A Thorough Guide to Business Process Automation

business process automation bpa

A business is as good as its processes. Streamlined and optimized business processes result in better business outcomes.

How do you streamline business processes?

Business process automation holds the key to optimized process performance. Automating business processes helps eliminate the redundancies associated with the process and automates repetitive tasks in the process, thereby, reducing the costs and time spent on the process. 

We will explore business process automation in detail through this blog. From what is business process automation to why business process automation to choosing the right process automation solution – this blog touches upon all important aspects of automation of business processes. 

Table of Contents

What is a Business Process?

Before we explore automated business processes, we must first understand what a business process is. In simple terms, a business process may be defined as a set of activities that are executed in a predetermined sequence to achieve a specific goal. When we talk about business process automation, a process may be defined as a set of repeatable activities that involve a series of steps that touch upon multiple IT systems.

Business processes include fulfilling invoices for customer orders, approving a loan application onboarding a new employee, etc. The flow of work in the process is determined by the nature of the process and the end goal. Business rules determine the sequence in which the tasks in the process are executed. 

For a small-scale business, it may be easy and efficient to manage business processes manually. Managing or correcting errors that may arise in manual processes can be done effectively on a small scale. However, as the scope of business operations expands, such errors or inconsistencies bring down the quality and productivity of the process.

When managed in an ad hoc manner, these workflows typically involve multiple email threads, documents, and handoffs. Even minor human errors may cause a cascade of inefficiencies, resulting in communication breakdowns, bottlenecks, and missed deadlines. For large-scale processes, these errors may multiply at scale. 

Business process automation can prevent these issues by automating data- and labor-intensive steps. By deploying a reusable and extendable business automation strategy, process teams can have better control over process performance, improve communication, boost customer satisfaction, and eliminate chaos and confusion in process operations.

When repeatable and labor-intensive processes are automated, time and resources are freed so that employees can focus on core strategic work rather than tedious, repetitive, frustrating tasks. 

A business process analysis typically spans multiple departments and often begins with a trigger action. For example, in employee onboarding, HR could trigger a series of predefined workflow steps for sending out welcome emails, configuring security credentials, and setting up financial details in the compensation system.

Automating such predictable workflow steps improves the efficiency and accuracy of each step. There are a few different kinds of business processes such as core, support, and long-tail processes. Each type plays an important role in the business and can be optimized and automated to achieve process excellence with the right business strategy and software. 

Manual Processes – Pros and Cons

Small-scale business operations are pretty straightforward and can be carried out easily by the project team. As the business grows, it becomes tedious and inefficient to follow manual business processes. Automation of business processes helps overcome the cons of manual business processes. Let us evaluate the pros and cons of manual business processes. 

Pros 

  • Manual processes are very easy to set up and execute. They do not involve complex setups or elaborate coding. 
  • The costs involved in setting up and running manual processes are minimal. They do not require upfront investment.
  • Working on manual processes requires minimal to nil training for the team. The steps in the manual are simple to understand. 
  • Startup businesses can set up manual processes quickly and easily, without having to spend a lot of effort, time, and money.

Cons

  • Voluminous paperwork is the hallmark of manual processes. Tons of paperwork generated at each step of the process can be tedious to manage, update, and store safely. 
  • Slow manual processes lock valuable resources. Until the task is completed manually, all the resources linked to the task are locked to the task, which puts other tasks that require these resources on hold. 
  • Chaos and confusion result from disorganized manual tasks. The sequence in which tasks are to be executed and the interdependency is not clear in manual task execution. 
  • Transparency and visibility into the status of tasks in a manual process are limited. Users are not sure of the status of each task and who is working on what, in a manual process. 
  • Lack of accountability is another problem in manual processes. The roles of team members are not clearly defined in a manual process, which results in duplication of efforts. It is not easy to hold team members accountable to various tasks, because of lack of accountability.
  • Loss of employee work satisfaction. When team members spend their time more on low-value tasks, they tend to lose interest in their actual work and lose focus on overall organizational goals.

Manual processes can be quite a backbreaker for process teams, which requires them to carry out labor- and data-intensive tasks completely on their own. Spending all of their time on repetitive and low-value tasks takes the focus off from important, strategic tasks. This brings in the need to automate business processes, so that all the cons of manual processes can be overcome, and processes can be made more efficient and optimized. 

