Business process automation (BPA) is the automation of business processes through technology, allowing businesses to cut costs and increase productivity.
When you hear the words “automation,” the first thing that comes to your mind are robots building cars (and stealing your jobs). That’s Industrial Automation, however, and is completely different from BPA. While IA focuses on automating physical human labor (assembling products, for example), BPA means automating processes and workflows (document approval process, employee onboarding process, etc.).
To give you a better idea of how business process automation works, we’ll get into more detail on what it is, what your business can gain from it, and how to implement it in your organization.
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What is Business Process Automation (BPA)?
BPA is a means of automating recurring business processes through the use of software & different app integrations. Meaning, instead of having your employees to menial & simple tasks, you just let the software take care of it.
While that’s a bit of a broad definition (making software do a thing), here are some specific examples of how BPA can work…
Customer Support – If you own any kind of website, you probably have some sort of customer support software set up. While the software tends to differ in functionality, most of them allow you to automate responses to customers. For example, if your software has problems with users logging in through LinkedIn, and that’s 90% of customer tickets. You can just create an automatic response to any message that has “LinkedIn” mentioned, saying that it’s a known issue and will soon be solved. This allows your support team to attend to tickets that are less-known.
Approval Management – Let’s say you’re working in procurement & are ordering the new machinery. For the order to be completed, it has to go through the approval of 5 different general managers. Without automation, you’d have to hunt down each management member & ask for signatures. With approval management software, all you have to do is click “start the approval process.”
Employee Onboarding – Whatever your industry is, you’ve probably done employee onboarding before. The process is usually very structured (Fill in Document A, B, Email person C, etc.) – so rather than doing the whole thing from scratch, you can let workflow management software lead the entire process.
And here’s a kicker – the examples we mentioned above are just a handful. Chances are, whatever your business process is, it can be automated if it’s a) repetitive, and b) involves a series of predictable steps.
Business Process Automation can either be completely stand-alone (automating several company processes) or be part of a larger initiative, such as…
- Business Process Improvement (BPI) – finding lackluster processes and improving them. In BPI, automation can either be a big part of it (overall improvement through automation), or just a tiny puzzle piece (automating a step in a process).
- Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) – BPR works just about the same as BPI, with the main difference being that it focuses on tearing down and rebuilding processes from scratch. Automation tends to play a big part in BPR initiatives; in most cases, if you’re completely re-designing a process, it’s because of new technologies.
- Business Process Management (BPM) – BPM is a methodology of continuous improvement – unlike BPI or BPR, both of which are one-time initiatives, BPM is something a company does systematically. Accordingly, BPA can play a part in streamlining and automating old processes.
Top 3 Benefits of Business Process Automation
You might still be on the fence about whether BPA is for your or not – and we get you. It’s still (more or less) a new concept, and there are some popular misconceptions on the topic. You’ve probably even heard that it’s not worthwhile – that it’s very hard and expensive to implement.
That might have actually been true around 10 years ago when legacy software was both expensive and hard to install, even with a team of IT specialists. Today, however, automation is a lot simpler. Most automation software is readily available online, and it’s something you can install and use without any guidance.
Today, there are essentially no drawbacks to adopting BPA software – the word “automation” itself is synonymous with efficiency. The more of your business you manage to automate, the more your employees will be able to focus on work that matters. Meaning, successful automation can lead to…
- #1: Increasing Value Per Work – Automating useless processes means that your employees will no longer have to deal with them. Meaning, they’ll be able to focus on work that creates more value (and makes more money) for your business.
- #2: Higher Employee Satisfaction – Anyone that’s ever held a position as an intern knows that menial, robotic tasks are extremely bad for motivation & enjoyment of work. No matter how you look at it, no one’s going to enjoy doing grunt work all day. If such things can be automated, both you (see point #1) and your employees will be happier (doing more meaningful work).
- #3: Minimizing Human Error – No matter how much attention to detail your employees have, they’re still human. There’s always a small chance that someone will forget something, an email will be left unsent, etc. The consequences here can be anything between minor to catastrophic. The right software will remind you your tasks on a regular basis.
Business Process Automation Use Cases
Now that you know how BPA works, you’re probably expecting some miracle-software to handle the whole thing for you. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing. Depending on what type of processes you’d want to automate, you would go for different software.
For example, the same software you use for social media automation can’t be used for streamlining business operations. You’ll probably have to put some time into research if you want to find the right tool for whatever job may be – but to make it easier on you, here’s a couple of use-case examples.
#1: Operations Management
Without the right tech, operations management can be very tough. You can’t really tell how your projects or processes are going without getting in touch with the team leader or supervisor, and even then, any kind of miscommunication can lead to a bunch of errors.
Business Process Management Software helps keep track of all the operations – the whos, whats, and whens of your business. It allows you to digitize your workflows, essentially automating the entire logistical part of a process.
That is, the process essentially lives on its own. An employee finishes a task, and the system automatically notifies the next person within the workflow that they have a new task
This makes operations management much easier and more efficient. As a manager, you get a dashboard which shows you what all of your employees are working on & how they’re doing. So if someone’s late with a deadline or there’s a bottleneck in a process, you’ll know it instantly and be able to possibly remedy it.
#2: Task or Project Management
“Dave, did you send the email to Christina about the ad budget?”
“Wait, wasn’t Janet supposed to do that?”
“I asked Josh to take care of it for me”
“Oh, he called in sick”
If you’ve worked in a company that doesn’t use some sort of task management software, you’ve probably been in that situation. Emails, information, files, to-dos – everything can end up being lost in miscommunication unless you have the software to prevent it.
Task management software is essentially a dashboard with everyone’s tasks on it and can act as a digital kanban board.
#3: Customer Support
If you’re a software company, you probably have a customer support form online on your website (or even better, a dedicated tool for that). Let’s say there’s a bug with the new update, affecting a big chunk of your users.
Within a day, your support inbox will be packed with hundreds or thousands of texts complaining about the issue – and there’s no way your support team can take care of all that. If you’re using a customer support software, such as Intercom, you can automate most of the replies.
If the customer ticket contains a keyword about the new bug or issue, you can send out an automated reply to each new ticket apologizing and explaining what the problem is.
Or, you can even automate 90% of your customer support, if you do some research. You can combine a list of frequently asked questions about the software & identify several keywords that are mentioned. Then, create separate messages you could send to the users whenever they complain about the keyword, and voila! There goes most of your customer support work.
Chances are, you already have an intern or two in charge of your social media accounts, creating new posts every other hour. Or, if you’re a small business or a startup, it might be even worse – you might be spending the precious time of your few employees on something that can be automated.
You could free up that time by using social media automation tools, such as Buffer. The tool allows you to schedule your posts throughout the day, week, or month depending on your preferences.
Or you could just automate social media completely – a service like 99 dollar social takes over your social media marketing for only $99 per month.
When companies implement business process automation they free themselves and their employees to do the work that matters.
Automation also allows you to remove any risk of human error, which leads to a better product or service.
All this, of course, affects the company bottom line – higher productivity, leading to higher profits.