What is business process automation and how to get started?
To say business process automation (BPA) is a game-changer would be an understatement. It's the ticket to reclaiming countless hours lost to mundane tasks. And that means more time for your team to focus on core, needle-moving tasks. The result? A much more efficient and more productive business operation.
No staff member should sacrifice their personal time due to spending hours on tasks that can be easily automated. Think about manual data entry, chasing teammates for approvals, or following up on invoices. These are all tasks that BPA software can handle.
Automating business processes isn't just about efficiency. It's about empowering your team to do more. In this comprehensive guide, we'll break down the fundamentals of business process automation, share best practices and examples, and help you select the ideal BPA solution for your organization.
Optimize your operations with Nanonets Business Process Automation. Book a demo to see how our intelligent process automation can cut time and labor in your workflows.
What is business process automation?
Business process automation (BPA) involves using software to streamline and optimize end-to-end processes across an organization. Rather than focusing on isolated tasks, BPA integrates all applications, improving efficiency at every level. It helps companies manage back-office and front-office functions, enhance customer satisfaction, and boost employee productivity.
A survey by McKinsey shows that although only 1% of occupations can be fully automated, 60% of all occupations have the potential to automate at least one-third of their tasks and activities.
Business process automation (also called enterprise automation) has evolved to cover various activities beyond manufacturing and basic tasks. The automation of data-driven enterprise tasks started in the 1960s with the introduction of enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs) but has now evolved to include AI, IDP, and robotic process automation.
The difference between BPM and BPA
Business Process Management (BPM) involves analyzing, designing, optimizing, and controlling business processes, aiming to improve efficiency and effectiveness. In contrast, BPA is the technology that automates many of these processes.
BPM tools focus on designing and modeling workflows, identifying bottlenecks, and suggesting improvements, whereas BPA tools are used to automate specific tasks within those workflows. For instance, the supply chain department may use BPM to model and improve the procurement process, and BPA might automate order placement, tracking, and delivery confirmation tasks.
How does business process automation work?
Knowing what to automate is a game-changer. First off, use your BPM tool to analyze your existing business workflows end-to-end. Categorize workflows that need standardization, are repetitive, or can be handled by a bot, and those that truly require human involvement.
This approach ensures that automation is implemented to enhance the efficiency and productivity of your operations rather than just automating for the sake of it.
In large organizations, automation might take care of high-volume, low-value workflows. Whereas in smaller ones, the focus might be narrower — automating invoice processing or automating social media marketing, for instance.
Each business may deploy BPA in a different way. But there are a few common use cases that tend to stand out:
- Set up alerts and reminders
- Connect two or more disparate systems
- Automate repetitive tasks
- Eliminate manual data entry
- Create approval workflows
- Create audit trails and reports
- Automate data access, backup, and recovery
- Classifying and routing of tasks and support queries
- Generate regular reports
- Streamline business processes management
- Analyze large data sets and identify trends
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Most good business process automation software providers offer various integrations and custom options. It enables you to tailor the workflow automation to your specific needs.
Software providers offer automation features around a particular workflow or entire business functions. For instance, Nanonets uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to automate manual data capture and processing of all types of documents. On the other hand, HubSpot provides a comprehensive solution for automating various aspects of sales, marketing, and customer service tasks.
The possibilities are limitless if you can identify the right tasks to automate and choose the right business process automation tool to help you do it.
Choosing the right business process automation solution
There are tons of BPA solutions out there. Each tool comes with its own unique set of features and capabilities. So, it can be overwhelming to sift through them all and come to a decision.
The key here is to look for the right business process automation tool, not the perfect one. Focus on your company's current needs, future growth, and the tasks you want to automate.
Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a business process automation service:
Interoperability: Ensure the tool integrates seamlessly with other systems and applications your business uses. For instance, if your Accounts Payable automation software doesn't integrate with your ERP system, your team will have to manually input data — defeating the very purpose of automation.