What is Business Process Automation?

What is BPA?

Business process automation (BPA) is the use of technology to automate repeatable, routine tasks like conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities that are streamlined and optimized.

BPA or business process automation focuses on the automation of complex processes and functions using advanced technologies.

Enterprise process automation supports the entire enterprise’s knowledge workers in catering to the needs of its departments. As opposed to other types of automation, BPA solutions are more complex and cover multiple enterprise information systems.  

What is the difference between business process automation methodology and business process management?

Business process management is a collaboration between business and IT teams to model, analyze, and optimize end-to-end business processes to help meet strategic business goals.

BPM is a continuous process that leads to improvement over time. Both BPM and BPA are focused on improving tasks and processes that are repetitive, ongoing, and predictable. Although the end goal of BPM and BPA is the same, the ways of achieving the goal are different.

When BPA is applied within a BPM practice, it can be instrumental in continually monitoring and improving process efficiencies. BPA can work separately as a standalone initiative for improving efficiency and profitability. 

An automated business process accelerates the way work gets done by routing information to the right person at the right time through user-defined rules and actions.

BPA helps organizations streamline processes like employee onboarding, contract management, accounts payable, and more. Automation of business processes takes advantage of a variety of advanced technology, automation tools, process intelligence capabilities, and cloud platforms. Some processes are a natural fit for full business process automation, while others have only a few tasks that can be automated. You get a hybrid BPA workflow when you automate a business process partly. 

Types of Business Process Automation

BPA usually refers to one element of a process management strategy, but there are several types of business process automation to consider for businesses. 

1. Task automation

This type of automation aims to eliminate or minimize repetitive tasks within the process. Task automation includes sending emails, generating documents, capturing signatures, or updating statuses. 

2. Workflow automation

Business process automation workflow includes applying automation to a series of tasks and activities. In some workflows, every task can be automated, while in others only a few can be automated. When you automate processes partially, tasks that usually require critical thinking or decision-making must be handled by employees. 

3. Process automation

As opposed to task automation, process automation applies to a process end-to-end for identifying as many automation opportunities as possible. Process automation involves the automation of individual tasks and the workflows that make up the process. 

4. Robotic process automation

Some tasks are better off being automated using custom-coded software bots. Typically, software bots are used for structured, repetitive tasks that occur the same way each time, without any exceptional conditions. Tasks that are ideal for being automated by RPA require no decision-making. 

5. Intelligent Automation

Intelligent automation is a complex solution that combines task automation, process automation, and RPA and incorporates artificial intelligence, data analysis, and other advanced technologies into it for automating higher-level tasks like decision-making. 

Why Should You Automate Your Business?

Why automate business processes?

It has shifted its focus from serving internal needs like efficiency, and cost control, to engaging with external customers and creating new opportunities. This shift in focus must be supported by advanced automation tools. The focus must be shifted to develop new strategies to automate the business as a whole.

Here are 5 reasons why business process automation is a must for improving process outcomes – 

1. Initiates digital transformation

Digital transformation may seem like a daunting task for any organization, irrespective of its size and nature of work. Business process automation can give you a head start on your digital transformation journey. Through BPA, organizations can stay in a continuous improvement mode. To start with, you can begin automating processes that require priority improvements and gradually work your way up other processes. 

2. Improves clarity and transparency

Successful automation of a business process brings more clarity and transparency into the process. In fact, for designing an automated workflow, the first step is to map out the tasks in the process along with their dependencies. This process map can be shared with all the employees so that they understand the flow clearly and their role in process execution. Moreover, process analysis and mapping also help identify and address the gap between the as-is process and the to-be process. 

3. Streamlines process flow

If you want to eliminate redundant steps in the business process, the best way is to opt for business process automation. Streamlined business processes are the outcome of process automation. When you automate the process, you derive clear accountability, deeper insights, faster turnaround times, and alerts and notifications, all of which are aimed at eliminating wasteful activities in the process and tuning into tasks that add value to the business. 

