Business process automation (BPA) used to be a “nice to have” but the pandemic has changed this mindset significantly. Organizations across the world, facing disruption in their daily operations, realized that BPA is the necessary step they need to take to preserve their businesses. And if the pandemic was not enough, other challenges, such as slow manual processing, human errors, and inefficient systems incur additional expenses and costly delays.
No wonder business process automation has begun to significantly accelerate at an unparalleled speed and continues to do so. In fact, MarketsandMarkets predicts that the global business process automation market will grow from $469.8 billion in 2020 to $1,009.8 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5% during this period.
So what does business process automation mean exactly? And equally important—what makes BPA so special that businesses around the world see it as a solution to their issues?
Let’s find out!
What is Business Process Automation?
Business process automation is often called business automation or digital transformation. The BPA process makes the use of software to automate repeatable, multistep business day-to-day tasks. Organizations often apply BPA as part of a digital transformation strategy to streamline their workflows and operate more efficiently.
How does digital transformation speed up the work? It directs information to the right person at the right time through the rules and actions defined by users. Therefore, BPA helps organizations streamline a wide variety of processes in such areas as:
- HR (e.g., onboarding),
- sales (e.g., CRM),
- finances (e.g., contracting),
- customer service (e.g., chatbots),
- delivery and logistics (e.g., inventory reporting),
- education (e.g., maintaining attendance logs),
- marketing (e.g., post scheduling),
- manufacturing (e.g., packaging).
Studies have shown, that due to the automation of many manufacturing processes, as many as 20 million workers are predicted to lose their jobs by 2030. You might be wondering, why these jobs in particular? That is because this sector, among others that we mentioned previously, carries the most opportunities for business process automation.
What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
Robotic process automation is a form of business process automation technology. It uses bots (software robots) or artificial intelligence (AI) to automate repetitive mundane tasks executed by humans. In other words, RPA automates business processes with the use of technology that simulates humans and interacts with other digital systems and software.
Robotic processes need data to feed their algorithms and execute the business logic they were programmed for. For that reason, bots and AI software are perfect for streamlining and automating routine tasks that do not require human touch and creativity. A prime example of RPA is chatbots (or virtual assistants) which you can find in eCommerce, healthcare, and banking. RPA is also utilized in other (probably) less obvious areas such as agriculture.
Related: 15 Top Machine Learning Applications [+Examples]
How to identify business process automation opportunities?
Identifying the business process automation opportunity can be a challenge, but it should not stop you from transforming your organization. There are countless processes throughout different organizations. But there are common characteristics of processes that could be subject to business automation.
Technically, any process that:
- requires consistency across the organization,
- involves a high degree of manual overhead,
- is standardized (or can be standardized),
- has clearly defined business rules,
- needs to be always free from error,
- is high-volume,
- is repeatable,
—is an opportunity for business automation.
That is the general rule of thumb as not every process that carries those characteristics will be the right fit for business process automation. Therefore, you will still need to think about which of those opportunities are worth pursuing and which are not.
Which processes you should not automate
There are additional factors to consider in relation to business automation as not every process should be automated (even though it could be).
First of all, decide whether a given process needs a “human touch.” Some activities require critical thinking, human judgment, or emotional intelligence that only humans are capable of. For instance, it is better to provide an employee face-to-face feedback or talk to a confused customer in person as opposed to sending automatic messages.
Second, you might have some processes in your organization that often change or lack a rigid structure. For such “unstable” processes it would be nearly impossible to identify rules and conditions for automation. Therefore, it would be safer to leave them in human hands.
Phases of business process automation implementation
BPA is a multi-step activity that takes time, especially in large companies with complex organizational structures and processes.
During this phase you go through the processes and determine what needs and can be automated, and what kind of BPA software will be needed.
The implementation phase is when you set up, customize, and start using the new system or application. At this point, you want to engage your staff to test the newly automated processes to ensure everything works as expected.
During the integration phase, you integrate the new system with the ones you already use in your organization. The goal is to enable existing systems to communicate with the new one so that they can dynamically exchange data with each other.
4. Maintenance and support
Once you introduce a new BPA technology in your organization, you need to make sure it is up-to-date and free of flaws. A faulty system will not serve its purpose and could cause bottlenecks in the automated processes.
Elements of automated business processes
Typically, business process automation involves the following aspects of any organization: business logic and rules; structured data; unstructured data. Let’s go through each of them in more detail.
Business logic and rules
Business rules guide everyday decision-making by defining the relationships between objects (e.g., customer names and their corresponding orders). This translation of an organization’s business activities into concrete business logic allows software engineers and business analysts to apply these rules within workflow tools or other applications to enable process automation.
For example, a business rule would define which customers are eligible for a discount based on the amount they spend on a single purchase. Then, software engineers will translate this rule into a business logic utilizing a set of conditions that would check whether a given buyer is eligible or not. And then, offer the eligible consumers a specific discount.
Structured data is highly organized and factual. It usually comes in the form of letters and numbers that you can fit nicely into the rows and columns of tables using Excel files or Google Docs spreadsheets. For that reason, structured data is often regarded as quantitative data. For example, phone and social security numbers, ZIP codes, names, and surnames. Since such data is well-organized, you can easily search and store it in a relational database management system (RDBMS).
