Automation is an attractive option for businesses which want to drive efficiency and improve their processes. It can even be a focus for digital transformation. But what exactly is business process automation, and what benefits can it bring? Furthermore, which business processes can actually be automated?
In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into business process automation and answer some of the key questions that often arise.
What is business process automation?
Business process automation can be defined as using technology to automate one or more steps within a process that previously had to be done manually or were reliant on human intervention. This automation leads to greater efficiency and scalability. Business process automation can be applied to very simple processes with limited steps, as well as far more complex, multi-step processes.
A common theme in simpler business process automation is “robot process automation (RPA)” – automation of very simple, repetitive tasks and workflows. Platforms like Microsoft 365 and Nintex help to introduce RPA at scale. Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, intelligent process automation might use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to automate more complex processes.
How can business process automation benefit my business?
Business process automation can have a significant positive impact. Let’s explore some of the key benefits.
Business process automation ultimately helps to drive productivity by reducing the time employees need to spend on simple, repetitive tasks. This time can then be redirected to more meaningful and value-added activities, supporting an increase in productivity and helping everyone optimise their time.
Automation can also reduce the resourcing required to carry out unnecessary manual tasks, supporting a reduction in costs.
Increase speed of process completion
When you automate simple tasks within a process, you reduce the potential for bottlenecks and delays in that process. For example, you no longer have to wait for people to manually complete a step. This often leads to quicker process and task completion. For example, if a request to unlock a company mobile phone is either partly or wholly automated, an employee doesn’t have to wait for the help desk to complete the request.
Reduce employee frustration
Having to complete mindless, repetitive tasks can be frustrating for employees who would rather be getting on with more interesting things. Automation can help reduce this frustration, improving employee experience in the process.
Support customer service
Automating business processes that involve customers usually means they are carried out faster, helping promote better customer service. For example, a customer requesting documentation on products and services can have them automatically sent out.
Support data accuracy and reduce risks
Automation can often involve adding or updating data automatically across multiple systems, supporting better data accuracy and reducing the risk of mistakes occurring. Manual data entry inevitably leads to errors and missed steps, while automation greatly reduces inaccuracies and supports better overall data integrity.
Trigger process redesign
When you automate steps in a business process, it often increases the possibilities around what you can do to improve that process, or stimulates ideas for redesigning it altogether. Process owners can see new ways of doing things, allowing business process automation to inspire wider and more far-reaching process design. For example, automation processes which were previously completely internal could now directly involve customers.
Automation means it is far easier to scale a process that previously required greater human intervention.
Standardisation of processes
Businesses usually want to standardise processes to drive efficiency, support compliance and ensure standards are met. Business process automation can help ensure a process is standardised across the enterprise, being applied across all locations and regions in a large global company, for example.
The digital steps carried out in an automated process can all be instantly recorded, thus ensuring you have data to show compliance. This can help with your compliance reporting.
Support digital transformation and innovation
Delivering business process automation at scale is a game changer, the effects of which can be felt at an organisational level. When delivered across a swathe of both simple and complex business processes, automation can help support overall digital transformation not only by digitising particular processes, but also by illustrating the potential for automation, which is then applied to a wider set of activities. Automation tends to stimulate more automation as employees see what is possible, and can even drive innovation with new products and services.
Automation in the workplace: which business processes can I automate?
There is a wide variety of business processes which can be automated. Previously, we covered 25 business processes that can be automated using Microsoft 365 and the LiveTiles intranet platform, although it’s possible to use other solutions like Nintex too. Let’s look at some of the major areas where business process automation can add value.
1 Employee onboarding
Employee onboarding often encompasses a complex set of processes that involve setting up a new person in a variety of different systems and asking the employee to complete a stack of paperwork. Invariably, there are a lot of moving parts involving workflows across multiple functions with tight deadlines. Employee onboarding is a great use case for business automation, ensuring the new starter has a smooth experience, and that everything works in a streamlined and seamless way.
2 Marketing automation
Marketing automation is a good use case for business process automation, and can help support a great customer experience when you have a small, time-pressured marketing team. For example, marketing automation might automatically send a follow-up communication to someone who has interacted with your website showing responsiveness, or send tailored messages to support the sales funnel.
3 Basic IT and HR processes
Business process automation can support some basic IT and HR processes, such as ensuring a change in the HR system is triggered across different systems, addressing basic IT processes like requests for access to different systems or provisioning new collaboration sites. This automation helps support busy IT and HR helpdesk teams who can then focus on resolving more complex issues.
4 Content management
Content management involves multiple processes which are ripe for business process automation, including automated content reviews and relative workflow, archiving and deletion, the application of metadata to different content and documents and more.
5 Reminders and notifications
Reminders, notifications and approval workflow requests can happen across multiple systems. Keeping on top of these can be overwhelming, and doing so via email is often very inefficient with items getting missed. Business process automation to consolidate these into one aggregated experience can help users keep on top of their tasks and improve overall efficiency.
6 Functional and Line of Business processes
Different functions, teams and lines of business throughout your organisation will have a plethora of individual and specific business processes that they carry out. For example, in-house legal teams might be creating contracts at scale, engineers will be carrying out site inspections and sales and business development teams are building proposals for new prospects. All these processes may entail opportunities for automation that could instigate significant improvement.
Procurement processes can be quite complex, frequently involving a variety of steps and a wide number of stakeholders to review potentially areas of risk. Consider a typical RFP process or performing due diligence on a new supplier, and the quantity of people and systems usually involved. Business process automation can help do some of the heavy lifting here, ultimately completing the processes more quickly and efficiently.
How Content Formula can help with business process automation
We often find business process automation to be a component of our digital projects which helps to bring rapid and tangible value for businesses. Generally, we help businesses in three ways.
Ascertaining what to automate
Stakeholders within your business often have a long list of what they would like to potentially automate, but teams don’t always know where to start, or can’t see where there are opportunities for automation. We help identify what you can automate and suggest priority areas, often through a discovery process.
Working out the technology solution for automation
We help to identify the best underlying solution to support your business process automation. Often, this is Microsoft 365 and the Power Platform, but we also work with Nintex.
Helping you implement automation
Finally, we help you implement automation, often on an ongoing basis to support continuous improvement. Our role can differ, either completing the technical configuration and development, or working with your IT function as technical advisors.
Need help with Business Process Automation? Get in touch! Business Process Automation is an exciting area that can bring real value to your business. Need any help or support with your automation programme? Then talk to us.