4. Improves process compliance

Business process analysis brings standardization into the process. A standard procedure is followed for documentation, carrying out tasks, and establishing an audit trail. Every detail of individual tasks and the process as a whole is recorded in an automated process. Clear recording and updation of process data make compliance audits a breeze. 

5. Standardize process operations

Once a process is automated, the outcomes become more predictable and consistent. Automation brings in a high level of standardization that positions the organization as reliable and trustworthy to the customer. Standard outcomes from every process, each time help businesses exceed customer expectations and satisfaction easily. When you consistently meet promised standards, customers are more likely to develop a long-standing relationship with your organization.

When should you automate your business?

Business process automation is much more than just replacing paper with PDFs, it aims to make processes more cost-efficient, streamlined, transparent, and error-proof. With automated business processes in place, businesses have more time to focus on strategic initiatives that not only add value to the business but also increase the return on investment considerably.

When should you automate your business processes?

What are the signs that indicate that business processes need to be automated?

Here are some points that you must watch out for that indicate the need to automate your business processes

Inconsistency in Processes Results

When process outcomes are unpredictable and inconsistent, it creates a bad image for your business. When key business processes are not producing consistent results, then it is time to review the process and make necessary changes/improvements. Automation is one of the best ways to bring about standardization into business processes. 

Data silos

Manual tasks create data silos, which result in broken communication between tasks. When tasks do not speak with each other, users do not get a comprehensive view of the progress. If this is the state of your business process, then it is time you consider business process flow example automation. 

Lack of accountability

In a manual process, there is a lack of visibility into the status of tasks and the assignment of roles for each task. Team members are unclear about the tasks they are responsible for, which leads to uncertainty and confusion. When you notice a rise in lack of accountability within the process team, it is high time you consider automation for more clarity in role assignments. 

Rising costs

Processes that are ridden with redundant tasks are bound to cause resource wastage. Moreover, repetitive, low-value tasks tend to lock precious process resources that could otherwise be used for tasks that add value to the business. The overall effect of resource wastage is the rise in process costs. When process costs rise consistently owing to redundant tasks in the process, it is time you consider optimizing the process through BPA. 

5 Strategies for Automating Business Processes

The volume of human error and inconsistencies is directly proportional to the size of the business. With business growth comes a pressing need for streamlining core business processes so that repetition and redundancy are eliminated. The efficiency and productivity of a process increase significantly with business process automation. We have put together 5 time-tested strategies that would guide you through the automation process flow

1. Recognize the functional areas of operations

Jumping the gun on reorganizing process operations to achieve cost savings isn’t a wise decision. Leaders need to deliberate on the decision to replace or reorganize roles with technology to achieve process optimization. It is not right to assume that automation is going to replace human intervention altogether.

The need for human intervention is a must for certain tasks in the process. It is mandatory to therefore identify the functional areas in the business that can be the right fit for improvements. Business functions like sales and marketing, accounts payable, inventory and warehouse management, and customer service are suitable for automation. 

2. Create standard operating procedures

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a must to carry out and complete the responsibilities within a role/process. SOPs are essential documented steps that guide you through how a process must be carried out. For successful implementation of any type of automation, the steps and actions to be carried out must be clearly outlined by the SOP.

Despite the crucial role SOPs play in process execution, they always are at the bottom of the priority list. Business leaders must prioritize SOPs as a quarterly role across the organization, which encourages employees to take time to define how they carry out their jobs. 

3. Identify repetitive tasks

Once the functional operations have been identified, managers and team leads can dive deeper into the repetitive tasks that are a part of every role in each department.

Why target repetitive tasks?

The answer is simple, they are potential candidates for automation. Identification of such tasks helps leaders and the management understand the futility of performing repetitive tasks manually. SOPs are a great source for identifying repetitive tasks. In addition to that, you can also interview employees to get their perspective on the repetitive tasks that are better off automated. 

4. Prioritize tasks/areas to automate

Inputs derived from reviewing SOPs and from team interviews throw light on tasks that have areas of opportunity to improve. Making a list of tasks that to be automated allows progress to be made on process automation. Bear in mind operational improvements and their impact on customers while prioritizing tasks. Prioritization must be based on the impact on customers, employees, and business. 

