The Complete Guide to Business Process Automation

Some things change as you scale a business. Business process automation helps you manage those changes. Activities such as taking calls, emailing clients, and data entry become cumbersome when you start to do hundreds of them per day, every day. 

Already, nine out of ten employees (1) are saddled and bored with monotonous tasks. Staff inefficiency leads to missing important parts of your business process—which might cost you money, time, production quality, or even a life.

Disconnected data caused by human error cost organizations in the UK and US about $140 billion (2) a year. In addition, business innovation and service quality drop due to human error. In this guide, you’ll find out how to scale your business sustainably.

Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • The basics of business process automation
  • What processes to automate in your business
  • How to get the best results with automation, and
  • Business process automation tools to use. 

Let’s get started.

What is Business Process Automation?

Business Process Automation (BPA) is a tech-based approach to automating everyday tasks or activities within your organization. BPA accelerates work processes, shrinks recurring costs, and increases efficiency across all facets of your organization. 

This makes business process automation a strategic priority crucial for your business’ success.

Therefore, it is necessary to perform an exhaustive study of how your organization functions and identify critical areas for improvement before going down this route.

Here are key ways to identify a process that needs automation. The tasks:

  • Require spot-on accuracy
  • Are monotonous
  • Require meticulousness 
  • Take a lot of time with human effort
  • Are consistent

BPA goes beyond swapping hardcopies for PDFs or updating your ledgers automatically.  Business automation also targets complex IT tasks, such as managing users, system troubleshooting, and network issues.

You might come across robotic process automation (RPA) when identifying areas to improve and processes to automate. But RPA is different and involves automating higher-level tasks that use artificial intelligence and automation software.

A great example is Google Assistant (3), which can double as a BPA or an RPA tool. You can integrate Google Assistant with RPA tools or use-as-is to automate customer service tasks such as booking appointments using the AI.

Digitally mature businesses can leverage this same technology to include language, speech, and vision in their workflows without human intervention. Unlike BPA, which relies solely on software, RPA makes use of both software and AI.

How Does Business Process Automation Work?

Business automation occurs when you automate processes in business—but this doesn’t make all workflows the same. At one end, BPA uses integrated solutions to automate workflows by enabling multiple apps to communicate with each other. On the flip side, BPA works in tandem with Business Process Management (BPM) and Artificial Intelligence to extend process automation in an organization. While BPA automates workflows, BPM offers a comprehensive structure to manage these workflows.

Before we start with business process automation, let’s explore the fundamental elements necessary for setting up automated work processes.

Factors to Consider Before Setting Up Business Process Automation

Business Process Automation efforts involve various core factors you must consider to make it effective. We’ll discuss them in a bit.

1. Planning and Organization

It is critical that you create a clear picture or model of your workflow before automating it. Develop a list of work activities or tasks you need automated. Then, outline the flow of the work process involved, so you envision where automation will be more effective at a glance.

2. User Understanding

The kind of automation process you choose to adopt must resonate and take into account the needs of your users. They must satisfy and put interested parties at ease. 

It’s counterproductive to adopt a system that completely changes how things are done. Instead, the automated process should strengthen and expand the existing workflow.

3. Simplify the Process

Things can get exciting when you start automating your work processes, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Keep specific automation tools and techniques simple, so your organization eases into it.

4. Testing

Ensure you thoroughly test your BPA software in real-time before you begin fully. Business process automation tools need to integrate properly with your system before anyone can use them.

Test for bugs or minor faults that may cause errors or mishaps in the future and gradually increase your automation to meet your desired output.

5. Training 

The next thing to do as you automate is to train your team. It is necessary to help your team transition into the new process, so no one is left behind. One way to this is to focus on training the team leaders. 

For instance, if you must automate the work processes over at the sales department, it’ll be more productive to train the sales team lead(s) first, so they teach the rest of the team. That way, regular team members are well-grounded and can reach their team heads for advice when encountering challenges with the new process.

Another thing you must do is train your software developers. This is true, especially when you’re outsourcing the development of your BPA software. Since software developers will only write scripts and codes to reflect your organization’s needs, they should understand the various workflows that need automation to avoid errors.

6. Documentation

Once your business is automated, it’s time to document the processes involved. Of course, at the onset, things will go smoothly. Keeping logs and notes will enable you to troubleshoot any problems you might face by letting you address and pinpoint the problem in detail.

Why Do Organizations Use Business Process Automation?

