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What is a swivel chair process?

Lari Numminen

September 21, 2023

A swivel chair is a spinny, revolving chair popular in many offices and workplaces. It's also a way to describe inefficient processes and opportunities for automation in business process management. In this brief article, we go through what is a swivel chair in the context of a business.

What is a swivel chair process?

A swivel chair process describes any business workflow or task where you need to manually enter the same data into different systems. Eliminating swivel chair activity from your business processes reduces manual work, creates efficiencies and improves operational excellence.

Cost of swivel chair processes in business

The swivel chair metaphor comes from the office setting, where you could imagine physically turning from one activity to another in your swivel chair as you repeat manual tasks. Recent research by Workfellow estimates 10% of the time of an average business operations team is spent in swivel chair activities.

Reasons for swivel chair

Swivel chair processes are fairly common in the workplace but may be difficult to measure. Typically they involve legacy workflows or IT systems that require a high amount of manual data entry or tasks.

Often swivel chair activities form over time when people implement more activities into a workflow or assignment. It may be common practice in areas like financial reporting or customer service where you need to toggle between different types of business applications to complete repetitive tasks. For example, in many shared services functions maintaining customer records between various ERP and CRM systems may require manual copy-paste when integrations have not been built between different systems.

Why you should remove the swivel chair from your processes

  • Eliminate human error - typically swivel chair activities involve manual copy-paste work where it's not uncommon to have human error.
  • Speed up lead time - swivel chair activity may slow down your processes or workflows if you are dependent on manual intervention from an employee.
  • Reduce operational cost - while it may be difficult to measure, the cost of manual, repetitive work in swivel chair activities can quickly add up.
  • Process re-engineering - swivel chair activities are typically good points to improve operational excellence through a broader re-design of inefficient processes.

Swivel chair in automation / RPA

Swivel chair activities in business operations are often high-potential areas for robotic process automation. The core use case is that repetitive, manual tasks that involve digital systems can be automated, either through direct integrations between different business applications - or through RPA bots that complete digital tasks more efficiently and accurately than humans.

How to discover and remove swivel chair activity

For many companies, process discovery exercises highlight swivel chair processes. Increasingly, competitive enterprises are opting for automated process mining software that continuously identifies inefficient processes and wasted work across different tasks, processes and IT systems.

Next step: read about an effortlessly intelligent way to analyze swivel chair processes. Read the Object-Centric Task Mining (OCTM) ebook.

Swivel chair process Q&A

What is a swivel chair interface?

A swivel chair interface describes a work environment where an operator has to interact with multiple systems to perform their job function. This could involve entering the same data into multiple systems, or retrieving and cross-referencing information between different systems. The term "swivel chair" is used metaphorically to describe the operator physically turning from one system (or computer terminal) to another, although in reality it's more likely to involve toggling between different software applications on the same machine. It's often seen in fields such as customer service, where an agent may need to use one system to interact with the customer and another system to access their account details.

What is a swivel chair integration?

Swivel chair integration is a term that refers to an approach where an individual manually integrates data or processes between two or more systems that are not directly connected. It's a form of manual integration, which often occurs because the systems involved do not have an application programming interface (API) or the ability to communicate with each other directly. Instead of these systems being automatically synced, data must be manually exported from one system, converted into a suitable format if necessary, and then imported into another system. The operator, in essence, becomes the bridge between the systems.

what is swivel chair in automation?

In the context of automation, a "swivel chair" refers to a manual process in which a human operator has to interact with multiple systems in order to complete a task. This can often be tedious and time-consuming, involving the operator "swiveling" between different systems, inputting or extracting data, and essentially bridging the gap where these systems fail to communicate with each other directly. It often leads to inefficient processes, can introduce errors, and presents a significant opportunity for automation to improve both speed and accuracy.

How can process automation remove swivel chair tasks?

Process automation can effectively eliminate swivel chair tasks by integrating separate systems and automating the transfer and transformation of data. This could involve building APIs to allow direct communication between systems, using robotic process automation (RPA) to mimic human interaction with systems and automate repetitive tasks, or employing more complex machine learning algorithms to handle more sophisticated tasks. By automating these processes, not only are errors reduced and efficiency increased, but workers can be freed up to focus on more complex, higher value tasks that require human judgment and creativity. This approach can lead to significant productivity gains and cost savings, and is a key aspect of digital transformation strategies in many organizations.

Written by

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Fellow