From networking technology to distributed storage and computing, the many advancements of the past few decades have allowed companies to grow larger, evolve faster, and do more in every respective industry. But all this growth has come with diversified responsibilities, more dependencies to track, and increasingly complex business processes overall.
One of the most effective solutions is business process automation (BPA), used by countless organizations to streamline their day-to-day activities and improve how efficiently they run their business. In this article we’ll define BPA, delineate its many benefits, explain when and where automation is appropriate, and mention a few relevant examples.
What is business process automation?
Business process automation—also known as workflow automation or process automation—is a way to use technology and automation to perform complex business tasks with reduced human intervention and effort.
BPA focuses on high-volume, repetitive tasks, as these are the easiest to automate and also lead to the greatest benefits. For example, a sales representative who calls and tracks dozens of clients every day would benefit from a system that sets up the calls, creates reminders, and updates a calendar or customer database automatically, but he doesn’t really need BPA to write a one-time internal presentation on sales techniques.
But BPA doesn’t just apply to individual employees. Process automations are most-effective when they are cross-functional, span the whole business, and integrate applications so everyone can make the best use of time and resources.
What business processes should you automate?
Certain processes will benefit from automation more than others. In general, processes or workflows that are a good fit for automation would include:
- High-volume or repetitive tasks. The essence of BPA is saving employees from repeatedly performing rote work.
- Processes that require several people. BPA shines when it resolves the bottlenecks and slowdowns caused by human response times. Automation can make relevant information available immediately where it’s needed, instead of having to wait for an email from another busy team member.
- Processes that are time-sensitive. Process automation moves information frictionlessly to where it needs to go, so it makes sense to automate urgent tasks wherever possible.
- Tasks that affect the completion of other tasks. Dependencies are a major source of delays, and if one activity can interrupt multiple other tasks downstream, this should be a focus for automation.
- Processes or tasks that need compliance or audit trails. BPA makes documentation easy with various logs and performance metrics built into relevant software by default. This makes tracking and monitoring more straightforward, and provides rich historical data.
- Tasks that must be error-free. Processes requiring highly reliable output or results should involve the least human intervention, and so are prime for automation.
Examples of Business Process Automation
● In customer service, automated communications for customer support, such as chatbots, emails or troubleshooting tickets, are common.
● In marketing and sales, lead-nurturing emails and sales orders—especially from established customers—can be automated.
● In the finance department, automated workflows for expense or travel reimbursements can streamline how employees make requests, how those requests are validated, and how payments are made.
● Also in finance, third-party contract management and payroll are repetitive, ongoing business processes ripe for automation.
● In human resources, workflows governing paid time off (PTO), recruitment processes, and new-hire onboarding processes can be automated.
● In IT, a common example of automation is employees’ requests for password resets. This is accomplished instantly and effortlessly with automated emails or chats that contain relevant links where employees can reset their own passwords.
● Also in IT, scheduled maintenance planning and managing service requests is far more efficient with automated workflows (IT).
Some of the most effective automations come from HR in streamlining how employees request time off. Without an automated process, an employee might need to speak with a manager and HR, email their request, and wait for a back-and-forth to complete before getting approval.
And all of this might happen without any of the stakeholders having immediate information on-hand about the guidelines for time-off requests, how much remaining PTO the employee has, and how the employee’s time off might affect other schedules and dependencies.
IT Department: Shorter Time to Resolution
Other effective applications of BPA can be found in IT departments, where problems can directly affect employees or interrupt business operations, and short times to resolution are critical. Without process automation, a technician might receive a call or email about a service request, schedule work on it themselves, and eventually attempt to understand the problem and troubleshoot it from scratch.
In this situation, an IT team could lose track of issues, incorrectly resolve problems due to disorganization or lack of communication, or repeat time-consuming work that could have been avoided with the ability to see the big picture.
Benefits of Business Process Automation
Many businesses already have established workflows, so it can be difficult to decide to automate something that already feels like it’s working. However, the benefits of BPA make it difficult to pass up:
● Enhanced efficiency: by automating repetitive, manual work, you can focus on what really matters; the growth of your business.
● Process standardization: Creating digital workflows that are easily accessed, shared, and modified leads to higher quality, resilience to errors, and avoids costly rework. BPA helps businesses develop transparent, error-proof operations with high standards of execution.
● Internal and external consistency: Automated processes mean that clients and customers always interact through a reliable, consistent interface, reducing friction inside and outside your business.
● Increased organization: Process automation provides expanded opportunities for integration among people and systems in different business areas.
● Visibility: Individual contributors, technicians, managers, and high-level decision makers can see what’s happening at a glance. Dashboards make it easy to spot bottlenecks, monitor service requests, or find reference information quickly.
● High satisfaction: Employees get predictable responses to their queries, while customers get consistent products, service, and payment options. This all leads to more satisfied people inside and outside your business.
7 steps to Business Process Automation
If you’re thinking about using process automation, here are a few basic steps to follow:
1. First, choose the processes you want to automate. As already mentioned, some processes are more appropriate than others, and you don’t want to build automations that are never used.
2. Next, make an effort to completely understand the processes and tasks in question. You can get a more complete view of current processes, and how efficiently they’re executed, by interviewing relevant stakeholders, holding meetings, and reviewing historical performance data.
3. After selecting and reviewing your process, set clear objectives, noting what specifically needs to be improved, and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the success of your automation.
4. If you don’t already have a preferred process automation solution, it’s time to select one. Choose a solution that suits both business requirements and user needs. You’ll want to look for cloud-based, hassle-free software that is easy to use, requires minimal to no coding, integrates with existing platforms, and includes dashboards, custom monitoring, and reporting options.
5. Another important step is process mapping. Take all of your gathered information about processes, tasks, relevant stakeholders, and any limitations, and create a graphical representation of the process which can be used for reference. This can be as easy as a drawing on a whiteboard, or making a flowchart with software.
6. Test the potential automation, checking for errors or new bottlenecks, and make adjustments as necessary. Make sure that the new process meets all of your objectives (from step #2).
7. Finally, your process automation is ready to deploy. Document and communicate the new process automation, roll out the changes, and continue monitoring performance with BPA software and tools.
Organize and control your work with business process automation
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.
Never again will you have to wonder about the status of certain requests, who is responsible for what, or what tool you were using (Email? Chat? Spreadsheet?) when you last replied to a request.
Process automations are most-effective when they are cross-functional, span the whole business, and integrate applications so everyone can make the best use of time and resources.