Sandy Kemsley's Vlog - Process latency - not always a bad thing
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Process latency – not always a bad thing

By Sandy Kemsley

Video Time: 8 Minutes

Hi, I’m Sandy Kemsley of I’m here today for the Trisotech blog with some thoughts on process latency.

On the face of it, process latency sounds like a bad thing. Basically, it means that the process pauses for some reason usually for input from a person and that means it takes longer for the process to complete: longer cycle times, often result in lower customer satisfaction and unnecessary human input can increase the cost while adding to the latency.

Now there was a very funny XKCD comic a couple of weeks ago about process latency, where we see automated steps that take a few hundred milliseconds bracketing a much longer period of several minutes while someone copies and pastes data between applications. And this doesn’t even consider additional latency caused by queuing times, since the workers doing that step in the middle, may not be available 24 hours a day, or they might have a long list of other things to do first. now if you’re an avid reader of XKCD like I am, you know that each comic has an extra text pop-up, sort of an easter egg if you float your cursor over it, and the text for this one states what we process professionals know from long experience that each of these copy and paste activities that’s in the process increases the probability that the process isn’t going to complete until at least the next business day. Now what I said earlier however is that unnecessary human input increases latency, not just human input. Definitely, the type of input that we see in the XKCD comic where somebody is copying and pasting between applications is probably unnecessary. If this is a well understood activity, then we should be looking at how to automate that step. Now the best way is through API integration of these applications, that are being copied and pasted from into. If the APIs are not available, then RPA (robotic process automation) can be used to mimic the workers actions by doing the copying and pasting directly as unattended screen commands. And then in either case you might use a business process management or BPM system to orchestrate the API calls and RPA bought, so that you’re automating the whole thing end to end.

But what if the human input’s a bit more complex than just copying and pasting, and it actually requires decision making? Well, we have technologies to deal with this: artificial intelligence, machine learning, decision management. These can be used to automate decisions that previously had to be made by human operators. So, the automated activities get a bit smarter, and can replace the human activity, and therefore reduce process latency, faster cycle time, usually also reduce costs, and more satisfied customers because they’re getting the same result faster.

Now from all of this automation talk you might think that I’m trying to automate everyone out of a job. Definitely, some jobs are being replaced by automation. Take a look over at to see if you might be in the crosshairs. If your job is just data entry: copying and pasting between applications without adding any value, then that’s being automated exactly as I’ve discussed. But if you’re doing some sort of knowledge work, that can’t be automated all that well, especially in processes that directly impact the customer journey, then your manual input may be the secret sauce behind your company’s success. And you don’t want that to be automated away for the sake of efficiencies. There are a lot of processes that need the human touch. There will be automation applied to parts of these, because a skilled knowledge worker doesn’t need to also be doing the boring copy and paste part of their work. I’d routinely see this sort of thing at the desks of, for example, insurance claims managers who have to manually create letters to clients by copying and pasting data from green screens into a word document when they could be spending their time applying human judgment where it’s required to adjudicate claims. Now a key part of process design, is understanding that distinction. Knowing when and how to use people within a process to the best advantage and understanding how technology can help those people to do the boring bits of their job faster, or even replace the boring bits of their job completely with automation.

Many years ago, I remember working with a banking client who had selected a very automation-focused tool: it was an actually an integration broker as their process automation tool. And then I chatted with them about how we were going to automate some of the back office loan approval workflows that still required people in the process. And the person I was speaking to in their architecture group somewhat dismissively referred to these as “human interrupted processes”. To him, the only good process was one that had no people left in it, and was therefore optimized to reduce latency. To me, the best process is the one that uses the critical skills of automation and the unique skills of people together to optimize the customer experience. Faster isn’t always better!

That’s it for today you can find more of my writing and videos on the Trisotech blog or on my own blog at See you next time.

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