Smart process apps: The human side of automated processes

When I talk to people about process automation, they often jump to the conclusion that someone, somewhere is going to be out of a job.

For a long time, that was indeed the point: drop the cost of employing someone by getting technology to do the work for you. But that isn’t necessarily the case anymore.

A new wave of automation technology I’m very excited about — smart process applications (SPAs) — certainly qualifies as a “disruption” of existing business processes. But it’s a disruption that, rather than replacing human workers, helps them do their jobs better. On top of that, this new wave of automation also gives companies greater power to personalize services to customers —a key differentiator in today’s competitive landscape.

What are smart process apps?

Social, mobile, analytics and business processes are all very popular these days, of course. And what makes SPAs unique is how they bring all four of these fields together.

Think of the ways data is tracked and compiled by the websites we visit. Now think of the efficiencies achieved by the enterprise applications we use. SPAs are a new breed of application that merges the two, using analytics similar to what we see in the former to boost the benefits of the latter. By layering on to existing systems, they’re an invaluable link between the tools people use — email, scanners, multifunction products, smartphones, desktop productivity software and more — and systems of record such as ERP, ECM, CRM and other line-of-business applications.

Take reporting your travel expenses, for example. If you’re like me, saving your paper receipts and later on, manually entering them into your company’s expense reporting system is something you dread even more than security checks and rushed itineraries. It takes time and energy, for one thing, but also it leaves open a lot of room for error — what if I lose a receipt?

When your employer implements SPAs for expense reporting however, those worries and inconveniences disappear. The moment you obtain a receipt, you can take a picture with your smartphone, initiating an automated accounts payable process that updates your company’s enterprise accounting systems, archives the image and ultimately, triggers a reimbursement.

In addition to removing hassle on your end, this smarter process also helps your colleagues in the accounting department. The SPA’s analytics allow accountants to look at travel and expense data by virtually any conceivable dimension, including employee name, time period, state or flight distance, and cost.

​The only way to improve productivity — as well as the service they provide customers — is through intelligent processes.

SPAs for personalization

The beneficiaries of SPAs aren’t limited to the people you employ. The customer also benefits — from more personalized experiences.

Allowing customers interactive access in the context that works for them is a key convenience that builds trust. Customers also benefit from more personal attention — with SPAs integrating information and automating how it’s filed (like in the Loma Linda Health example), employees can focus less on administration and more on helping customers deal with complications and requests.

And just like Facebook and Google present targeted ads, based on your browsing and search history, SPA analytics can power targeted offerings to customers, based on purchase history. You can imagine this improving everything from supply-chain scenarios with existing partners to how you approach prospective partners — with well-tracked and easily searchable data about choices made by comparable businesses, you can present prospects with highly detailed, tailored and persuasive offers. Leading companies will soon differentiate on how human, in context and personalized the customer experience is. We can expect SPAs to be a powerful tool in achieving that differentiation going forward.

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