There are several reasons organizations automate their work processes. One of them is the need to achieve more in less time. Of course, the benefits of this are far-reaching. 

Organizations get to:

  • Drastically reduce errors
  • Increase efficiency, accountability, and transparency.
  • Innovate their services
  • Save time and shrink costs

In addition to these, organizations automate their processes for other compelling reasons. Now, let’s dive into them and why you should automate your business below.

To Improve Workflow and Gain More Clarity

Business automation requires you to have extensive knowledge and clarity of the processes involved right from the cradle stage. If you don’t know this much, you may find it an uphill task to design and automate workflow effectively.

Along with showing you the tasks to automate, outlining the processes can also clarify and serve as a resource for employees. Plus, BPA offers you insights on how your business processes can improve with regards to how you already run it.  

For Streamlined Processes

Organizations streamline work processes by using BPA tools. This results in accountability, efficiency, and valuable insights that cut down the waste of time and resources.

Standardized Operations

The chances of errors when you automate a business are slim. Hence, you can expect a standard outcome every time. This positions your company as reliable to new and existing clients.

Scalability

Organizations have a better chance of scaling their business when they automate their work processes. The company becomes efficient by shrinking costs, thereby giving more room for a scalable business model that meets increased demand.

For a Better Work Environment

Employees are bound to slip up subconsciously when they weary of a monotonous activity—it’s human nature. Business process automation reduces the chances of these errors by eliminating tedious and repetitive tasks using automation software.BPA makes for a friction-free work environment, employee satisfaction, and increased output.

Digital Transformation

While not every organization has its business processes automated, a considerable number are willing to take the step. A McKinsey global survey (4) suggests that about 67 percent more organizations are automating their business process than 57 percent who did in 2018.

Albeit now in their pilot stage, these organizations automated their business and further scale their BPA efforts.

Business automation serves as a platform to digitally transform your business model. You can begin with a few processes that are obviously in need of improvement and work your way up.

What Processes Should You Automate in Business?

You must now understand the basics of business process automation and why it is essential for success. But, not all processes can be automated.

That is why it is crucial to study your organization’s workflow to decide which processes require automation and those that need human intervention. McKinsey estimates that almost every work process can be automated (5), with about half of manual tasks potentially adapting to current BPA technologies. 

Depending on your organization, you should aim to automate time, capital, and labor-intensive processes. The following are practical situations to apply BPA in business.

Monotonous or Rote Tasks

These tasks are physical and repetitive. You should automate these work processes to mitigate error and free up human resources for other areas that require them the most.

Some examples of tasks like these are; 

  • Invoicing 
  • Automated project management
  • Data management
  • Lead follow up

Employee Self-Service Portal

Organizations can automate HR processes by developing a self-service portal. 

An employee self-service portal is software through which employees perform job-related activities in an organization. These activities—otherwise done by the HR—range from conducting certain transactions or accessing important information through a gateway. 

Some large organizations use employee portals to pass across both HR-related information and corporate information.

Tracking and Alerts

Manufacturing organizations with strict compliance activities can automate their business with alarms and sensors for processes that require consistent monitoring and quality checks.

These sensors detect unexpected changes and issues an alert, thereby eliminating any need for human management.

Risky Manual Activities

Companies with manual processes such as lifting, mixing, or packaging can automate their day-to-day activities to eliminate or reduce risk on the job. 

IT Back Office Management

Organizations with batch processing or overnight data center activities can automate their processes to reduce the need for night staff. 

Document Management

Processes involving handling documents for processing orders or budget approvals, signatures, or electronic requests can be automated within an organization. This means teams won’t spend time waiting or reminding managers for approvals.

This automation also improves the current work process, motivates employees, and centralizes the system into a seamless and more accessible workflow.

Research 

For companies that rely on large datasets, digital databases have simplified information management and research. 

These include historical data, criminal records and statistics, meteorological and environmental research data, health records, and financial and insurance risk analysis.

Asides from these scenarios above, organizations can automate processes like accounts payable, customer service channels, HR onboarding, admin tasks, and the basic decision-making processes.

How to Choose the Right Business Automation Software for Your Business

As we discussed earlier in this article, there are some factors you must consider before setting up business automation processes in your organization. 

However, knowing the right business automation tools to use remains the crux of the matter. It’s pointless to set up the right environment for automation to end up with BPA software that doesn’t align with your company goals or vision.

