Business process automation is a key part of the bespoke systems we create for companies. By automating repetitive processes, businesses become more efficient, save money and reduce human error. In this article, we look at what business process automation is, how it works and when you should use it.
What is business process automation (BPA)?
Business process automation is the use of technology to perform recurring tasks, reducing manual effort, minimising costs, increasing efficiency and streamlining processes. It’s often seen as a key step towards digital transformation, where company culture, customer experiences and business processes are re-imagined through the use of technology.
"Automation removes the need for human interaction in repetitive tasks"
Why is business process automation important?
Business process automation, as we’ve already pointed out, is often seen as a stepping stone to digital transformation, but what are the benefits of automating your workflows?
Streamline business processes
One of the primary benefits of business automation is that it streamlines processes by reducing wasteful activities, enabling faster turnaround times and empowering decision making. It frees people up, allowing them to focus on tasks which add value, rather than on the mundane and repetitive.
Cost control is key in any business and is one of the driving factors behind both investing in a business management system and process automation. Usually, one of the biggest costs a business has is its staffing, so how that resource is utilised is vital to managing costs. It’s not just the day to day use of individuals’ time that automation can help with, but also resourcing on a larger scale. Lots of businesses scale up and down, bringing more resources on board for busy periods and reducing when projects draw to a close – by implementing a “smart” business management system that automates much of the number crunching, you can better predict the resources you’re going to need in the weeks and months ahead.
When you automate a business process one thing guaranteed is that the outcomes will be consistent. Take resource planning as an example – how effective is your forecasting and can you trust it to be consistent? By automating key processes, you’ll have reliable data in your business management system. So when you want to play “what if” games by switching prospective projects in and out and seeing how it affects resources, the business management system will do the number crunching and provide you with consistent and reliable information to base your decisions on. That’s just one example, and the same could be said for anything that is automated – the results will always be consistent.
To design and implement the effective automation of processes, you’ll need to take a detailed look at what is currently taking place. This exercise in itself is hugely valuable as you’ll have the opportunity to improve your processes before handing them over to the system to look after. Reviewing the processes you have is often eye-opening and many inefficiencies are ironed out at this stage.
Identifying processes fit for automation
Not all processes in a business can or should be automated; yes, technology can support you and make your business more efficient, but you don’t want it making key decisions for you. So what processes can be automated and what do we look out for?
- High-frequency tasks that are repetitive in nature
- Tasks which require multiple people’s involvement
- Processes which feed into various parts of the business
Examples of processes which are ripe for automation
There are lots of repetitive manual tasks in a business that can be automated – here we list some of those which most businesses will be able to relate to.
An example of automation: expenses
Expense management is a prime example of a mundane process which is perfect for automation. Expense claims tend to happen frequently in most businesses – they feed into multiple departments and involve a number of people in the process. So let’s look at a typical example of an expense claim.
- Expense is incurred
- The team member logs it and photographs or scans the receipt
- At the end of the month, their expenses are submitted to their manager via email for approval
- The manager approves the expenses and they’re forwarded to accounts for processing and payment
- Accounts associates the cost to a client or an internal cost centre
- Accounts bills the client for the expenses when their next payment is due
- Accounts pays the individual or reconcile the expenses if paid for on a company card
Scaled up and with a team of say forty people, you can see that each month you’re going to be putting a reasonable amount of time into expense management.
A more efficient way of doing things would be via a business management system, using automation to minimise the amount of human interaction. There will still need to be some human input, but through the use of technology, the process can be streamlined.
The parts of the process that can’t easily be removed are the initial input and uploading of receipts, sign off by the manager and probably the payment by accounts. Everything else though is fair game, so let’s see how the process might look once automated:
- Expense is incurred
- The team member photographs the receipt and uploads it to the business management system, adding key information such as the project it relates to.
- At the end of the month, the system automatically summarises the expenses and notifies the manager that their sign off is required
- Once the manager has signed off the expenses they’re submitted to accounts and automatically put into a draft payment queue for the month.
- Accounts approves the payment and pays the individual
- The system then assigns the expenses to each project and the client is automatically invoiced for them when their next invoice is due.
As you can see, the process is still multistage and requires some input, but much of the manual processing has been removed. The only thing we really want humans to do is give sign off and make decisions.
Bespoke process automation
There are a number of off-the-shelf tools which will help you automate certain tasks within your business, but they will often require you to change your processes to fit their software. In our opinion, process automation works best when it’s bespoke and built around your own business.