BlackLine Blog

November 13, 2017

The Art of Process Design & Automation

Digital Transformation
3 Minute Read

Vivek Saxena

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Don’t rush to automate without first designing solid process foundations

Programmers in the software industry live by the saying: premature optimization is the root of all evil. Instead of wasting time trying to speed up parts of code that aren’t critical or even stable or useful, they should focus on the elements that could mess up the foundations.

The same goes for business process management. While automation has taken center stage, there’s too much focus on improving efficiency rather than setting a solid base through process design.

Bill Gates was possibly referring to premature automation when he shared the two rules of business technology:

  • Automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency

  • Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency

It can be easy to simply automate processes as they stand. While this approach can improve cost and quality, the real value lies in transformation. Process design helps you focus on the outcomes you want, and how your people, process, and technology can support it.

Adopting the right approach to process design could be the difference between success and failure. Between meeting your goals and fire-fighting chaos.

Designing business processes is considered a scientific endeavor, but there are many processes that resist being defined or standardized. They need an approach that is more art than science.

And with advances in digital technologies, companies need new ways to manage science and art in tandem. The changes mean you must shift:

From value-stream mapping to design thinking

At first glance, accounting and design thinking are considered to be at odds with each other. Accounting is rule-based and regulated by standards and legislation. Design thinking, on the other hand, looks for creative solutions to problems.

Accounting and creativity are an oxymoron. If design thinking is an art form, then value-stream mapping is more of a science. But there is a middle ground. Accountants are trained to focus on accuracy and quality, and less on the end user or identifying insights. Even within the constraints of compliance, there is scope to understand and meet end-user needs while driving business outcomes.

From reducing defects to reimagining business outcomes

As management guru Peter Drucker said, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Process design focused on defect reduction is just that.

Digital advancements have allowed businesses to think beyond traditional goals and outcomes. For example, companies are improving the cost to serve instead of simply the cost per unit, or redefining cycle times instead of just reducing them. The art of imagination has taken over the science that delivers incremental or linear benefits.

From process re-engineering to zero-based process design

Traditionally, companies focus on what to remove. They set short-term targets by fine-tuning critical processes and eliminating lower-value activities. This is an incremental approach at best. At worst, it can deliver chaos.

There is a better way.

Start with a blank sheet. Forget about the status quo. Instead of looking for what to remove, look for what you must keep. Digital tools and frameworks can help turbocharge zero-based redesign. This elevates the science of process re-engineering beyond small improvements to transformational outcomes.

From process optimization to designing for scale and agility

Process standardization and optimization embedded in Lean Six Sigma are the bedrocks of process design, a scientific foundation. Process optimization has created significant efficiency gains over the years. But with success, it has become overused as companies push it everywhere regardless of whether it improves outcomes.

Designing a process for scalability and agility is an art. You must harmonize the artistic and scientific approaches to move beyond optimization and have an agile process that is inherently scalable.

From static controls to real-time preventive controls

Conventional accounting controls are static and don’t include opportunities for capturing feedback. Without a positive feedback loop, a process can collapse.

When designing your process, build in collaboration and feedback loops so you can adapt as business policies change. This is the ultimate test of a great design: it’s not about having robust theoretical controls but building controls that work in real time, enable compliance, and flag deviation. The science of static controls needs to include the art of the feedback loop.

Genpact’s process design framework takes these changes into account to deliver successful automation. Robotic process automation, for example, can reduce manual intervention and sequence it for the best intervals, while identifying rule-based transactions and exception handling. When coupled with BlackLine’s accounting process automation opportunities and robust process design, you can create sustainable and scalable automation.

Automation built on intelligent process design increases efficiency and avoids the trap of premature automation.

About the Author


Vivek Saxena