Automation is inevitable in every walk of our lives, and even more so when it comes to business processes. It makes execution smoother, faster, and the output more accurate as compared to manually driven business processes. Even for something as simple as writing and publishing this article, there were several layers of automation involved. Proofreading takes a long time when done manually. However, with an automated proofreading tool such as Grammarly, the same task gets completed at a much faster pace. Such automated software not only identifies inappropriate language and grammatical errors but also suggests correct options. Just one click on the suggested option and the error on the document is rectified. Similarly, there was process automation involved in collaborating on ideas for the article, getting this article approved for publishing on our blog, and sharing it with our readers via newsletters and on social media.
A classic example of a business process in dire needs of automation is a purchase requisition and approval process. Whether it’s placing a request for a new laptop for an employee, or new machinery for a plant, or a new subscription to a SaaS tool, there are business rules to be enforced, and a variety of time-bound activities to be performed. There would be delegation of authority for approvals, identifying budget lines this expense would come out of, selecting the right vendor to place the order with, issuing purchase orders and tracking deliveries and payments. The prime objective of business process automation for such a process would be to reduce the turn-around time by mitigating manual intervention so that employees can devote their time to tasks that are more significant to the organization, and to ensure consistent enforcement of all business rules. Constant and rapid business process automation needs to become a part of the work culture for any growing organization.Valued at $8.8B for the year 2020, the market size of the global Business Process Automation industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.5% to reach $14.4B by 2025 according to an industry leading market report. According to the report, the need for effective collaboration between the workforce of different business functions is driving the growth of the BPM market.
What is Business Process Automation?
Technology deployed to get day-to-day tasks done automatically and accurately with minimal manual intervention is known as business process automation (BPA). With the recent disruptions due to the Covid pandemic, business leaders across industries are being pushed to refocus on strategic priorities and to unlock insights from silos and legacy systems, and business process automation is key to enable this.
Business process automation can start at the ground level by digitizing several tasks that are required to be error-free and done repeatedly, for example, accepting orders, generating bills, registering employee attendance, paying salaries, data entry, etc. These tasks are usually uniform. These are a tad bit monotonous and require being meticulous when done manually. One small error at one level might lead to a bigger impact at a later stage that could be irrevocable at that point. If the nature and sequence of the tasks are identical, then they can be automated with the use of technology.
Business Process Automation can evolve beyond automating tasks to streamlining end to end processes. This can help eliminate waste, uncertainty and delays. By reducing the time and resources used in a manual process, and better coordination between various process stakeholders, an automated business process solution can significantly improve organizational efficiency. Business process automation can make it easy to quantify each task and track its progress, and provide analytics to drive strategic business decisions.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a significant sub-segment, helping eliminate bursts of repetitive human activity, automating specific tasks of short duration. It is more powerful when combined with process orchestration capabilities that can reform and transform a process end to end. The integration of Machine Learning (ML) to help drive data-driven decisions and predictions, Natural Language Processing (NLP) to help automate document and speech centric business processes, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to add human like intelligence in decision making and deriving deep insights into business operations have enabled expanding the scope of Business Process Automation to areas hitherto overlooked.
Why do you need Business Process Automation Software?
Let us understand this through an example:
Situation A: A typical retail store manager spends considerable time each day putting together task lists for his/her employees, coordinating activities on a shift wise basis, handles conflicts due to absenteeism and makes gut-feel decisions on employee capabilities and task assignments. All this comes at the expense of time that could otherwise be spent in understanding customer needs, improving store experience and driving better merchandizing decisions. Employees are working harder than ever, but a lot of time is getting wasted in re-work or waiting on dependencies, or reacting to scheduling challenges.
Situation B: Business process automation software for store employee rostering, task and feedback management and leave management solutions can offload a bulk of the manual work for store managers. Employees get automated lists of activities on a slot wise basis, based on their skill sets. Hiring and training decisions are based on real-time feedback. Managers are able to devote more of their time improving customer experience and store performance. With more efficiency in the system, the store employees can have spare time to interact with the customers and introduce newly launched products to them. They can talk to them about membership schemes and other offers and discounts that the customers can avail themselves to have a better shopping experience. Here there is a better chance for them to convert the customers and get them to purchase more from that shop. This is what business process automation brings to the table.
Benefits of Business Process Automation
Manual processes for repeatable tasks are not only time-consuming and error-prone but also pull down the productivity of the entire team. According to a recent industry survey, over 30% of time is spent by middle managers in day-to-day tasks like filling out paper forms, copy-pasting data from one system to another, chasing hierarchy for approvals. Business process automation is significant because it helps to make the day-to-day tasks smoother, spontaneous, and with minimal manual efforts. It allows the employees to amp up their productivity and upgrade their skills to contribute more towards high-value activities. Just like this, there are umpteen other benefits of business automation.
