Business Process Automation
What Is Business Process Automation?
Business Process Automation is the process of using automation through technology and other means to help businesses function more seamlessly and that is the topic of this guide today. We’re going to explore the different elements of BPA and the impact it has on businesses, and how it can be implemented, and the common tools of the trade.
This is something that has taken off into a highly sophisticated process but the idea was first sparked in the year 1913 when Henry Ford created a way to manufacture his cars more efficiently. What began as a moving assembly line in production has now grown even more as technology has expanded. From robotic manufacturing all the way up to artificial intelligence, BPA is now a normal part of the tools used to continually improve businesses.
The Basics of Business Process Automation
Business Process Automation “is a process of managing information, data, and processes to reduce costs, resources, and investment,” according to Techopedia.
Business Process Automation or BPA is designed to make businesses more efficient and to help stabilize the long term efficiency of an organization. Through a variety of technology-based tools, typically this means software applications, certain processes are automated so that fewer resources are devoted to making these things happen manually.
According to a report from Venture Beat, BPA can deliver up to 400% ROI because of the way that it can help businesses cut costs. It was the fastest-growing software category in the last quarter of 2019 and it is going to continue to grow as it is more heavily implemented across a variety of industries.
There are three basic principles that business process automation is built upon. The first of those is orchestration. The way that a BPA system is laid out will allow businesses to create multiple concurrent systems that will help manage their computing architecture.
Integration is another one of these principles. When business functions are all streamlined into one system, all of these elements can function together for increased productivity and synergy when it comes to actualizing business goals in the future.
Finally, there is automated execution, which is arguably the entire point. Automating execution means that human interaction is minimized as much as possible. This uses fewer resources and reduces the amount of multiple and repetitive tasks that employees of the business will have to complete.
Business process automation systems are complex in their own right but they seek to greatly simplify the way that a business runs. BPA systems allow you to orchestrate a plan, integrate all of your business processes, and automatically execute key tasks.
The point of BPA is to keep your computing architecture completely intact and organized. This allows everything to be more transparent and helps valuable insight be properly distributed and used by everyone who needs to within a company. All of the business functions that fit into certain boxes are consolidated as much as possible to create simplicity and transparency.
Finally, as we’ve said, reducing human interaction is at the heart of business process automation. Devoting valuable employee resources, money, and other resources to completing processes that could be automated is going to more quickly drain the resources of any business and drag it down in the long run.
These systems have a lot of benefits for businesses and it is important to create them as efficiently as possible to maximize the potential of a business. Most of these systems have three main elements, which we will discuss in the next section.
What Are The Elements of Business Process Automation?
When you look at the three fundamental “building blocks” of a business process automation system that you just read about, just like with any other system that is implemented to help improve organizational efficiency, there are some problems that they are designed to address. We’re going to refer to these problems that BPA solves as the elements of the plan that businesses need to create to make this happen.
BPA systems can be very complex but there are usually three elements of a plan. Business rules and logic are the first of these elements. Business rules are most simply explained as the policies that a business puts in place, this is a more formal umbrella term that covers all of those policies. Business logic falls in line with that, as it is how those policies are translated into processes, which are the action steps that propel a business towards its goals. In business process automation, this part of the system is going to be the baseline that informs the rest of the entire system.
The rules are going to define the logic, and much of the logic can be fully automated. Even partial automation can help curb human interference and help things move smoothly.
Next is structured data. Data is an important asset to your business and structured data is one of the data sets that is going to be referenced more often than any other. This is the type of data that is used in analytics to help inform future business processes and analyze performance. This type of data can be generated by computers and humans, and BPA plans typically include processes that help streamline the collection and integration of this data into useful and concise reports so that it can be effectively used.
BPA systems also cover unstructured data. The best way to think of unstructured data is as the “everything else” that isn’t structured. This can be reviews, social media, emails, newsletters, and is usually heavily text-based but can include images, files, and more.
