What Is Business Process Automation (BPA)?

What you need to know about BPA and how low-code business process automation can streamline manual, repetitive tasks.

In 2020, Forrester analysts predicted that automation would become a business imperative. Fast forward to the present day and it’s clear that this prediction not only came true, but the future of automation has accelerated thanks to the post-pandemic shift in how (and where) we work. The swift pace of automation is often referred to as “hyperautomation.”

Hyperautomation, according to Gartner, “enables accelerated growth and business resilience by rapidly identifying, vetting and automating as many processes as possible.” The forces driving this push for automation include:

  1. The want to improve quality of work.
  2. The need for faster business processes.
  3. The demand for processes that enable agile decision-making.

To better understand how business process automation can help companies achieve these goals and gain control of unruly processes, let’s dive into what BPA is and how it works. 

Business process automation definition

Automation is the use of technology (such as software or machines) to complete specific tasks without the need for human action. Typically automations are used to manage repetitive, predictable tasks that do not require problem-solving or decision-making skills.

A business process is a group of activities, tasks, systems, data, people, machines, and other actors that allow an organization to achieve a strategic goal. Combined, these two concepts create what we refer to as “business process automation.” 

Business process automation — also known as workflow automation or process automation — uses technology to streamline high-volume, repetitive tasks by allowing teams to set rules and events that trigger specific actions in a process. 

BPA software reduces human intervention and effort, eliminates manual work, and makes faster and error-proof workflows possible. By standardizing unruly workflows, companies save time, money, and resources — allowing teams to focus on getting meaningful work done. 

Automation 101
According to IBM, there are four types of automation: basic, process, integration, and artificial intelligence.

1. Basic automation: Simple, rudimentary tasks are automated.
2. Process automation: Automation creates uniformity and transparency, and delivers insights.
3. Integration automation: Machines can mimic human behavior and repeat tasks or actions.
4. AI automation: This is the most complex form of automation. Machines are able to learn and make decisions.

Advantages of business process automation

In addition to freeing busy teams of repetitive tasks, the long-term use of BPA software has many other benefits, including:

Increased productivityEmployees who aren’t bogged down by repetitive tasks have more time to be strategic, creative, and proactive.
Improved accuracyAutomation reduces the opportunities for errors by eliminating unnecessary inputs.
Streamlined communicationCommunications gaps are eliminated or minimized when emails, feedback requests, and other types of communication are automated.
Better visibility and collaborationWhen the progress of tasks is automated and updates don’t rely on manual inputs, managers are always in the know and on top of workflow updates.

BPA vs BPM: What’s the difference? 

BPA uses technology or software to automate repetitive tasks. Business process management (BPM) is a formal approach to analyzing and optimizing the processes that power a company’s operations.

In other words, BPM software identifies and analyzes business processes in order to understand how they can be improved. BPM is strategic, BPA is tactical. 

Both BPA and BPM software help companies improve productivity by eliminating extra work, reducing costs by building more effective workflows, and increasing employee and customer satisfaction by streamlining internal and external business operations.

How business process automation works 

BPA software automates repetitive, predictable tasks in order to better manage workflows. Emails, notifications, approvals, and status updates, and document creation are some examples of tasks that can be automated with BPA software. 

To successfully implement business process automation, there are six steps that need to be completed: map out the selected process, identify automation opportunities, target the goals of automation, test the automations, deploy the improved workflow, and monitor how the automations affect workflows. 

1. Map

Process mapping is the practice of creating a visualization of the process. In most cases, process mapping results in a workflow diagram or flowchart that illustrates all the people, tasks, and information required to produce a specific outcome. This can be as easy as a drawing on a whiteboard, or making a flowchart with software.

By first gathering all the information about a process (including inputs, tasks, relevant stakeholders, expected results, and any limitations), challenges and opportunities can begin to bubble up to the surface. 

2. Identify 

Once a process has been mapped and a 360-view is available, it’s time to begin identifying repetitive tasks within a process and additional challenges that can be solved with automation. 