A well-implemented business process automation strategy enables businesses to gain a single version of the truth and undertake accurate data analysis and planning across the entire organization. Preparing reports can be one of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks that eat up a substantial part of the working hours for managers and employees alike. Automating this process can make it easy for the employees to focus on getting more tasks done. This can be achieved by deploying automated data collection and processing the same to get real insights. This can be shared with the reporting authorities and the entire team to maintain transparency within the organization.
Tracking Task Execution
The best part of an automated system is the transparency that it brings about in task ownerships, dependencies, expected timelines and deliverables. It becomes easier to monitor the entire course of actions and quickly identify bottlenecks. The number of people deployed for a particular project, task loading for each individual and the time taken to complete each task – everything becomes trackable. Escalations can be real-time, and possibly even ahead of time, to enable taking reactive action for actual or anticipated delays on tasks.
Continuous Process Improvement
With granular tracking, comes the scope for improvement. When every step involved in the process becomes trackable, it is easier to spot the discrepancies within the process and take appropriate remedial steps for the same. It becomes easier to identify the bottleneck, the actual timelines and dependencies for task completion compared to initial expectations, and the level of efficiency of the employees. And thus, more time and resource efficient methods can be worked upon. Employees can be trained to upgrade their skills and thus boost productivity.
A manual process is not only time consuming; it also adds to execution and operational costs by adding rework due to errors, poor utilization of resources, and sheer time wasted in waiting on unpredictable dependencies leading to an overall loss of opportunity. A new store launch process delayed by a few weeks eats into your rent-free period, lost sales, and maybe even a potential boost to your competition. There is also a potential to identify redundant resources who can be better utilized elsewhere in the organization, and to identify laggards and poor performers to train or replace.
Business Process Automation Examples
Let’s take an example of an online retailer managing the content on its websites and in its email communications to its clients. There would be weekly, or often daily changes based on on-going promotions and sales, content partnerships with brands, and other advertisements. Each piece of content comes from different sales and marketing professionals. There are targeted audience lists and a variety of conditional formatting and placement guidelines. Now, every morning the editorial co-ordinator has his inbox bombarded with emails from different sales and marketing staff, and there is a slew of activity to execute in a timely manner to make sure the content goes live without any errors.
Adding to the complexity, there is regular new information about the targeted prospects, their updated buying history, and confirmation and cancellations of content from other stakeholders. The ad-content received from the sales and marketing teams needs to be further coordinated with the editorial and graphics team. After the pages and emails are designed, he sends them back to the sales executives for approval from the client. He manually puts all the status on the excel sheet that he updates every evening before leaving the office. Doing this day in and day out is a tedious job and prone to errors. Missed deadlines, incorrect content, dis-satisfied customers and lagging sales are all a result of the manual process chaos.
Business process automation will help reduce a substantial chunk of the tasks of the editorial coordinator. In a more efficient and transparent reporting process, all the tasks designated to each employee will be tracked. The stipulated timeline will be maintained by each employee, failing which, it will reflect in the system. Getting approvals will be streamlined. Wherever there is a slack in the process, it will be identified and remedial actions will be taken accordingly. And the editorial coordinator can better focus his/her time on more content strategy innovation and exploring creative ideas. Hence, the deployment of business process automation proves to be beneficial for the organization and the employees equally. In today’s rapidly changing times, most online media managers are actively implementing such business process automation tools, tailored to their specific processes.
Opportunities for Business Process Automation across organizational functions
- Tracking leads, conversions, meetings, action items
- Coordinating proposals, deliveries, payments
- Customer and prospect communications and status tracking
- Managing activities and information related to campaigns, events
- Coordinating content creation and deployment
- Managing promotional activities in coordination with partners
- Employee on-boarding and training processes
- Benefits administration and document management
- Performance evaluation, travel and payroll management
- Accounts payable and receivable processes
- Vendor management and PR/PO processes
- Budgeting, strategy and planning processes
- Employee and partner attendance and leave management
- Facilities maintenance and audits
- Logistics processes and optimal resource utilization
- New store/outlet launch processes with optimal site selection
- New product development and launch activities
- Retrofit or remodel project execution
- Managing contracts and agreements from execution to enforcement
- Annual audits, regulatory processes, document management
- Ensuring compliances and complaints management
- Customer service request and fulfilment processes
- Employee and partner IT support issues
- Incident management processes