Here, we’ve outlined the best ways to choose the platform suitable for your organization.

1. Identify Your Business Goals and Needs

To do this, ask yourself the following questions.

i) What tasks are repetitive, monotonous, and met with little enthusiasm from employees?

ii) Do you need to improve performance figures to meet your yearly goals? If true, what specific performance figures are those, and in what area?

iii) What work process eats up the most time (cumulatively)?

Most times, you can get the answers to these questions by interviewing your employees regularly, as they are mainly doing these activities. Other times, you’ll get some insight from keen observation.

Ensuring you know the specificities of what you need will stop you from investing in the wrong software.

Let’s put this into perspective. If you run a research facility that deals in big data, you’ll gain almost nothing from automating customer service channels. 

However, if you make slight improvements to the amount of time it takes to get results, you’ll see tremendous progress over some time.

When you’ve answered these questions, you can proceed to identify the kind of BPA software that is most suitable for your organization.

You can choose from the following.

Database Automation Software: This is great if your organization focuses on research analysis with regular updates or data acquisition, data generation, processing, and recovery. Database automation will help you manage growth and preserve the integrity of your data.

Robotics Automation Software: You’ll need this kind of software if your business processes involve complex and high-volume repetitive tasks. It’ll also be ideal for you if you’re automating customer interaction or the front-end user interface.

This could be a bot program or software, and not necessarily robotics engineering.

Server Automation Software: If you require multiple servers to run your business smoothly, then server automation software is for you.

Server automation handles inventory management, deploys new server software applications, fixes patching, positioning, and compliance operations.

Server automation software is of two types—the point tool server automation and suite server automation. 

Smaller organizations use the point tool server, which uses one software for a simple automation process. In comparison, enterprises use the suite server automation tool to run multiple software scripts on different servers for complex processes. 

Custom Automation Software: This software is custom-built for your needs. It takes into account all the organization’s requirements to serve as the perfect BPA solution.

The right BPA software depends significantly on your business’ needs and goals. Therefore, you might end up using a combination of these tools to cater to your needs.

2. Create a Checklist of Key Features You Need in a BPA Software

Software developers or companies develop software with various features for different purposes or businesses. You should be able to identify which of these key features aligns greatly with your organization’s needs.

Depending on your company’s goals, you may opt for custom-built software rather than a generic one. 

Now, let’s look at a few features of an ideal business automation software below.

Lead Capturing and Scoring Feature

While it is necessary to understand your buyer persona and feelings towards your products and services, it is even more imperative to have an automated system that lets you score these leads.

Your sales and marketing department may find it challenging to monitor leads constantly. But an ideal BPA software can monitor subtle changes that influence the interests and choices of prospective clients. This will allow the sales team to make informed decisions when tweaking the offers presented to prospective clients and close the deal.

Profiling 

You’ll need comprehensive records of your clients as they continue to grow to offer them customized rewards based on their persona. But this progressive profiling takes time when you do it manually, hence using software that analyses minute details of a client.

Cloud-based 

If you have dynamic work processes and increased competition on the market, then you’ll need cloud-based software.

Cloud-based solutions, also known as Software-as-a-Service tools (SaaS), offer users the ability to work on a particular project from various devices. Organizations can benefit from its flexibility to streamline and optimize daily work processes.

Users can store or back up data in a centralized and easily accessible location. It becomes easy to encrypt and download the data onto secure hardware or use role-based and conditional clearance to access it on the cloud.

Security

Without question, an ideal BPA software must have a secure interface. A business automation software should withstand cyberattacks or unauthorized access to company and clients’ private data.

UI/UX Navigation 

Your ideal business process automation software should be easy to navigate by tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy users. 

Since you’re trying to shrink operational costs, it’s only wise you use solutions that won’t cost you extra, as funding the IT department can be expensive.

System and Social Media Integration

Choose a tool that is capable of easy integration with other automation tools. System integration is crucial for a seamless workflow process; otherwise, the automation tools might work against each other. 

Social media integration is another feature to look out for when you want to maintain client relations and visibility. You can also gauge buyer response to rolled out products and services.

SLA Feature

A business automation tool with SLA features is great for allowing multiple workflows. Users can mark what task is the top priority and which needs delayed execution so other team members can deal with it upon contact.

