What is Business Process Automation (BPA)?

one-third of the work at sixty percent of jobs could be done with automation, without human intervention (McKinsley, 2019). Few jobs can be fully automated, but most have repetitive tasks that do not add value. These tasks delay your operations, cost money, and lead to employee burnout.

We will dive into the benefits, types, and examples of business process automation. But first, let’s define what BPA is.

Business process automation refers to automating repetitive tasks to replace manual effort. The goals of BPA include minimizing costs, increasing employee efficiency, reducing human error, and streamlining work processes. There are numerous ways to introduce BPA to a business.

Business process automation may sound complex on the surface, but it ranges from automating simple tasks, like sending emails, to multi-step tasks, like managing employee workflows. In fact, most businesses have some form of business process automation software in place by now.

What business processes can you automate?

Business process automation is now applicable to all departments of an organization. The primary areas where business process automation is applied include sales, marketing, HR, onboarding, analytics, and finance. We even recently wrote an in-depth article on manufacturing automation, which you can view here. The bottom line is good automation depends on your creativity and the tools available. Consider automating any recurring tasks in your processes. But…

Simplification comes before automation. Before starting to automate, analyze your processes and simplify them. Automating your business processes is time-consuming. Simplifying helps pinpoint the high-ROI automation opportunities and the fixable issues that don’t require investing in automation. It will save you time and money when developing an automation strategy.

What Are the Benefits of Business Process Automation?

Here is a list of reasons why you should automate business processes:

  • More Clarity
    • As we have emphasized, you need to simplify your processes before automating. You need to understand the processes, tasks, and people involved in your products. Once you know these things, you can identify what is and is not working. One straightforward way to prepare a process for automation is to make a process map.
  • Streamlined Processes
    • With business process automation, you streamline processes by recording every detail and removing non-value-added tasks. The process becomes more efficient and wasted time is reduced.
    • Automation frequently involves a centralized database, allowing you to access data from anywhere. With more data, accountability is also clearer as well. Processes are more efficient and reliable with automation.
  • Standardized Operations
    • When you simplify and automate a process, you can expect a more consistent outcome because human error is reduced. Customers put more faith in products with consistent processes because they are more confident in the quality of the result.
  • Accelerated Business Processes
    • Everything goes faster with automation. Documents and data get sent to the right person at the right time, notifications remind people of tasks, and repetitious tasks are reduced. Automation can be used to remove process bottlenecks.
  • Improved Process Visibility
    • Sensors are now in most technology. Automation systems and software make data gathering simple. These insights allow you to make more informed decisions. As such, BPA promotes visibility.
  • Reduced Labor Time and Costs
    • Fewer people are needed to complete tasks because internal processes are accelerated, standardized, and streamlined. Some tasks will be done automatically, and others will be simpler, significantly cutting labor time and costs.
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction
    • When your company meets customer standards, they will prefer you. Customers expect excellent customer service. Sales automation can help immensely with customer satisfaction. Business automation brings your operations closer to the customer, giving them easier access to information.

The Types of Business Process Automation

So how do you automate? Well, most software nowadays has a way to automate processes. You may imagine a robot arm assembling a car when you hear automation. However, it can take many different forms.

Machine automatically closing cans

There are four main types of automation:

  1. Basic Automation
    • Basic automation refers to the automation of the simplest tasks, like creating a centralized place to store information. Office messaging software like Slack and Microsoft Teams are great examples of basic automation tools, as they pull together a flurry of data into a single, organized, usable platform.
    • At The Next Step, we use dashboards to pull specific data into a centralized place for our analysis and review. Pulling the necessary data to a single dashboard used to take an hour but now takes less than 30 seconds.
  2. Process Automation
    • Process automation manages a whole business process, like budgeting or project management, with a dedicated network of software and apps.
    • The Next Step uses Hootsuite for social media process automation. Hootsuite allows us to upload our text and images for social media, and it will post them automatically.
  3. Integration Automation
    • Integration automation involves machines and software monitoring and analyzing employees’ task performance to imitate the tasks themselves. You define the rules of operation, and the machine takes over.
    • The Next Step uses integration automation with Wrike. Wrike automatically assigns tasks to the correct people based on rules created within Wrike.
  4. Artificial Intelligence Automation
    • Artificial Intelligence (AI) automation is the most complex form of BPA. You combine AI with already integrated software tools for faster, smarter decisions. The system takes the presented data in your software tool and makes choices on your behalf. AI automation is often paired with machine learning because then the ‘intelligence’ of the AI system will grow.
    • The Next Step uses AI automation for our search engine optimization. With SEMRush, we provide software with a website, and it will analyze it and suggest keywords, topics, competitors, and improvements. By saving suggested keywords, the software becomes more targeted.

Choosing the right type of automation is challenging. It comes down to finding available automation resources for your needs and weighing the ROI (return on investment). Usually, more complex automation requires more of an initial investment.

The cost of automating is dependent partially on what solutions you choose. Plenty of software allows you to automate certain parts of processes quickly and easily. However, custom, multi-stage solutions may be needed for more complex processes.

The 4 Steps of Business Process Automation

We split business process automation into four major steps:

1. Simplification and Analysis

Review your processes. Where are issues and repetitive tasks? What can be automated? What needs to be automated? What solutions are available? Once you decide on a process, simplify it.

2. Implementation

Set up and use the technological solution you discovered. Document everything and conduct user testing to ensure the new system will work as intended.

3. Integration

Every business automation system should be connected. The best practice is to run all automation off a centralized database or run by a single software. This way, data is accurate and easily accessible. Perform API (Application Programming Interfaces) integration so that existing programs communicate with the new ones.

4. Maintenance and Support

Once you implement automation, monitor the process to track improvements, identify bottlenecks, and address flaws.

What Business Processes Should You Automate?

What you should automate depends on your business’ situation.

Again, simplify your processes and find processes with repetitive tasks, large amounts of people, deadlines, bottlenecks, or defect issues. These are good places to start. The possibilities of automation are limitless. You can automate emails, support desks, data migration, backups, procurement, sales orders, payroll, time tracking, invoicing, production, and more.

Controller box in a factoryMan looking at charts on computer

You not only want to automate your processes but also to have them all on the same database/system of truth. You have options on how to centralize your BPA:

  • An ERP system
    • ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. It refers to a type of software that manages day-to-day business activities. Like SAP or Oracle, ERPs oversee data in manufacturing facilities anddrive product
    • ion once you set it up with data.

 

  • A CRM system
  • A CRM system within an ERP systemA CRM can take the data from an ERP system to help improve sales processes. Many ERP systems have a CRM system integrated within them or an option to attach one. The major benefit of this is that you are working from the same database.

Final Tips for Business Automation

As a business consulting agency offering operations services, here are our tips for when you are automating your business processes:

  • Stary by simplifying. Understand what tasks are involved, who is involved, and when each task needs to be executed.
  • Take a pragmatic, thorough approach when automating your business processes. Simply introducing an automation tool to a process is not enough.
  • Results will not show immediately. Measure results over time.
  • Invest time in the adjustment period. Employees will need to be trained and familiarized with the new system.
  • Automating one process will not necessarily return a high ROI. Instead, continuously improve your processes for more long-term results.

Today, automation is a necessary part of business success. It saves time and money on repetitive tasks. The challenge is identifying which business processes are most beneficial to automate and what business automation tools to use.

Don’t have the bandwidth to implement business process automation? Have additional questions? We have years of experience automating business processes.

Contact us today for business clarity