For example, in the accounts receivable process a good candidate for automation is sending out invoices. With automation, this task can be assigned a date for when the invoice should go out to ensure that it aligns with the overall invoice schedule, and the invoice will automatically include all of the details that were included in the PO. 

With this one automation, you’ve solved four problems: manual data entry, manual invoice delivery, errors due to manual data entry and delivery, and the time spent accomplishing each of these steps. 

3. Target 

After reviewing the process and noting what needs to be improved, the next step is to set clear objectives and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the success of your automation.

4. Test

Now comes the fun part: testing the potential automation. This is the time to introduce the team to the process adjustment, how it works, how it will improve the business process, and open the floor to feedback. This step also includes checking for errors or new bottlenecks and making adjustments as necessary. 

As you review and test the automations, make sure that the new process solves the challenges identified during Step #2. 

5. Deploy 

Now that the process has been mapped, analyzed, and improved, it’s time to go live. Document the automation structure and communicate the new process or any changes that happened between Step 3 and Step 4 so that everyone understands the process update. 

6. Monitor 

As you roll out the changes, continue to monitor the performance of the automations. A robust, low-code business process automation or business process management solution is a great way to gather this kind of business intelligence. Using dashboards and reports, you can translate raw data into visual stories. 

What to look for in BPA software

If your business processes include a high volume of repetitive tasks, require input from several people, consist of tasks that depend on the completion of other tasks, and require a compliance or audit trail, then business process automation is for you. 

With the right BPA software: 

  • Bottlenecks and slowdowns caused by human response times are eliminated.
  • Delays due to task dependencies are resolved.
  • Documentation, tracking, and progress monitoring is easy and straightforward. 
  • Information is moved frictionlessly to where it needs to go.

Whether you’re new to the search or considering various options, here’s what to look for in an end-to-end BPA software solution. 

rulesConnects with additional processes for seamless workflow execution.

For example, recruiting an employee leads directly to onboarding them. Pipefy lets you integrate all your processes together so teams are aligned and tasks proceed without interruption. 

workflow integration iconIntegrates with existing apps or software.

From simple customer report requests to complex processes like procurement, you can manage them all in Pipefy, hassle-free.

dashboardGathers and analyzes business intelligence.

Look for software that has dashboards, custom monitoring, and reporting options built-in.

Built for citizen developers. 

Take it one step further and search for an option that offers customizable templates to quickly and easily scale your business processes and automations.

6 business process automation use cases and examples

If your business processes include high-volume or repetitive tasks, require input from several people, consist of tasks that depend on the completion of other tasks, and require a compliance or audit trail, then business process automation is for you. 

With the right BPA software, here is a rundown of some of the tasks that can be automated across six different departments:

Customer Success– Create new work item/ticket
– Ticket escalation
– Create and send documents to multiple stakeholders with automated emails
Marketing – Create new marketing requests from email or form fill
– Share content to social media
– Activate email campaigns
Sales– Move leads to another stage of the sales pipeline
– Using thresholds, rules, and conditionals: move lead to new phase of pipeline
– Collect and organize data from drip campaign engagement
– Generate and send proposals
– Kickoff customer onboarding workflow
IT– Assign/distribute work item/tickets
– Route work items by type, date, or other criteria
– Share status changes and updates
Finance– Generate and send invoices
– Generate and send purchase orders 
– Log PO against budget
HR– Recruiting: Notify hiring manager(s) of receipt of application
– Onboarding: Notify teams of new hire and start date; generate, send, and capture signatures for new hire paperwork
– HR requests: Route vacation or equipment requests to the appropriate assignees

Solve process challenges with low-code business process automation software 

Business process automation can streamline repeatable business processes, and allow busy employees to focus on higher-level tasks, all while increasing consistency, efficiency, and reliability.

Find out why teams use Pipefy to accelerate their digital transformation with BPA Why Pipefy