The Importance of UX for Business Process Automation (BPA)
Web Optimised UX,
BPA is a common practice amongst firms conducting digital transformation programmes, yet it is estimated that nearly nine in 10 (88%) of such automation projects experience at least one major challenge that threatens the feasibility of the project. Two prevalent factors that caused such threats are a lack of strategy and poor implementation. It is vital that before conducting any BPA projects, a business needs to be confident that they understand exactly what process or processes they are trying to automate, the impact automation would have on those processes and finally - and perhaps most importantly - what impact automation would have on their team and their work.
The practices and exercises commonly conducted by User Experience teams can help businesses gather this knowledge and best prepare them for the challenge of not only implementing BPA but also transforming their business for the challenges of tomorrow, as well as, today.
BPA is a Key Component of Digital Transformation
As more and more businesses look to streamline their enterprises either as part of broader digital transformation programmes or simply as a standalone activity to increase efficiency or cost-savings, the term Business Process Automation (BPA) became a hot topic for many in 2023 and this trend will no doubt continue in 2024.
Increasing Efficiency with BPA
The objective for any BPA activity is simply to streamline processes through automation, with the benefits being boosts in efficiency and productivity. These gains are usually created using technology to automate manual or repetitive tasks usually undertaken by humans, either resulting in a leaner workforce or allowing workers more time to concentrate on critical value-generating or complex tasks.
UX: Human-Centred Design by Another Name
Originally UX was coined to explain the process of designing a frictionless experience for users across all brand touchpoints, however, more recently it has become a catch-all term for the practice of human-centered design at either a macro or micro-level. Both definitions are relevant when it comes to BPA, but what is more relevant is to look at the benefits of some of the key tools in the UX armoury instead, most notably User Research and System Analysis.
Understand Your Business Processes Better by Understanding & Involving Your Internal Users Better
It stands to reason that if a business wants to understand exactly how a system or a process works, then the best source of information regarding those systems or processes will be the people who work with them, day in, and day out. Yet oddly, this is commonly forgotten or simply dismissed as not relevant if a business believes they have a solid strategic or architectural design. Whilst it is not implausible for a business to have a complete view of all its processes, in our experience it is infrequently true. We have found that there are always learnings to be made by not only documenting existing processes by using tools such as domain storytelling or use case mapping but specifically by including actual internal users in those discussions or workshops.
Increase User Buy-In for Business Process Automation
Research suggests that internal teams are usually reluctant to embrace automation. Whilst fears of job replacement can be an influencing factor, a more common cause of such reluctance is a belief that certain processes are too complex or require too many human skills to be automated. The solution to this is to be clear on exactly what your BPA project is trying to achieve, how it meets the needs of your business and crucially how it meets the needs of your users, whether they are external or internal users. Every aspect of a BPA project must be analysed, all potential risks and impacts are acknowledged, and solutions are designed to mitigate these risks. Every business must be clear on any potential limitations of a BPA project before implementation if they wish for it to succeed and there is no real shortcut to achieving this. A business has to be open, and honest and consult as many people and users as possible to collate the data required to ensure that every critical assumption is verified.
Include Your Users in the Design Process
Only by truly understanding what your internal users need from your BPA project can you ensure that no feathers will be ruffled, or future problems are created. By including your internal users in the design process and making sure their needs are considered and documented, you can significantly improve your chances of successful adoption and strategic onboarding. Teams who feel they have helped create a BPA solution will naturally be more likely to adopt it and by consistently conducting UX activities such as User Testing through the design process, a business will also provide the relevant opportunities for your internal teams to provide vital feedback, flag issues, concerns and problems as they arise and before the start of the development cycle – a part of the project where changes can be most costly.
The Importance of Feedback in Automated Systems
Feedback is not only important in the design phase of a project but also especially important in the actual design of the product itself. In this context though, we mean the inclusion of feedback mechanisms within the interface of the product.
For any automated system to succeed it needs to be transparent and humans should be able to understand what a machine has done, why it is doing it and what happens next, especially during times when issues arise, or human intervention is required or expected. In a world without automation, humans are mostly able to communicate with each other in some form, especially when obvious barriers such as language and location are removed. However, with machines or Artificial Intelligence, these communication mechanisms need to be designed and created. If a nuclear power station doesn’t include an adequate warning light in the control room in the event of a meltdown for example, then workers cannot be blamed for not predicting potentially catastrophic failures. This is an extreme example, but it shows how important feedback mechanisms are within software or automated systems.
All Software Benefits from User Interface Design
Designing usable and accessible User Interfaces is naturally one of the key concerns and activities of a User Experience Designer, to the extent that many people still confuse UX and UI as being the same discipline. Whilst they are intrinsically combined, a good User Interface is only as good as the discovery work that precedes it. A good interface design is built on other activities such as User Journey Mapping and Information Architecture Design to provide context for layout and structure. As our example of the importance of feedback mechanisms within an automated system shows, software that is based upon or even merely integrates with BPA systems will always benefit from a considered approach to User Interface Design.
External Users Have Needs Too
So far we’ve concentrated mostly on internal users, how automated systems can impact their work and how UX Design can help ensure that BPA projects are launched successfully and effectively and we’ve not yet touched upon the users who will likely interact with your BPA system the most; your customers or external users. Everything we’ve discussed about internal users also applies to these users, perhaps in some cases, more so. Most internet users have experienced problems engaging with automated systems such as chatbots or booking engines and most users can provide examples of companies that have got automation right and companies that have got automation wrong. Getting automation right is, of course, a prime example of where a company has invested wisely in Discovery & Design and predicted that the end User Experience is as valuable as the efficiency gains created by the automation process.
User Experience Design: The Present and the Future
As many smart companies already know - including your competitors - in an already saturated world where true novelty is somewhat rare, for many digital products or services the main differentiator and possible main deciding factor between success and failure is the Usability or User Experience of the product. Both now and in the future, users of digital products will only expect more companies to match the seamless and enjoyable experiences provided by their favourite brands, whether that be Netflix, Apple, Uber, PayPal, Amazon or any of the other leading companies that have placed Design at the forefront of their digital strategies. The boom in Artificial Intelligence will also see users becoming more comfortable with machine learning and automation, especially if it is implemented correctly and provides true value.
But what ultimately is true value to a user? Essentially a tool that allows them to complete their intended task as painlessly as possible. Which coincidently, is also the ultimate aim of User Experience Design.
At Unipro, we understand the critical role of UX design in business process automation. If you are interested in discussing UX, our low-code platform or any of our digital consulting services in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact our team today – we would be more than happy to assist.