Learning curve: Most business process automation tools require some form of manual monitoring, rule setting, and maintenance. So, assess your team's existing workflow and technical proficiency before deciding. For instance, if your support team has been using email to manage tickets, a shared mailbox within the email may be more suitable than a full-fledged ticketing system.
Configurable: Successful automation requires the business process automation solution to consider business rules. These rules function as the logic and guidelines for the automation system. Additionally, it should be able to process structured data that provide the necessary information for daily operations, and unstructured data offer additional insights for strategic planning.
Scalability: Your automation needs might change as your business grows and expands. Consider whether the software can accommodate an increased volume of tasks and an expanded range of automated processes. Say you are looking for invoice OCR software. Ensure it is AI-powered so that it can support unstructured data extraction, and can scale up to handle increasing invoices as your business grows.
Audit trail: Automation without transparency can lead to chaos. Ensure the business process automation solution you select has in-built approval workflows, keeps a record of changes made, alerts when anomalies occur, and generates real-time reports. A social media automation tool, for instance, should allow you to track who scheduled a post, who approved it, when it was scheduled, and any changes made to it afterward.
Reliability: Automation is meant to make your life easier, not harder. Look for a reliable tool that doesn't lead to escalations. For instance, a chatbot should be able to handle most queries without human intervention or at least reroute complex issues to the correct department without lag or errors.
Collaborative: A good business process automation solution should promote interdepartmental collaboration and information exchange. It should come with access privileges and approval workflows that can be customized to ensure accountability and smooth operations. Moreover, it should be able to integrate with other department-specific applications and tools seamlessly.
Besides these factors, you also need to consider cost, vendor support, security, and the overall reputation of the software provider. Take your time to research and test out different business process automation tools before making a decision.
Finally, remember that the success of any automation initiative largely depends on how well your team accepts and adapts to the changes. Include your team in the selection process and provide the necessary training and support to ensure a smooth transition.
Implementing business process automation in your organization
Any business operation involves a multitude of workflows. Many of these workflows include repetitive, manual, time-sensitive, transactional, information transfer, and compliance-sensitive tasks. Automating them can free up your employees' time, enabling them to focus on more strategic and creative tasks.
Here are some specific areas where BPA can be implemented:
Accounts payable BPA
Automation enables your Accounts Payable team to process incoming invoices faster. The software captures and extracts relevant data, matches invoices with purchase orders, routes them for approval, generates payment batches, and creates necessary audit trails. No more miscalculations, late payment penalties, or lost documents.
Maryland-based ACM Services used Nanonets to capture critical information from incoming invoices, automatically match the identification code with the master vendor list, and export the validated data to their accounting software in a standard CSV file format. The use of our AI and OCR technology alone saved their Accounts Payable team nearly 90% of their time.
Sourcing and Procurement BPA
Automating your procurement process management can help streamline your supply chain management, maintain better control over your inventory, make data-driven decisions, and ultimately improve your bottom line. This involves automating everything from vendor selection, purchase order processing, generating goods receipts, and invoice verification to payment processing.
Take something as simple as a purchase order OCR. Using Artificial Intelligence, it can extract essential data from purchase orders, including vendor information, purchase order number, quantity, price, and delivery date — making digital transformation much easier. This ensures accurate data capture, reducing the risk of errors and time-consuming manual data entry.
Customer support BPA
Automation for customer support can drastically enhance the effectiveness of your customer service team and increase customer satisfaction. This involves automating tasks like sorting and routing customer queries, auto-responding, and providing self-service options.
Popular customer support software provider, Intercom, reports that 4.5% of their customers' support volume is handled through automated chatbots, freeing up valuable time for their support team to tackle complex customer queries. They also found that 60% of routed conversations landed were assigned to the right team on the first attempt, reducing the need for internal transfers.