A strong business process automation initiative is going to seamlessly combine these three elements so that they can function independently but also provide a full scope of each of them.
What Are The Benefits of Business Process Automation?
When faced with creating any kind of system like this, that is obviously complex, it may be hard to see the point in investing in such a system without a view of what the tangible results are going to be. So, we’re going to discuss just a few of the key benefits of BPA.
The most obvious benefit is increased productivity. When you automate business processes and workflows, the amount of time that will be needed to complete tasks is going to be greatly reduced. Your workforce can be allocated more effectively when they are no longer needed for these tasks that have been automated. Those employees’ time can now be devoted to things that are going to generate more revenue and drive innovation in the company. They will also be able to focus more on customer service.
Because of that, better customer service is going to be a key byproduct of business process automation. Customers are going to receive more accuracy and consistency because the workforce will have the proper time to dedicate to making that happen. Additionally, BPA reduces the risk of human error throughout the entire business structure, too. The actions that are automated are going to happen identically every time with no room for error. So, the customers that rely on your business are not going to be subject to the consequences of these errors and you are not going to be subject to the cost of fixing them.
Reducing costs, time investment on tasks, customer satisfaction, and more, is going to lead to overall better operational efficiency in the long run.
Another benefit of business process automation is that it increases transparency across the entire enterprise. Communication can be more streamlined because automated systems are going to provide a visual and organized space where all of the people involved in a certain project will be able to view the same information and track progress.
When tasks are assigned manually or communication happens through phone calls and emails, details can be lost and instructions can be misunderstood. When everything is automated and housed in one place, this is going to happen way less frequently and helps keep everyone on the same page. Information can be kept up-to-date automatically and it can be guaranteed that everyone who needs access has it and no one outside of the particular project needs to be updated and involved when it doesn’t concern their day-to-day tasks and performance.
Increasing the communication throughout your business like this is going to help it to become more collaborative and keep everyone involved on the same page. It also allows the person in charge to see where everyone is at and make sure that problems are actively addressed as soon as they arise.
Managing your business this way also helps you to make better use of your metrics. You will have a better insight into processes as they happen and won’t have to rely on things to be relayed to you before they can be useful. Metrics are important to help drive strategies and move goals forward. The processes you automate can provide great metrics information that you wouldn’t have had otherwise as well.
There are countless benefits to business process automation beyond these, but this is just a quick look at the key improvements that this sort of system can help make in a business.
Challenges of Business Process Automation
There are some challenges in business process automation. We feel that the reward greatly outweighs the risk but it helps to have an entire view of something that can become so integral to the function of a business over time. We’re going to discuss the main challenges in this section. Many people see automation as the future and they are very eager to get on board; however, there are plenty of people who want to see things from every angle before moving forward.
The important thing to keep in mind is that sometimes, business process automation will not replace everyone involved. There are some things that will need to be consistently reviewed, overseen, or monitored as the system grows and becomes fully implemented across every area of a business.
One of the main challenges comes with workflows. Workflows need to be fully understood inside and out before they can be automated and that means on a step-by-step basis. Each step needs to be clearly defined in a way that helps it become automated so the right conditions are going to trigger the right actions every time. If a business fails to get extremely granular in defining their workflows, then the system may not be able to fully automate processes effectively.
Another challenge that businesses face is hitting the ground running a little too fast. Doing too much and choosing to completely overhaul every process all at one time can make things confusing for employees and those in management roles. When you are automating a business, you should automate workflows individually or in phases so that each aspect of the system can be tested. Investing in a business process automation system can be great for a business or, when it isn’t used properly, can exhaust both employees and resources much more quickly.
Goals are a challenge in any business system and that can be especially true of business process automation. In business, goals need to be specific so that progress can be measured and so that the right steps are always being taken; this helps make sure that the critical resources to your business are not being wasted. Testing workflows and testing processes are going to help reduce the challenges of creating this system because you will have clear visuals on progress and how it is improving your operational efficiency (or not). When it isn’t, those systems can be reworked.