5. Choose the right software

It is quite unnecessary to spend millions of dollars on custom coding software to automate processes. Workflow automation software like Cflow can be customized according to the unique requirements of every business. Modern process automation software specializes in delivering low-code BPM tools that are super easy to set up and run. 

You can either decide to implement a BPM system or you can explore automation within your existing tech stack. Irrespective of the approach, automation of business processes accelerates the growth of a business. Remember, BPA is not about eliminating the human element from a process but enhancing it.

How to Go About Automating Business Processes

How to automate business processes?

A million-dollar question indeed! Almost any process can be enhanced in some way by automation. Before you get into how to automate your business processes, you should know what type of processes are right for automation. A process prime for automation must have the following characteristics:

  • The process must be consistent across the organization
  • The process must be repeatable
  • The process must have little room for error

Now that we are clear about the type of process to be automated, let us get into details on how to automate the process. 

Map out the tasks and their dependencies clearly through a process map. This helps understand the process clearly and identify the tasks that can be automated effectively. 

Create a to-be process map that helps determine how the process should be along with the improvements to the “as-is” process

Comparison of the as-is and to-be process maps singles out the tasks that need to be automated.

Choose the workflow automation software to automate the tasks that need to be improved. Typically, repetitive and predictive tasks are prime for automation. The workflow automation software must be easy to use and install. A no-code workflow automation solution like Cflow simplifies process automation and improves process efficiencies. 

Key Trends in Business Process Automation

From simple robotic automation to AI and ML automation, business process automation has evolved by leaps and bounds. Business process automation tools empower process teams to understand and orchestrate critical resources that include people, applications, and systems. You can increase organizational efficiency and reduce errors that can impact customer experience negatively. To get the best out of BPA, you should be aligned with the latest trends in process automation. 

1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Business process automation tools that include AI and ML capabilities are robust and powerful. AI-powered tools empower teams to make smarter and more informed decisions based on previous instances. BPA solutions that incorporate AI and ML capabilities are capable of executing the process with greater accuracy and less error proneness. AI-based automation increases the productivity of the process and improves customer experience. 

2. Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation is one of the most effective process automation methods and it allows organizations to easily automate repetitive tasks without huge investments or technical knowledge. Any RPA project can be started easily and scaled up or down based on the workload. One of the most important BPA trends is that solution vendors are providing capabilities to integrate their solutions with top RPA tools available in the market. 

3. Hyper automation

Automation of complex business processes requires hyper-automation, which is the combination of multiple automation tools with advanced technologies. Handling complex business workflows can be challenging with a single automation solution, which is where hyper-automation comes into the picture. Staying updated with the latest hyper-automation trends helps businesses stay aligned with the latest innovations. 

4. Process simulation

This is one of the newest trends in process automation that is primarily used to spot bottlenecks and other problematic areas in the process. Businesses are constantly looking for ways to improve customer service, deliver products and services faster, and increase agility and flexibility. Process simulation provides businesses with deeper visibility into the problematic areas of the process and ways to improve upon them. Automation will provide these businesses with modern methods of conducting business, which improves process efficiency greatly. 

5. Process mining

Process automation isn’t only about technology trends, it involves the use of techniques to boost the success of an automated process without compromising quality or efficiency. Process mining is a method that examines the process thoroughly, and the relationships between tasks, and ensures that data is accessible for every process. This method can be used for locating bottlenecks and determining what needs to be done to enhance process efficiency. Taking it a step further, process mining can also be used to strategically predict future trends in a business process. 

6. Cloud-based solutions

Almost every business is talking about the cloud for a myriad of processes, from data migration to intuitive data portals. BPA solution providers too are looking at cloud-based solutions for automating workflows. The cloud environment chosen for your business automation must offer transparency, security, and complete control over all processes. Cloud-based automation also offers comprehensive admin modules that help users keep track of every case, task, and instance where the process is halted. 

7. Integration with other technologies

Much before automation solutions are implemented, businesses already have several systems that run the business. Process automation solutions must integrate with other legacy or modern systems so that they can read and write from a centralized location, upload documents to a repository, and communicate with other systems. BPA providers are constantly working to expand their list of connectors so that it integrate with other technologies used by the organization. 