Sales automation allows professionals to focus on what they do best — selling. It automates everything from meeting scheduling, email outreach, follow-ups, sales calls, and forecasting. These features allow sales teams to focus more on building customer relationships, nurturing leads, and closing deals, instead of getting bogged down in administrative tasks.
Consider the example of an auto-dialer. It reduces downtime between calls and enables them to connect with more potential customers. It also logs each call, so sales reps can easily refer to previous conversations.
Sales order automation is another crucial business process automation example that can streamline the order processing workflow, save time for sales teams, and deliver products/services faster.
Automating marketing tasks allows organizations to be more precise with targeting, lead scoring, nurturing, customer segmentation, analytics, and reporting. It can also automate repetitive tasks such as social media posting, email marketing, and ad campaigns, allowing your marketing team to design and implement more effective strategies.
Tumblr, for example, used HubSpot to create an onboarding sequence for their new users. The process management was automated so that each user received emails personalized to their interests, guiding them through the platform's features. Not only did it improve user engagement, but it also saved the marketing team countless hours of manual work.
Human Resources BPA
From recruitment to employee onboarding, performance evaluation, and offboarding, HR process management can greatly benefit from HR BPA. Recruitment software can now scan resumes for keywords, schedule interviews, send out offer letters, and reject emails, significantly reducing the time and resources consumed in the hiring process.
Payroll automation can eliminate errors in payroll calculations and maintain accurate records for tax purposes. An automated evaluation system can help employees and employers assess performances and help in fostering performance improvement and collaboration.
The steps involved in implementing BPA software
1. Identification: Work with each team to identify areas where automation could boost efficiency and productivity. This step involves a detailed analysis of existing business processes, workflows, and systems to uncover bottlenecks or inefficiencies.
2. Prioritization: Not all processes are suitable for automation. Prioritize them based on the impact on business operations, the feasibility of automation, and potential ROI. Also, define the goals you want to achieve with automation. Is it to save time? Reduce errors? Improve productivity? This will guide your selection of BPA tools and the specific features you need.
3. Implementation: Select the right automation tool, customize it to suit your needs, and integrate it with existing systems. Also, training your employees to use the new tool effectively is a critical part of this phase. Start with one or two key processes, measure the results, and then gradually expand to other areas.
4. Monitoring and optimization: Measure the changes in productivity, quality, and cost-effectiveness of automated tasks. Analyzing these metrics will provide insights into whether the automation meets its intended goals and where improvements can be made.
5. Maintenance: Check for software updates, change automation rules if necessary, optimize access privileges, fix bugs, and make necessary upgrades. Additionally, as you scale and evolve, the automation system must be updated to accommodate new processes and tasks.
Business process automation benefits
Business process automation offers a plethora of advantages to businesses, enhancing both efficiency and profitability by accelerating mundane tasks with precision and constancy.
Swift turnarounds: Automation reduces the time consumed by manual processes in various departments, such as IT, HR, and Payroll, mitigating delays and increasing overall productivity.
Cost-effectiveness: The McKinsey report (referred to earlier) indicates that 45% of current paying tasks, costing around $2 trillion annually, could be automated. Automation reduces human capital expenses and boosts productivity, providing substantial operational savings.
Minimized errors: Business process automation significantly reduces the possibility of errors in manual tasks ranging from simple data entry to redundant work, thus improving accuracy and quality of work.
Strategic focus: Automation frees up time spent on routine tasks, allowing employees to concentrate on strategy and planning, increasing productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention.
Increased transparency: Business process automation solutions provide a centralized space where all automated processes and tasks can be tracked in real-time. This enhances visibility, promotes accountability, and allows for more accurate and timely decision-making.
Enhanced compliance: Automation dramatically simplifies the process of following and documenting compliance with industry regulations and internal policies. Automated workflows ensure that all processes are performed in line with set guidelines, and the system logs all actions taken, making it easier to demonstrate compliance during audits.