Inadequate software can also make an entire business process automation plan fall apart. There are going to be different software tools that do different things and each business has unique needs. Making sure that you go through the right steps of creating goals and a means of measuring those goals, along with understanding each workflow on its most basic level will help your team decide what software is the right one for you. When the software doesn’t do enough, it is going to limit the scope of automation in your business and make the system feel like more of a burden than anything else.
There are also problems that come with software that is too complex. When you only need a certain set of tools and you go all out on software that does things that are far more complex than the needs of your business, then that system can be costly, hard to use, and not a strong investment. Understanding your needs as a business is the main way that you can overcome this challenge.
While it is true that there are challenges with any system that is implemented within a business, it still stands true that business process automation is a largely worthwhile investment. The key takeaway from this should be that going into the act of automation is going to pay great dividends for your business if you make sure that you are doing everything necessary to make the most of it by identifying what you need, getting software that can address those needs, and measuring how it is propelling your business towards its goals over time.
Business process automation is also not something that you can just “set and forget.” Lack of follow up on the business process automation plan that is put in place can also bring its own challenges. Follow-ups allow businesses to deal with any problems that may arise down the line within the software or system overall and it ensures that you are applying the right metrics across the board to make BPA work for you.
Types of Business Process Automation
Now that you understand how business process automation can benefit a business, we’re going to explore what types of business process automation exist. Not every business is going to have the same level of need when it comes to automation and each type may be the best fit for your business. Some businesses use a combination of these types of automation, depending on the scope of their needs.
There are four types of BPA, ranging from quite simple to more complex. These are:
- Basic Automation
- Process Authorization
- Integration Automation
- Artificial Intelligence Automation
Basic Automation is the most simple form that business process automation takes. It addresses the most simple jobs in an organization and puts all of the related information into one clear place so that anyone who needs that information can access it. An easy example of this is using a messaging tool for a group of employees or a specific project, making sure that all communication takes place in one tool and no information gets lost between team members as we touched on earlier.
Process Automation is a little bit more complex and it is where a dedicated BPA software (which you will read more about later) would come into play. Process automation is for managing tasks, processes, and projects in a streamlined way so that everything is consistent and meets deadlines. This also increases transparency because the dedicated software application will have a dashboard where all of the information is stored and can be accessed.
Integration Automation is where true automation really starts. This type of automation uses machines or software to replicate tasks that are typically carried out by human employees. This type of automation still involves human interaction to a degree, though. Rules are set by humans, so this is the part of BPA where clearly defined workflows are vitally important. One way that this type of automation could be used would be in customer support roles, for instance. A customer support platform that collects customer complaints can be processed through software that can assign a checklist to an employee that needs to solve those complaints; this means that the process automation or process management software is integrated into the customer support software, which is why it is called integration automation.
Finally, there is the most complex type of BPA, Artificial Intelligence Automation. AI-integration is driving innovation in business and streamlining operations more than ever before. The point of artificial intelligence is that computer software applications are able to make human-like decisions or provide technological support in the same way that an actual employee could. AI business process automation uses software systems to organize data and then set a process in motion based on the data the software receives.
There are other types of business process automation that you will learn about throughout the course of this guide but these are the most basic umbrellas that each of the additional types fall under.
What Businesses Use Business Process Automation?
Business process automation, as you read earlier, started with the creation of the assembly line in automotive manufacturing. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that something that seems so integral to businesses now had such humble beginnings, but it’s true. Technology has expanded so much over the past several decades that the entire landscape of business process automation has changed and it is something that any business can implement to make positive changes.
With that said, there are some industries where business process automation is the most prominent. We’re going to talk about those industries and how they use BPA in their operations in this section.
Each industry is unique in the way that it functions and the role that it plays for its customers whether that is through products, services, or otherwise. Even more than that, each business is going to have a diverse workforce that has its own strengths and its own structure when it comes to operations. These are important factors in what businesses use BPA and how they use it. Any industry can make positive use of BPA; here are some examples of industries where it is critical to the core operations of businesses within that industry.
