfect – there is going to be room for strategic process improvements to be designed and integrated. And that means the dreaded “C” word must occur: Change.

 

Before you protest, let me first give you all the credit in the world for having the most wonderful, awesome, perfect manual scheduling processes possible. [No laughing! We all know how likely that is, but I’m trying to make a point…] Even if your process is completely perfect as it is today, it was not designed to take advantage of the features and functionality, the power and enhanced decision-making capabilities, that your new scheduling system possesses – you know, the features that made you want to implement it in the first place. And as we just talked about recently, you should be changing your processes to maximize your system solution. If you’re not leveraging the system, the alternative outcome is simply a function of bad process automation.

 

So let’s recap that to make sure we have it straight:

  • Good process automation: Leveraging the system to streamline manual processes.
  • Bad process automation: Recreating existing processes in the automated system.

 

From a Roadmap standpoint, this fits in with a lot of the topics we’ve talked about previously. It means that you are being strategic with your implementation and planning a transformation, instead of just jumping straight to trying the slam the system in place, with minimal disruption to the users. I think it’s safe to say: If your users haven’t been disrupted, then you haven’t done anything to make any improvements. And that defeats the whole point of the implementation!

 

Did we accomplish our mission today? I’m sure the easy part is understanding the differences between the two, but the practical application is much more important. When you talk about “process automation” as a part of your scheduling implementation, be sure to clarify the kind of automation you are talking about. You want the good kind!

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