Technology is becoming more advanced every day. Not only can technology improve our personal lives, but also the way we operate our businesses. Due to the numerous benefits of business process automation (BPA), more and more businesses are choosing to automate internal and client facing processes.

With an ambitious goal of releasing a fully autonomous car by the end 2017, Tesla has certainly shaken things up in the automotive industry. What can we learn about business process automation from the way Tesla approached their autonomous car?

It’s no secret that Tesla wants to release a fully autonomous vehicle, but rather than spend years developing a fully automated car in a lab, they chose to quickly release a driver operated car. Subsequent models saw the addition of certain key features, such as lane steering, lane changing and adaptive cruise control – collectively known as Tesla Autopilot.

The currently deployed version of Autopilot can’t navigate a roundabout or junction, but it’s very at home on a high speed or even a crowded motorway. There is no doubt that most miles are driven (and by extension, time spent) on these open roads and simultaneously these are easier conditions in which to create an autonomous experience. Rather than attempt to build and release a fully automated car from scratch, Tesla prioritised the highest return features and are building and releasing them in order. This approach has demonstrated four main advantages.

Speed to market. Tesla has a working vehicle on the roads today, gaining traction and mind share while the others are still prototyping and have not yet reached the market. This means, unlike Waymo and Uber, Tesla can test the automated features in real time with real drivers and collect data which can be used to learn the behaviour of drivers and about what they should automate next.

Data collection. As a result of this speed to market, Tesla has collected 1.3 billion miles of real world data from Autopilot equipped vehicles. Having this volume of data means Tesla can make more accurate predictions and decisions when it comes to developing new features and improving existing ones.

A truly sublime driving experience. When you approach the car, the previously hidden door handles present themselves and the doors unlock; the seat automatically adjusts to your preferred driving position and any previous music or podcast you were playing will resume. Best of all, this all happens without your keys even leaving your pocket. With Autopilot engaged the car takes over from the driver, automatic full beam headlights dipping on the approach of another car and automatic windscreen wipers take all the mundane tasks away from the driver. This creates an amazing experience for the customer and once full autonomy is reached, it will mean that the energy and focus they once used driving can be directed towards higher value tasks instead, anything from online shopping to working on new business proposals.

Buzz. Excitement is building with every new feature added on the journey to full autonomy. Once Tesla releases a fully automated car, they plan on taking the experience even further with the introduction of automated charging stops. The company promises a trip from LA to New York with zero human interaction by the end of this year.

Autopilot itself leads to safer travel as the driver is less distracted by having to maintain an appropriate speed and having to steer the car, freeing up their focus so they can be alert to any potential hazards further down the road. While using Autopilot, for all intents and purposes the car driver becomes a car manager or supervisor.

Can we apply Tesla’s approach to business process automation?

You may have an ambitious goal of automating every process in your business or none at all, but like Tesla, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can automate simple, but high return tasks, such as repetitive manual processes used to collect business metrics from multiple sources. Then, you can take this data and analyse the impact that the automation had.

By taking this steady, incremental approach to automating your business processes, you allow yourself the time to reflect on the data and see how the automation affects everything from time saved to employee engagement to customer satisfaction. This way, you avoid investing in the automation of low return tasks, which may end up being more cost effective or faster when done manually. You also get to enjoy the benefits of automation sooner and without a large investment.

Why automate a business?

Each business is different and opinions vary, but in addition to reclaiming otherwise lost time, four key reasons seem to consistently appear when talking to business leaders.

Fulfilment. You probably didn’t start a business to deal with repetitive, mundane tasks every day. Not only does BPA result in time and cost savings, it can also improve employee satisfaction by relieving staff of mundane tasks, meaning they can focus on more creative and fulfilling tasks.

Quality. When a business has solid, automated processes in place, it can almost guarantee a certain level of quality and consistency. This is because, when the human element is removed, every action will be performed in the same way. Consider a business which automates their customer on boarding process. With every customer going through the same experience, you can predict what support they may need as they go through their journey to becoming a customer with you, you can accurately predict how long the sales cycle will take and even give tailored support to common issues and objections that come up during on boarding.

Speed. Needless human interactions within a process introduce latency and reduce throughput. Consider an order fulfilment process that relies on someone receiving a notification and then manually triggering a further process in one or more downstream systems to fulfil the order. Processes with automatic triggers increase throughput which leads to higher profits.