Some tasks in banking and finance are very repetitive, like automating credit and money transfers, processing loans, and integrating with other banking systems that may have different policies and procedures in place. Office operations are also something that is heavily automated in the banking industry because the same basic actions need to be completed on a regular basis.
Business process automation in banking is important because human error can be devastating, both for individuals who rely on banks and the business reputations of the banks themselves. BPA also helps banks move money more efficiently for their customers and greatly reduces the workload for those who work in financial institutions. Can you imagine what it would be like if each payment you made had to be processed individually?
Everything from biotechnology companies to hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmaceutical labs, and beyond are highly reliant on business process automation. Healthcare is one of the industries where innovation and streamlining processes has been at the forefront of businesses for over a century. So many patients and individuals rely on the healthcare system to be well and handle medical emergencies that it makes efficient operations critical to the positive patient outcomes that each business is striving for.
Healthcare is one of the most quality-driven industries in the world. It also has strict guidelines on practices and how processes need to occur to protect patient safety, ensure data privacy, and more. Automating processes like keeping records, managing large projects, and logistics are integral to the operation of any healthcare facility, and that’s just the start.
Telecommunications is an industry that encompasses broadcasting, communication by phone, over the internet, and more. More than 60% of the world uses the internet on a daily basis and even more of the population uses their phone each day; the average consumer also spends more than four hours a day watching television. This industry is tied to almost everything that we do on a daily basis, which means that there is a lot going on behind the scenes at all times. Billing, customer and technical support, databases, and office systems are just a handful of the things that telecommunications companies have automated through BPA systems.
Trading and Manufacturing
The manufacturing industry was the original source of business process automation and it has relied more heavily on it since it was first implemented. The population is larger, people are buying more, and there are more products being made available, purchased, and used every single day. Everyone in the world relies on the manufacturing and trading of goods for the things that they need to survive and the things that they use to entertain themselves.
The actual manufacturing of most goods is as automated as possible now to save time and make sure that demand is being met with an adequate supply. Warehouse activities, managing resources, managing document flows, and a multitude of other processes are automated in the manufacturing and trade industries to keep the world moving and make sure that consumers have access to the things that they need.
What Types of Business Processes Should Be Automated?
Now that you have an understanding of the types of business process automation and the industries that make use of business process automation, we are going to look more in-depth at the types of processes that can, and perhaps should, be automated through the use of a BPA system.
The thing about business process automation is that it is not really restricted to a certain type of task or set of processes. Instead, it can be implemented in a variety of ways if the things your business does fall under a particular set of criteria. First, there are some things to consider when you are thinking about automating a certain process in your business. Here are some great questions to ask to get started:
- Does this process include a high volume of tasks?
- Are multiple people required to execute these tasks?
- Are these tasks time-sensitive?
- Will automating this process have a positive impact on other systems or processes?
- Will automating this process keep us in line with current compliance issues?
- Will automating this process make auditing it easier going forward?
If the answer to the questions above is “yes,” then it is very likely that this is a process that should be automated and automating it will have positive results in regards to the overall operations of your business. Those questions can feel nebulous so, here is a breakdown of some great examples of processes that can be automated.
Bringing In New Employees
Employee onboarding is a process that involves multiple tasks, like employee paperwork, organizing orientation and training, collecting all the documents and information on a new employee, setting up payment accounts, and assigning someone to mentor or manage that employee based on their new role.
This process can take a long time because of all the tasks involved and can result in an employee having to do a lot of paperwork and subsequent tasks to make sure everything runs smoothly. Any errors in this process can make your new employee feel bogged down or give them the impression that your operations are disorganized, tasks and key information can be missed throughout the process. Anything that interrupts this process can drag it out even more and lower the productivity of your HR department and even the new employee themself.