Unstructured data has no pre-defined structure making it difficult to organize. This data comes in many different forms, such as audio, image, text, and video files which generally are difficult to sift through. Analysis of unstructured data requires considerable effort and focus. Unstructured data is called qualitative data due to its interpretive, subjective, and random nature. But you can categorize this data based on its characteristics and traits.
What are the benefits of business process automation?
Business process automation continues to gain popularity and adoption because of the benefits it brings to the table. Here are just a few examples of how BPA benefits companies:
Streamlined workflows are not limited by manual and time-consuming tasks and introduce higher accountability over who is doing what. You also gain more insights into how the automated processes are performing. As a result, you are able to eliminate inefficient or wasteful activities and improve productivity.
Using BPA to standardize activities saves an enormous amount of time and reduces human errors that are the source of costly inefficiencies in the business. Consequently, automated operations become standardized and function with much higher predictability. It means your organization can expect the same consistent outcome—every time. And consistency builds trust in employees and customers.
Boosts efficiency and reduces costs
Business automation not only greatly reduces human errors but also significantly speeds up the work. According to a recent study, 69% of the employees have reported that automation reduces the wastage of time. While 59% believe that they would have more than six spare hours per week if repetitive jobs were automated.
The bottom line is that BPA increases productivity and efficiency by allowing employees to focus on activities that are not suitable for automation. And furthermore, since the same process can be carried out faster, there is no need for hiring additional staff.
Business process automation software
When talking about any organization, one of the most valuable assets they collect and generate is data. But without proper management and manipulation, raw data is useless. On top of that, as an organization grows, the data it collects is often stored in different systems or applications across different departments.
As a result, departments across single organization work with detached pieces of information they cannot share with other departments or piece together with intelligence stored in other systems. Consequently, they have insufficient data to draw accurate conclusions on whatever the data pertains to.
Therefore, organizations need BPA software to bring multiple systems and data together. As such, business automation software eliminates data irregularity and inaccuracy and provides real-time information to support decision-making. Integrated business systems are able to “talk” to each other, and thereby, they eliminate process bottlenecks and the need for repetitive data entry.
Types of business process automation software
The software type you could use for business process automation depends on the process you want to automate. For example:
- Accounting and finance: e.g., automated reports; credit referencing; invoice automation and approval workflow; credit control automation.
- eCommerce: e.g., integration with ERP systems; order process management automation.
- Warehouse: e.g., automatic placement orders with courier/shipping services; automatic stock level warnings; delivery alerts; automated pick lists; delivery notes.
- Customer service and help desk: e.g., automated welcome messages; automated escalation of unresolved support tickets; automated assignment of support tickets.
- Sales and marketing: e.g., CRM integration; automatic notifications (sales inquiries, goods dispatched, account placed on hold, price change, etc.); order summaries; automated KPI reports; automatic assignment of sales leads; automated sales promotions (via email, SMS, or another channel).
CRM systems are invaluable if you want to stay connected with your customers, streamline internal and external processes, and ultimately—improve your profitability. If you need a custom CRM platform or other business management software, get in touch with us.
Best practices for business process automation
Introducing a business process automation tool into your organization is half the success. To make the whole process successful, there as a few core principles and practices worth keeping in mind when deploying business process automation.
1. Clear understanding is key. Understand well what tasks are involved in a given process, who is involved and responsible for each task, and when each task is supposed to be executed.
2. If the process is complex, multi-step, and involves several people, create a task list that defines all the tasks that will be automated. It will help you not to miss any step and decide on the type of data and decision points needed for successful automation.
3. Automation involves not only technology but also people. Allow your staff enough time for training and adjusting to new workflows.
4. You may notice that the process you have recently automated is not as efficient as expected. This is natural. Iterate, simplify, and introduce appropriate adjustments as needed.
5. Business process automation software integrates existing systems and allows them to share data. But it does not mean that each and every application in use should be integrated. Consider the type of data each application stores and make relevant integrations.
6. Depending on your organization, processes, and goals, you may opt for either ready-made solutions or custom-built ones. If you are in doubt about which one is suitable for you, feel free to reach out to our experts to discuss your business case.
Examples of business process automation
You can find opportunities for business process automation in many areas of a business. Let’s talk about them a little more in detail and see how BPA tools can aid customer support, HR, and marketing teams specifically.
Onboarding new customers
If you come from the banking, financial, or insurance industry, then you know that your organization must conduct a background check on every new customer. And then, inform the appropriate local and federal governments when they onboard them. BPA can help to streamline these processes by using artificial intelligence to automate most of these steps which otherwise would need to be done manually. Not to mention, that faster and error-free processes also positively impact customer satisfaction.
Onboarding new employees
Introducing a new employee to a company is an important business process that involves many low-level tasks that require a lot of attention. Those activities range from filling out employee forms and scheduling training sessions to completing tax documents. By automating the onboarding process, HR staff can reduce the paperwork, ensure that all the activities are completed, and smoothly transition from one step to another.
Marketing automation tools help companies target customers with automated marketing messages across channels, including email, social media, and text messages to generate leads and sales. Marketing automation technology is part of customer relationship management (CRM) that automates repetitive tasks and increases overall marketing efficiency.