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5 Steps to Get the Most Out of Purchasing Automation

By Alexander Hatzenbรผhler
7 min read

Automation has become one of the most popular topics in recent years. Cutting costs by making operations more efficient and less prone to human error is a fact that no company can easily refuse. This tempts many organizations to jump right into automation initiatives headfirst, without conducting the proper steps to ensure their projects succeed.

This can create many avoidable challenges when attempting to reap the benefits promised by automation technologies including Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Vendor Invoice Management (VIM) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Here are the 5 steps every company needs to take to ensure a successful journey to automated processes.

Step 1: Explore Your Process Flows

Before you start automating processes, ask yourself, โ€œDo I really know my process as well as I think?โ€

This is why you should never dive headfirst into automation. Without a solid platform to spring off of, diving headfirst into automation initiatives is one of the biggest and most consistant causes of failure in process automation.

โ€œThe first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.โ€
-Bill Gates

Why would you automate anything that isnโ€™t even close to your ideal process flow?

Enter Process Mining technology. Through the use of process mining and advanced process discovery algorithms, frequent deviations from the desired process flow can be easily spotted. These are valuable insights that enable organizations to re-engineer their process before automating it.

Conformance checking is another extremely helpful tool that helps you compare your designed process model and the process as it actually runs. Reducing the number of exceptions and variants in the process flow can slash the costs of automation drastically while improving its likelihood of success.

Once standardized process flows are identified, it is time to move on to the second step.

Step 2: Discover How Touchless Your Processes Really Are

Now itโ€™s time to ask yourself, โ€œHow touchless is our process anyway?โ€.

Our recommended second step for any automation initiative requires creating a digital twin of the process within the organization. Capturing all the relevant information of this digital twin, and measuring the ratio of automated activities within is crucial to identifying the true potential for process automation.

Once a precise KPI is defined, initial candidates for an automation pilot project within the organization can be identified. This can be achieved by benchmarking business units and purchasing organizations or plants.

This initial assessment of the degree of existing automation within the organization provides the necessary foundation and focus on which to proceed.

Step 3: Generate Insights for Quick Wins

After quantifying the potential for your process automation, ask yourself: โ€œHow can I spot quick wins and long term transformation potential quickly?โ€

โ€œDivide and Conquerโ€ is the name of the game when it comes to automation. Just as there is low hanging fruit when it comes to prioritizing the organization or process best suited for automation, the same applies to smaller, specific activities, process flows, and tasks within.

While automating invoice receipt or approval processes may be straightforward with the right technology, workflows are often way too complicated to automate.

For RPA, identifying โ€œquick winsโ€ should be at the forefront of your thoughts when creating automation initiatives. The possibility of scanning the purchasing process for simple, stable and high volume tasks with little to no automation can be very valuable.

Usually, the process of discovering this detailed information about such activities and workflows is a very tedious task in itself. This is where automated process discovery using Celonis process mining really creates tremendous value by saving time and building an RPA roadmapโ€”without extensive interviews conducted by external consultants that cost so much time and money.

Once it is clear which workflows lack automation, it is easy to benchmark automation technology and create a business case to receive management buy-in.

Step 4: Enhance Your Processes for Automation

Ask yourself: โ€œIs there something that I learned from previous automation attempts that can help me avoid the same pitfalls the next time around?โ€

This one is quite a tricky question to answer. There can be many things that curb automation initiatives.

First, the choice of automation technology is key. Sure back-end automation, installation of EDI or investment in RFID technology to automate goods receipt processes are extremely powerful and probably the best long-term solutions. However, those may be unsuited methods to use for initiatives that aim to accomplish visible improvements and fast time-to-value.

This also applies to RPA, which is very powerful, flexible and helps you realize value faster, while being relatively easy to implement, and does not require many resources from central IT.

As the saying goes: โ€œFor someone who only has a hammer in his toolbox, every problem looks like a nail.โ€ When youโ€™re preparing your process for automation, keep in mind that different tools are required for different problems.

Automation technology is powerful, but still requires diligent scouting of different tools and providers, agile implementation and a well-conceptualized operational model to thrive, and eventually scale with an organization as it grows.

Step 5: Monitor Your Automation Success

Now that your automation project is over, you may ask yourself, โ€œThat means Iโ€™m done, right?โ€
Wrong! Piloting automation within purchasing, reaching the project scope ROI, and creating a success story are all fantastic achievements. But the work does not stop there.

A lot can be learned from tracking the ratio of perfect purchase orders, and the value that was achieved by automation initiativesโ€”especially as businesses and their processes become more and more agile. Continuous monitoring of automation status is very important to take actions to adapt to any changes quickly and retain high levels of automation.

How Celonis Assists Your Purchasing Automation Journey

We have combined validated features, microservices, and best practices within our very own Celonis Intelligent Business App Store to assist in each of these critical steps to automation success.

Check out the concept and content below, and contact the author about early access to the solution package at a.hatzenbuehler@celonis.com

purchasing automation process journey

Purchasing Automation Apps Available from Celonis:

  • Business Process Re-engineering Analysis
  • Automation (Overview) Analysis
  • Automation of Activities Analysis
  • Electronic Order Messages Analysis
  • RPA - Process Assessment Analysis
  • Automation Monitoring Analysis
  • Orchestration of digital workers directly within the application
  • Transformation center with pre-built KPIs relevant for automation.
  • Action Engine with a selection of relevant operational signals that can be customized to any organizational structure.

**Coming Soon to the Celonis App Store:

  • RPA Project Management Roadmap Application
  • Bot Log Mining
  • Database Process connectors for most common RPA providers (UIPath, Blueprism, and Automation Anywhere)

*Some of the newest features may require the latest IBC releases and may therefore not be included in your current Celonis license.

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