Business Process Automation: What It Is and How to Get Started

Today, the business environment is getting increasingly competitive, and business process automation (BPA) will help companies gain the upper hand. Simply put, BPA means automating routine and repetitive workflows; however, the BPA concept deserves a closer look. 

In this article, we will discover how business process automation works, list some of the core BPA benefits and give you some tips on starting your own business automation project. Read on to learn more!

But first, let’s come up with a more detailed business process automation definition.

What is business processes automation?

The meaning of business process automation becomes clearer if we set it apart from other related concepts, such as business process management (BPM). The two terms are often confused since both of them refer to business processes – a set of workflows every business uses to achieve its goals. For example, order shipments, credit card payments, answering employee queries and customer service – each of these tasks involves a set of processes, often meticulous and repetitive.

Typically, business operations can be split into two main categories – the rule-based monotonous processes, which can be automated, and the ones which actually require human intervention. BPA can make the rule-based processes run smoothly across pre-set guidelines without human assistance.

In fact, the trend for automating workflows has been around for centuries, especially in manufacturing. Modern enterprises, however, use digital and software solutions for their BPA projects.

Often used interchangeably, BPA, and BPM are inherently different. BPM refers, basically, to a methodology applied to get things done as efficiently as possible. In other words, while BPA streamlines enterprise workflows, BPM disrupts workflows at their core, to reach top performance.

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Why automate your business processes

If you’re still not sure why business process automation is important, below are the examples of the BPA benefits that you may find attention-worthy.

  • Embarking on a digital transformation journey. Even though 70% of enterprises claim they are either planning a digital transformation or working on one, only 44% are actually ready for digital disruption. Most companies find the digital transformation goal unapproachable, and too all-encompassing to handle all at once. BPA will help you start small. By automating a few processes, your organization will start to gradually adopt a culture of continuous transformation. This will eventually help you to adopt new technology and better organization standards on a large scale.
  • Transparency of business processes. You will have to perform process mapping before you proceed with business process automation, and it has several important benefits for an organization. First of all, it enables you to get more clarity about how your business processes actually take place. It will give your staff guidelines on how each process should be executed, help set quality criteria, and, ultimately, raise your performance standards.
  • Streamlined operations. Once you have the workflows for each process carefully mapped out, it will be easy to eliminate redundant and ineffective steps. Further, business process automation will help you accelerate your operations, and increase your time-to-value.
  • Higher quality standards. Setting higher business standards and ensuring that you adhere to them is one of the business process automation advantages. BPA provides a record for the steps of every process and helps you prove compliance should any disputes arise, or during audits.
  • Meeting customer expectations. Adherence to high standards will help you ensure customer satisfaction. By demonstrating dedication to creating a better customer experience, you will ultimately increase customer loyalty. This is one of the key benefits of BPA, since most business leaders name customer satisfaction among the top 3 goals of digital transformation.

 

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Which business processes should be automated?

According to some estimates, organizations can automate almost half of their operations, but there are still important business areas that require human supervision. So how can you tell when to apply business process automation? Which business processes should you streamline, and which should you leave intact? Here’s how businesses estimate if a particular process is fit for automation.

High-risk manual tasks

If the task in question requires manual operations that can potentially put humans at risk, then it’s fit for automation. In fact, it’s one of the processes that should be automated in the first place, because it shows your company’s dedication to ensuring employee safety. In mining, for example, the use of robots and unmanned vehicles is becoming ubiquitous.

Research

Data crunching apps are also becoming mainstream. Businesses can use automated tools to research their databases and to derive insights from different types of data. You can use business process automation to search for healthcare, legal, and criminal records, as well as for marketing, customer support, and scientific research.

Back office operations

Business process automation optimizes some of the core processes that happen beyond the customer desk, such as synchronizing sales and warehouse databases, keeping billing and financial records, logistics, delivery and product dispatch, etc. In IT, BPA is routinely applied to automate nighttime data center operations, and the human staff receives alerts only in the case of an emergency.

IoT tracking with beacons and sensors

Organizations are increasingly using IoT technology to collect business-critical metrics. For example, a sensor placed on a warehouse shelf can collect important data on the product state, as well as the storage conditions, and alert the personnel if they fall below the standards.

HR portals

Employee self-service portals help rid HR managers of the need to answer recurring employee questions, and automatically provide employees with a wealth of info on company rules, standards and core procedures. An employee can enroll in a training class, get independent performance evaluations, manage their insurance, pension plans, etc.

Operations with documents and data

Most of the time, these processes may seem too trivial to even mention, but they may, however, consume time and effort. Here are some examples that call for automation:

  • data transfer from one database into another,
  • product check-out and check-in,
  • basic operations with documents,
  • scheduling events,
  • invoicing,
  • sending follow-up emails, and
  • other tasks every office worker does on a daily basis.

Receiving and analyzing customer feedback

BPA can use chatbots to automatically collect customer feedback and submit it to a data analytics app for processing and analysis. Likewise, BPA helps deal with recurring customer complaints and helps personnel focus on more pressing tasks.