Improved customer service: Automation can streamline customer service tasks, such as handling inquiries, resolving complaints, and processing orders. This leads to faster response times, personalized communication, and a superior customer experience.
Scalability: As your business grows, so does the volume of tasks. Business automation systems can easily be scaled up to accommodate increased workloads without a corresponding increase in operational costs.
Analytics and reporting: With business process automation, data gathering happens faster, and reports are generated in real-time. This gives the management instant access to critical business insights, enabling them to make data-driven decisions. For instance, they can track the performance of various business processes, identify patterns and trends, and predict future outcomes to improve strategic planning and forecasting.
Enhanced collaboration: Business process automation solutions often come with built-in collaboration features. They make it easier for teams to collaborate on tasks, share information, and coordinate efforts. This can lead to improved communication, better teamwork, and increased efficiency.
Sustainability: Automation can contribute to your company's sustainability efforts by reducing paper use and energy consumption. Digital transformation is not only more efficient but also more environmentally friendly.
In an ever-changing business landscape, it is vital for organizations to continually innovate and adapt to stay competitive. Embracing automation is a step toward this goal. It enhances efficiency and productivity, frees up resources, reduces errors, and offers valuable insights for strategic decision-making.
However, successful automation is not a one-time event. It requires careful planning, implementation, monitoring, and continuous improvement. With the right approach and tools, business process automation can significantly transform your operations and contribute to your growth and success.
Frequently asked questions
1. What is business process automation?
Business process automation (BPA) refers to the use of technology to automate repetitive tasks or processes in a business, thereby increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving work quality.
2. What is an example of business process automation?
Consider invoice processing. BPA tools can help automatically capture information from invoices, route them to the appropriate departments for approval, process the payment once approved, and reconcile the invoice in the accounting or ERP system.
3. What is the difference between RPA and BPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) focuses on automating highly repetitive, rules-based tasks typically performed by human employees. It involves programming software robots to mimic human actions. On the other hand, Business Process Automation (BPA) aims to automate complex business processes that involve decision-making and integration with multiple systems.
4. What are the types of business process automation?
Types of automation include task, workflow, process, robotic, and intelligent automation. Examples of automated tasks include order entry, email, batch processing, file transfers, and report generation. Workflow automation automates a series of tasks, while process automation automates an entire business process. RPA uses software robots for repetitive tasks like data entry. Intelligent automation uses AI and machine learning for complex tasks like fraud detection and customer service.
5. What is the connection between BPA and RPA?
RPA is a type of BPA. While BPA refers to the larger strategy of automating business processes for efficiency and productivity, RPA refers to the specific technology used to automate tasks. Essentially, RPA is a tool that can be used within a larger BPA strategy.
6. What are the steps in business process automation?
The steps in business process automation include:
- Identifying and prioritizing processes for automation
- Documenting the process as it currently exists
- Determining the desired outcome of the process
- Designing the automated process
- Selecting the right automation tools
- Implementing the automated process
- Monitoring the process and making necessary adjustments
- Continual evaluation and improvement of the process
7. What does it mean to automate a business process?
Automating a business process means using technology to execute recurring tasks or processes where manual effort can be replaced. It involves identifying processes that can be streamlined, designing the automated process, implementing the technology to carry out the process, and continually monitoring and improving the process for efficiency and effectiveness.
8. What are the benefits of business process automation?
The benefits of business process automation include:
- Increased efficiency.
- Reduced costs.
- Improved quality of work.
- Enhanced customer service.
- Real-time analytics and reporting.
- Enhanced collaboration among teams.
- Contribution to sustainability efforts.
9. What are some business process automation companies?
Zapier, Salesforce, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, Nanonets, UiPath, Kofax, IBM, Microsoft, and Pega Systems are some leading companies specializing in business process automation. These companies offer a variety of automation tools and services to help businesses streamline their operations, reduce costs, improve efficiency and productivity, and provide better customer service.