Implementing Business Process Automation (BPA) can give your employees extra hours each day. And that means more time for them to focus on core, needle-moving tasks. End result? A much more efficient, and more productive business operation.
No employee should have to give up their personal time because they are spending half their workday on tedious, repetitive tasks that can be automated. Business process automation lets companies offload entire processes and let BPA software do all the heavy lifting.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the basics of business process automation, the best practices, and how to choose the right business process automation tool for your company.
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What is BPA?
Business Process Automation is the process of automating repetitive tasks that follow a set of steps, sequences, or rules using software. This could include extracting specific fields from invoices for faster processing to automatically assigning tasks to a team based on workload.
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 has evolved to cover various activities beyond manufacturing and basic tasks. The intelligent automation of data-driven enterprise tasks started in the 1960s with the introduction of enterprise resource planning systems but has now evolved to include AI, IDP, and robotic process automation.
How business process automation works
When it comes to automating business processes, adopting a hybrid approach is essential. Start by analyzing various workflows and determining which tasks can be automated and which ones need a human touch.
This approach ensures that automation is implemented to enhance the efficiency and productivity of your business rather than just automating for the sake of it.
In large organizations, automation might take care of high-volume, low-value tasks. Whereas in small businesses, the focus might be narrower — eliminating manual data entry or automating social media posts, for instance.
Although the needs for business process automation may differ, there are some common ways in which it can be deployed:
- 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
- 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, allowing you to tailor the automation to your specific needs.
Software providers offer these automation features as standalone options or as part of an integrated suite of tools. For example, business automation tools like Nanonets can help you capture data from documents without manual effort. At the same time, platforms like HubSpot automate various aspects of sales, marketing, and customer service functions.
The possibilities are limitless if you can identify the right tasks to automate and choose the right BPA tool to help you do it.
Choosing the right BPA tool for your business
There are tons of business process automation tools 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 tool, not the perfect tool. Remember your company’s current needs, future growth, and the tasks you want to automate.
Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a BPA tool:
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 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 BPA tool to consider business rules that provide 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 processes. Say you are looking for invoice OCR software. Ensure it supports 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 tool 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 require constant maintenance or troubleshooting. 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 BPA tool 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 the more common criteria, such as cost, vendor support, security, and the overall reputation of the software provider. Take your time to research and test out different BPA tools before making a decision.
Finally, remember that the success of any BPA 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 BPA 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 automation can be implemented:
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 or 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. This alone saved their Accounts Payable nearly 90% of their time.
Sourcing and procurement
Automating your procurement process 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. It can extract essential data from purchase orders, including vendor information, purchase order number, quantity, price, and delivery date. This ensures accurate data capture, reducing the risk of errors and time-consuming manual data entry.
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.
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 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.
From recruitment to employee onboarding, performance evaluation, and offboarding, HR processes 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 payroll 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 a 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 processes, workflows, and systems to uncover bottlenecks or inefficiencies.
2. Prioritization: Not all processes are suitable for automation. Prioritize the processes based on factors such as 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 business 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 the business grows and evolves, the automation system must be updated to accommodate new processes and tasks.
Benefits of Business Process Automation
Business process automation (BPA) 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: 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: BPA platforms provide a centralized space where all 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. Automation systems can easily be scaled up to accommodate increased workloads without a corresponding increase in operational costs.
Analytics and reporting: With BPA, data gathering is automated, and reports are generated in real time. This gives management instant access to critical business insights, enabling them to make data-driven decisions. For instance, they can track the performance of various processes, identify patterns and trends, and predict future outcomes to improve strategic planning and forecasting.
Enhanced collaboration: Automation tools 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 processes are 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 business process 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, BPA can significantly transform your business operations and contribute to your growth and success.