The first real form of business process automation began in 1913 when Henry Ford invented the first moving assembly line for mass production of his Model T cars.
Fast forward to computer technology emerging in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and we see businesses using them to automate as many rudimentary tasks as possible. This trend continues today, resulting in more creative and high-level jobs opening up.
But there are many more business processes that need automating, and many more companies that need to implement automation. We’ll show you the benefits of business process automation, its types and phases, and examples of it in action. Before we dive into all that, let’s define business process automation.
What Is Business Process Automation?
Business process automation software
Business process automation (BPA) uses technology to automate day-to-day tasks, manual functions, and organized systems and workflows for all personnel.
Most companies use some form of business process automation software in various areas of their enterprise. After all, automation can cut operating costs by up to 90%, according to Forrester.
With BPA, you can automate:
The 3 main tenets of BPA are:
Allow companies to command, organize, and automatically execute strategies and tools.
Centralize work processes and integrate functions across the company.
Minimize human involvement in menial tasks.
The goal is to support your employees, minimize operational costs, cut down on human error, streamline work processes, and provide better customer service.
Business Process Automation Benefits
Business process automation continues to gain popularity and adoption because it delivers a heap of benefits to your company.
Here are just a few:
Clarity About All of Your Processes
As you seek out processes to automate, you’ll discover more about each one of them, understanding what’s working and what’s not.
If you don’t all the ins and outs of a process, including who is responsible for operating the process, you probably won’t be able to effectively automate it.
We recommend making a process map that serves as a training tool and a company resource for all employees to understand how the workflow operates.
Streamlined Work Processes
Business process automation ushers in a streamlined workflow that is unhampered by menial, manual, and time-sucking tasks.
You gain greater accountability over who is doing what. More insight into how well processes are functioning. And you’re able to eliminate wasteful activities to clear a path for higher productivity.
Automation eliminates the human error that is at the root of so many inefficiencies in your business. It also standardizes your work processes and allows operations to function with more predictability – meaning, consistent outcomes can be expected.
This consistency breeds trust in your customers.
The 3 Elements of Automated Business Systems
Business process automation typically involves these 3 aspects of your company::
Business rules and logic.
Let’s break them down one at a time.
Business Rules and Logic
Business rules and logic refers to the resources that define your business parameters.
Some of this can be completely automated, but they all need to be reviewed beforehand because some processes still require manual effort.
Structured data is the information stored in the applications on your computers or other machines. Phone numbers, social security numbers, ZIP codes, names.
Unstructured data is subjective, random, and difficult to organize information. It’s typically heavy on text and requires considerable focus to sift through. But this type of data drives some of the biggest business decisions you’ll make.
Unstructured data can come from social media just as readily as it can come from a conversation over lunch – making it difficult to organize and format into a reliable structure of rows and columns.
Of course, that’s what business process automation is here to fix.
The Types of Business Process Automation
Automated business processes can be split into four basic types outlined below.
Basic automation refers to the simplest jobs you need performed, like creating a centralized place to store a mix of related information.
Slack is an excellent example of a project management, collaboration and communication tool that seamlessly pulls together a patchwork of data into a single platform. It automatically organizes all of this information to make it understandable and usable.
Process automation is a dedicated network of software and apps used to document and manage your business processes, such as budgeting or project management.
Integration automation allows machines and software to monitor and analyze how employees perform tasks and imitate them. You simply define the rules of operation.
An example would be your project management software integrated with your customer support software. A customer complaint comes through, but instead of waiting in an inbox for someone to process it, the integration automatically sends it as a task to the person assigned to handle them.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Automation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) automation is when you combine AI with your integrated software tools for faster, smarter decision-making. The system can now make choices on your behalf with the data it’s presented. Add in machine learning, and it will grow the “intelligence” of the AI system the more information it learns and analyzes.
The 4 Phases of Business Process Automation
Business process automation doesn’t occur overnight and it involves more than a single step or system.
Below, we walk through the 4 phases of BPA:
The analysis phase is when you review your processes and determine what needs to be automated and what technology solution will be sued.
The implementation phase is when you set up, customize, and begin using the new technology. You should document everything throughout this process and conduct user testing to ensure the new system is feasible.
The integration phase is when you perform an API integration, allowing existing programs to communicate with the new one.
4. Maintenance and Support
The maintenance and support phase seeks to unblock bottlenecks and flaws in your processes. Constant monitoring and updating is the name of the game.
Examples of Business Process Automation in Action
There are many parts of your business that can be automated.
Below are examples of business process automation that illustrate how it can be done in common areas of your enterprise.
Onboarding New Employees
Hiring and onboarding employees require a substantial amount of time, tasks, and dedicated resources. Filling out forms, scheduling training sessions, collecting documents, assigning mentors, making time for meetings and much more are all part of adding employees to your company.
Without automation, it can be quite chaotic.
But by using business process automation, you can automatically deliver forms, have training sessions on-demand, pull in mentors on standby, and smoothly transition from task to another.
Purchase Order Requests
Purchase order (PO) requests are recurring processes that are ripe for automation. If you’re submitting the request, you’re required to fill out a form and send it to purchasing.
The request is approved or denied based on a number of criteria and sent back to you. If it’s approved, the PO is created and copies are sent to the supplier.
Business process automation can be used to automatically approve some POs if it’s always the same every time, cutting the labor hours required to fill out, approve, and send the forms. It can also be used to record all the data flowing between all the decision-makers in the process and organize all communication.
There are many moving parts in operations management. It’s difficult to tell how well projects are progressing without speaking to supervisors or team leaders. Even then, miscommunication can lead to errors.
Business process automation tracks, records, and stores all the materials, people, and action steps in any given project.
That means, if one employee finishes their task, paving the way for someone else to do their job, the BPA system automatically notifies the other employee that they have a new task.
Manually answering every single customer support ticket is extremely time-consuming and exhausting.
This is especially true if a major bug crops in your SaaS application, for example. There’s no way your personnel can handle all the requests for help in a timely manner.
Business process automation would allow you to create standard replies to common problems that can be pushed out to customers automatically. This can be keyword and phrase-based.
If you understand customer problems well enough, you could reasonably automate over half of support ticket replies – turning customer support into customer success.
Social Media Management
The marketing side of your business, like social media management, can use up a lot of labor hours with uncertain returns. This is one of the clearest areas where automation is required. And there are plenty of tools to help.
Buffer, for instance, allows you to schedule posts ahead of time. Or hire someone to completely manage all your social accounts and provide regular reports and updates.
Business Process Automation for Better Collaboration and Communication
The one constant in your business is communicating with your employees. This is obviously important, but you know it could be improved.
You don’t need to have as many meetings as you are now. You should be able to share feedback faster. And all your communication, including every shared resource, should be stored and easily accessible in a secure place.
One particular business process automation tool can do all of that:
Instead of a meeting, you can record a video and blast it out to your team. You can quickly annotate screenshots to share your thoughts on any part of a project.
And CloudApp gives you full control and visibility into all the data streaming back and forth. Plus, we’ve been ranked by G2 Crowd as one of the top sales enablement tools.
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