8. Low code/No code platforms

These application development platforms allow developers to create applications with less code than traditional app development platforms. No code platforms usually incorporate drag-and-drop interfaces and other tools that make it easy and fast to develop applications. Such platforms drastically reduce the time taken for app development, improve the quality of the app, and make it a no-brainer to develop automation solutions. 

9. Digital customer experience

Powerful automation solutions provide the best digital experience. The success of a business is closely tied to the customer experience. Younger generations are accustomed to digital technologies, so to make your products and services more appealing to the younger audience, you need to take the digital route. 

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Benefits of Business Process Automation

Standardized results

Automating business processes brings uniformity and predictability into the process results. The standardization eliminates the guesswork from customer service interactions and improves customer satisfaction significantly. 

Improved efficiency

When repetitive, low-value tasks are automated, process cycles are accelerated and a lot of effort and money is saved. Such tasks require a lot of time and effort, and end up locking precious resources to one task. Even if a part of a process is automated, you can create opportunities for employee time and effort to be used in better ways. 

Better productivity

When processes are automated, you will see a boost in productivity. Cloud-based business process automation tools store data in a centralized database that can be accessed from any location or device whenever required. 

Deeper visibility and transparency

Automated processes provide real-time updates on the status of each task. Users get deeper visibility into the status of the tasks and can track and monitor processes while they are running. This not only improves transparency but also improves accountability. 

Examples of Business Process Automation

In the previous sections, we explored the types of processes that are suitable for automation. In this section, we will list out the business processes that can be automated effectively. 

1. HR onboarding – The employee onboarding process is made up of several repetitive tasks that can be automated for superior and faster onboarding.

2. Accounts payable – Some of the labor- and data-intensive tasks in the accounts payable process can be automated

3. Payroll processing – A paper-intensive process like payroll processing can be automated to save time and improve document management. 

4. Invoice processing – Faster and accurate invoice processing is possible when you automate tedious steps in the process. 

5. Bookkeeping and accounting – Both bookkeeping and accounting require keen attention to detail, which can be easily achieved by automation. 

6. Sales tax filing – For businesses that are spread across locations, sales tax filing can be simplified and made more effective by process automation.

7. Social media marketing – Monitoring various social media channels becomes easier when you automate social media marketing.

8. Email marketing – Following up on an abandoned cart or sending promotional emails can be much more effective through process automation. 

Why is Cflow your BPA partner?

We have identified what type of processes can be automated, and we have also looked into examples of business processes that can be automated – now is the time to look at the right workflow automation solution!

What are the essential features that a BPA solution must provide?

The automation solution must bring capabilities like workflow management, process monitoring, task scheduling, reporting and analytics, role-based access, alerts and notifications, and exception handling. Cflow is a no-code cloud BPM solution that provides all of these features and many more robust features. 

Visual form builder

Process automation can be as simple as it can be with the visual form workflow builder in Cflow. You simply drag and drop visual elements and you have your process workflow ready. 

Public forms

You can expose your Cflow forms to the entire world with the public forms feature. These forms make it easier to connect with users who are not directly associated with your organization but can provide crucial information for improving your business. 

Document management

Cflow reduces the effort and stress associated with document management workflow by converting all your paper files and documents to digital formats. Access to documents can be provided on any device. 

Workflow templates

You can choose from a wide variety of pre-built workflow templates provided in the Cflow library. You can build your workflow within minutes using these templates. 

Rules engine

Cflow is built for everyone in the organization. We have a wizard-driven editor designed especially for non-IT employees. You can set up different rules containing multiple conditions exactly as per your business needs. 

Insane customer support

The customer support team at Cflow is with you all through – from setting workflows to customization to issue resolution. 

We have explored only a few features provided by Cflow, many more features can make business process automation a huge success.

Conclusion

To keep pace with evolving customer expectations, businesses need to innovate and reinvent their product/service offerings. Business process automation can be your partner in delivering innovative and relevant solutions to your customers.

Don’t choose just any workflow automation solution when you automate your business processes, choose a solution like Cflow that simplifies and enhances the automation experience. Choosing a no-code cloud BPM solution like Cflow for automating business processes not only simplifies the process but also provides a great return on investment.

Ready to explore Cflow? Sign up for the free trial today! 

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