Automating this process reduces the risk of human error during the process to make sure that all of the information your business needs to collect is accurate and all in one place, it also ensures that the process can be tracked from one step to the next to make sure that nothing gets missed along the way. Relevant employees, such as HR, and the supervisors that will be responsible for the new employee can be kept in the loop as all of this is happening and automation can make it go much faster.
Purchasing Things Your Business Needs
Purchase orders can be a hassle. Requests are a recurring thing in a business as resources need to be replenished over time. How this process works without automation includes a lot of steps, from the person initiating the order, to the person approving it, then on to the employees that handle the actual purchasing, and those that manage the overall inventory for your business.
When this process isn’t automated, errors can be made in the initial requests that will end up using additional resources to correct. There can be delays in approval and the actual purchasing of the goods and those goods can be mishandled upon delivery. It is vital that detailed records are kept whenever a purchase order is made so that business funds can be tracked and nothing is amiss. Any problem that arises throughout this process can also have a negative impact on the overall productivity of the purchasing team, too. They need to be able to send off a simple and correct request and get the resources they need in a timely manner to keep things running smoothly.
Business process automation is a strong accountability tool here. Making sure that all of the data is accurate, accessible, and completely transparent will improve your business by improving the way resources are used, filling the direct needs of your team with efficiency, and making sure that what each team has is tracked and accounted for so duplicate orders or wasteful use of resources don’t have to happen. All of the communication for this process can also be kept organized because there will be no back-and-forth via email or over the phone.
Creating A Plan For Business Automation
There are multiple methods of business process automation that a business can make use of based on their needs. We’re going to explain some of these methods below and then dive into the more encompassing types of software that can be used outside of these methods.
Firstly, there is AI Automation. As you read earlier, artificial intelligence is the most complex method of business process automation; however, we are discussing these methods in alphabetical order rather than according to their order of simplicity. The way that this is done is by integrating all of your business systems through the implementation of artificial intelligence. The benefit of this method is that it is one of the most effective ways to completely replace the human employees that are involved in a particular process or set of tasks.
AI Automation can be used to analyze large amounts of data and construct a report based on that data so that it doesn’t need to be filtered through and analyzed by an employee, freeing up an immense amount of time and making that data more actionable, faster. Marketing and sales can be improved by artificial intelligence by helping you to predict where you’re going to get the most conversions and the best way to reach out to customers to get your sales.
Finally, artificial intelligence can help support customer satisfaction. Automating this process with AI-integrated tech support can place more upset customers in higher priority waiting lists and make sure that they get to the correct representative by analyzing the terms that they use to describe their problems.
IT Services Expansion
Multiple sources state that IT Automation has been consistently on the rise and can precipitate significant jumps in productivity. This is a more manual approach to the process that requires your IT team to create a way for all of the existing systems within your business to be more integrated and streamlined. This may be more resource-intensive from a time standpoint. Existing APIs and software overlap can be used to make all of your systems more interconnected.
Some experts believe that this is one of the most expensive methods of business process integration and that it isn’t suitable for all businesses, but that it can pay off. This is going to be the best option if your business can’t function in any other way than it already does but you still want to take advantage of the benefits that business process automation can provide.
Business Process Management Systems
Business process management systems are documented as one of the most effective methods to get started with business process automation, and they require the least amount of investment in terms of both money and time. There are tools that are dedicated to doing this but, it can also be done manually using a standard spreadsheet or word document if that is a better fit for your business.
To use this method, you would go through the process of mapping out all of your workflows in a step-by-step way and making sure that each step is distinct and precisely documented. Once you have this outline, you can use it to completely grow your plan for business process automation. Each team member can use this resource to see how workflows should be moving in order to generate the best results and guarantees that anyone who needs the information can access it.
This one resource is how you can create the overall roadmap towards having a full-on business process automation plan. Having each step laid out will help you see where other software tools can be put to use, and more.
In the next section, you will learn all about business process management and all of the related tools.