Clarity. There is rarely any additional incremental cost to executing an automated process many times. So, it is economical to have it run in near real time. Consider a business manager who spends 2 days compiling business metrics for a report every month. They could reclaim that time and have up to the minute operational metrics.

How to automate a business

Day to day operations typically involves many kinds of applications and software, performing various functions like accounting, customer relationships, expenses, invoicing, budgeting, project management, communication and more. Data accumulates and each application becomes an isolated silo of information. When the business is small, a set of manual processes that span these silos is manageable and maybe even cost efficient. However, as scale is achieved, the barriers inherent between applications limit throughput. Accessing, compiling, analysing or transferring the information becomes a laborious and time-consuming task. Microsoft Excel is often used as a temporary store to manually join data from different sources and the spreadsheet becomes yet another data silo. If this scenario or any of the examples mentioned are sounding familiar to you, then there are tools, platforms and help at hand.


Top Automation Technology Options
Pros Cons
  • Laser-focused on simple one-step operations.
  • Lots of pre-existing partner integration.
  • Very limited scope, each ‘applet’ can only look at a small piece of your data.
  • Hard to chain applets together.
  • Partner integrations are often very simple and only expose a small percentage of their capability.
  • Cloud hosted only, can’t interact with private company services or data.
  • No support for decision making – for example, no way to say, “Every new email with this word in the title, copy it to a new row in a spreadsheet, if it also has the phrase ‘Alert’ then post a message into a Slack channel”.
Zapier –
  • Able to chain several steps together.
  • Lots of pre-existing partner integration.
  • Limited scope, a ‘Zap’ operates in isolation.
  • Partner integrations are often very simple and only expose a small percentage of their capability.
  • Cloud hosted only, can’t interact with private company services or data.
  • No support for decision making.
opi –
  • Built to be business aware – multiple step operations with logic that can be customised for your business.
  • Pre-existing partner integration with ability to quickly integrate with almost every modern service.
  • Is a service so isn’t ‘off the shelf’ – a consultant needs to tailor it to your business.
  • Less partner integrations out of the box (as it’s easy to integrate them).
  • The greater flexibility and scope comes with a higher price point.
Prometheus –
  • Open source scalable tool
  • Built by a technology company to scratch their own itch – now used by several notable companies
  • Creators don’t recommend it for mission critical applications
  • Is only offered as a tool – Technical expertise is required to get anything working
  • Works best when not changing the shape of the data with any frequency
  • Factory grade automation – solutions from desktop to robotics.
  • Integrates AI-based predictive metrics
  • 40+ components – you don’t pay for what you don’t need.
  • Suited for very large-scale solutions
  • Requires significant expert set-up

When you start to automate a business, there are 3 points to consider.

Return on Time. Like Tesla, you want to prioritise the simple, yet high return tasks where an empathising and critical thinking human adds no value. Calculate the potential return on time when choosing tasks to automate.

Vendor Support. Building meaningful, useful and robust automated processes is still a complex operation. Although you may be able to automate simple tasks in your business, the more complicated tasks can require additional help. Not only that, but an external partner can help you with the tasks that will have a greater long-term impact on the business and help predict what future automation requirements you may have.

Culture. You’ll need to consider building a culture of automation. It might be a strange thing to consider, but a lot of employees are worried about automating themselves out of the job, so may be reluctant to adapt to the automation, and find fault where they can. Their fears, however, are quite unjustified. Often, good employees find themselves automating themselves up into “better jobs”. They can focus more on the fulfilling, high-value tasks that they want to work on, and become less held back by the manual, repetitive tasks. Employees are in effect promoted to process supervisors in much the same that the Tesla drivers become car supervisors. When you have this conversation with your employees, it’s important to explain how it will benefit them. For example, automating certain parts of the sales cycle means sales staff can spend less time chasing paperwork and dealing with on boarding issues and more time prospecting, setting up meetings and closing new deals for the business, earning themselves more commission.

How can you apply the Tesla approach to automating processes in your business?

About the Author:

Alexander Preston is the Founder and Managing Director of Intrepid Ltd. Having worked in the UK, the USA and the Middle East, Alex is now back in London focusing his mind on using modern technology to save others (and himself) time and effort. He specialises in using IT, Software and Process automation solutions to achieve these goals. In his personal time that he has freed up, Alex has been able to follow his passion for squash and is the current British Open Men’s O35 champion.