3. Identify Ready-to-Use Solutions Provider in the Market

Look for high-quality solutions and well-established technologies with positive reviews and ROI on the market. Consider all of the suggested options in terms of their pricing, support, practical and operational capabilities. If none of them work for you, start thinking about creating a custom solution.

Examples of Business Automation Process Tools

With various business automation software on the market, it might be challenging to find your choice. However, with the correct information, you can get BPA software that suits your needs. 

We’ve listed a few to get you started.

1. Kissflow

Kissflow is the world’s first Unified Digital Workplace Platform, available in 160 countries. It allows businesses to handle all of their tasks in one location. Both tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy users can create, discover and modify business applications.

Kissflow supports multiple languages like German, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, Polish, and Turkish.

2. Tallyfy

Tallyfy is a workflow automation tool that handles repetitive tasks in your organization. It automates decisions, tracks processes, and simplifies approvals.

Tallyfy also helps with client onboarding, HR processes, and project management of small and large enterprises. This BPA software only supports English.

3. Epicor ERP

Epicor ERP software is a flexible business automation solution for the manufacturing, retail, automotive industries. This software offers easy-to-use on-premises and cloud-based ERP solutions with robust features for supply chain, inventory control, and job costing. It integrates seamlessly with third-party CRMs and can be used by small and big businesses.

4. Quickbase

Quickbase is a low code digital process automation software. It enables businesses to develop and customize their work process ideas into secure cloud applications. With Quickbase, businesses can extend and connect data and adapt processes and workflows to respond to opportunities and risks.

5. SmartSheet

SmartSheet is a project management automation tool. It seamlessly integrates existing business tools and applications, so you concentrate on tasks that matter. This tool also enables businesses to manage several projects simultaneously through automatic reminders and multiple access by users.

6. Heflo

Heflo is a business process management (BPM) software that users rely on to manage collaborative business processes. This tool is excellent for organizations looking to improve performance on standardized operations and have their projects running on one platform—in the cloud or on-premises. 

7. Simul8

Simul8 is an intuitive business process simulation software for discrete events. This tool improves productivity by helping businesses make quick decisions through simulation of daily business processes. The simul8 software comes with a user-friendly interface and one-click simulations requiring no code to use.

8. AnyLogic

AnyLogic provides a single platform for multi modeling and simulating business processes. With this tool, organizations can simulate complex business models through three methods.

  • Agent-based
  • System dynamics 
  • Discrete events

This simulation flexibility allows for deeper insight into and around an organization’s business process.

9. Process Maker

ProcessMaker is a low-code workflow automation BPM platform. The platform allows enterprises to develop and execute solutions to otherwise complex workflows quickly. With Process Maker, businesses can automate processes, integrate with third-party applications, and reduce friction.

10. Datapolis Workflow 365

Datapolis Workflow automation tool is ideal for creating sophisticated workflows in the Office 365 environment. It allows enterprises to meet their project objectives across the board and accurately process documents and data stored in SharePoint.

How to Use Business Process Automation for Best Results

Without the right approach, automating your business may not yield your organization the best results. Here are some pointers on how to follow through with the best practices.

Ease into it

It’s easy to get excited when you start automating some processes and might want to achieve a whole lot in a short time. However, this could be counterproductive. Ease into the process and achieve your digital transformation in phases.

Have Specific Goals

Don’t make the mistake of implementing automation processes before identifying your business goals. The best practice is to have a goal; work towards it, and implement automation processes to help you achieve them.

Develop Clear Roles

Prepare yourself for the changes that come with automating your business. One of its effects would be having employees take on some new roles and responsibilities. Define and clarify these tasks to re-establish the roles of every employee in the company.

While you’re at it, involve everyone in the process from the onset. Do this by conducting an in-house session with your staff to understand everyone’s pain points.

Have a Plan B

Automating your business is an excellent way to scale your business. But it can also be a recipe for disaster when the software has a glitch. This could halt an entire day’s work and have everyone dancing on pincers.

Best way to go about this? Have a cushion plan and in-house programmers on standby. Make sure all your staff are well versed in manual operations, too, so they can take over a process seamlessly.

Be Consistent

For a higher success rate, be consistent with your automation processes. Halting an automated process may breed discontent among your staff, thereby affecting their productivity. It can also make your business lose credibility and reliability in the eyes of your clients.

Final Thoughts

The steps leading to full automation of your business can be an uphill task—take it slow. We recommend starting with baby steps. Define your needs and goals, then choose a platform that aligns with them, both now and in the future.