Making business-critical decisions

Surely, humans are still behind most of the vital decisions in most business areas. However, business process automation can improve some aspects of the decision-making process. For instance, loan assignment, which normally requires precise evaluation of information about a person’s credibility can take place faster and more objectively, since automation eliminates human bias and error.

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Using BPA: Business process automation examples

What kind of businesses would be interested in business process automation? There are several important prerequisites for implementing BPA. If you have to handle multiple tasks that need lots of personnel, if most of these tasks are urgent and their outcome has to comply with certain quality standards, then your company could surely win from BPA.

Simply put, almost every industry can win from business process automation solutions. Some industries, however, have already developed a set of BPA best practices. Below are some of the examples of the BPA applications in different business segments.

Healthcare

Healthcare is a highly regulated industry, where quality and adherence to standards are of vital importance. In this industry, business process automation is used in multiple sectors, such as clinics, pharma, and biotech. Lab systems automation, pharma management, and telemedicine services – connecting doctors and patients, are all business process automation examples in today’s healthcare.

Banking

This sector uses BPA to streamline complex procedures like loan assignment, credit card payment processing, as well as financial trading and investments. In banking, business process automation is applied to extract insights from data and facilitate decision-making.

Read also: Big Data in the Banking Industry: The Main Challenges and Use Cases

 

Manufacturing

In this industry, BPA helps streamline and organize activities like warehousing, procurement, operations, and document processing. It is also applied in systems like ESB, CRM and ERP. For instance, the automated synchronization of warehouse databases saves time, helps enterprises eliminate human error and avoid potential losses.

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Farming and Agriculture

In agriculture and farming, business process automation examples include automated greenhouse management systems, IoT sensors that keep farmers informed on the state of the crops, soils and environment, livestock monitoring systems, the use of drones for laborious and potentially hazardous tasks like agricultural spraying, predictive analytics, etc.

Read also: Smart Farming: How Automation Is Transforming Agriculture

 

E-commerce

E-commerce requires multiple processes to run in-sync to provide a top-notch customer experience. In this sector, BPA solutions help synchronize sales, warehouse and product dispatch, streamline operations, and provide customers with fast and hassle-free delivery.

These are some of the most illustrative examples of how BPA helps maximize operational efficiency across industries. Let’s now explore how to implement business process automation in a simple, incremental manner.

How to launch business process automation project

Automating business processes will positively impact your business, but how do you actually begin to implement it in your company? Below are the important guidelines you should follow. 

1. Analyze your processes and goals

Every BPA project implementation starts with an analysis. What are the core processes in your company? What is the cause of the majority of customer complaints and issues you face? Which process has the most impact on the customer experience and revenues? Most importantly – what are the current goals of your organization?

Before you actually start implementing BPA, you will have to build workflow charts for each of the processes that you want to optimize. This will help you revise the workflow for your business critical tasks, detect the shortcomings of every process, and eliminate unnecessary steps.

2. Select the business process automation solutions provider

Depending on a process you choose to automate, select a BPA solutions provider that will help you meet your objectives. There are many out-of-the-box automation solutions for almost any industry segment, so choose the vendor that will offer you plenty of tips, and 24/7 customer support. At times, though, you will need to build a custom-made BPA system that will satisfy your unique needs. Choose a reliable vendor with vast expertise in building similar solutions.

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3. Start implementing BPA solutions

The key is to implement only one BPA phase at a time. At this point, it’s crucial for employees to receive proper training, and to ensure that you communicate the value of business process automation to your staff. Perform user acceptance testing after each BPA implementation phase to reveal any issues your employees may have with process automation. If you can, offer the possibility to switch positions to workers, whose jobs will be eliminated by automation.

4. Integrate BPA solutions with your organization’s software

Make sure your BPA solutions integrate with the other business tools and applications. Use plug-ins and extensions, if you have to. It is also crucial that you integrate data from multiple sources into a unified data pool, so that all applications can use it.

5. Ensure maintenance and support

Continuous support and updates are important to ensure optimal performance and to keep your BPA software relevant. Ideally, each of your employees using the business process automation solutions should have access to 24/7 tech support.

6. Adopt a long-term outlook

Be ready to go through a phase of adaptation and adjustment. You won’t see the value from BPA implementation overnight, but gradually, your processes will improve as well as your business outcomes. 

Final thoughts

Business process automation is a highly effective tool. In some cases, though automation will not be applicable, and there may be processes in your company that may require human supervision. For example, your customer support clients may feel that talking to a bot is frustrating when they have to solve an urgent problem.

Apart from the thorough business process analysis at the beginning of BPA implementation, you need a consistent business process automation strategy aligned with your company efforts and goals.  Make sure this strategy gets support on all company levels before you start your BPA project.

Have questions on business process automation and optimizing operational efficiency? Contact our experts now for a free consultation!

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