Productivity. Efficiency. Optimization. These are the buzzwords of our modern workplaces. You can always be more productive. Processes can always be optimized. Efficiency is just around the corner. Business process automation is making it a reality.

Even though most organizations dream of it, achieving true productivity is difficult at best and out of reach for most. There are many reasons for this which include a lack of organizational willpower, no employee buy-in, and simply not using the right tools.

There’s a new collection of applications that seem to have the silver bullet. Instead of trying to hack together multiple tools to automate work, they’ll do it all under one roof. These tools are called business process automation platforms and hold massive promise.

This guide takes a look at what business process automation is, its benefits, and how to get started with it in your organization.

What is business process automation (BPA)?

Business process automation is when companies take advantage of technology to carry out routine tasks with varying levels of complexity. This frees up human labor for intensive or high-level tasks that require more thought.

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In modern workplaces, the vast majority of employees feel burdened with tasks that can be easily automated. By extension, it’s costing businesses money to have their employees do these tasks.

BPA stats 1

The BPA is attractive because it forces organizations to identify and streamline their most important processes. After that, they’re able to drastically reduce costs by automating those processes using software applications.  

Of the brands that have introduced business process automation, more than half did so to improve employee efficiency.

Business process automation stats 2

Many brands may have come across BPA before but consider it something that only impacts the IT department or large corporations. This is far from reality. Best-in-class companies of all sizes use BPA to impact everything from social media marketing to employee onboarding.

It’s not limited to processes that impact internal systems. It can also be used to enhance processes that have an impact on customer-facing systems. This is where the true power of BPA lies – its flexibility.

BPA vs RPA vs DPA

BPA is often used interchangeably with RPA (Robotic process automation) or DPA (digital process automation) but they have different goals. You can consider BPA the umbrella discipline while RPA and DPA are subsets of BPA.

A good comparison is the relationship between digital marketing and social media marketing. Digital marketing is the entire discipline while social media marketing is a subset of it.

Where BPA seeks to streamline processes within an entire organization, RPA is focused on automating repetitive and time-consuming human tasks with software. Digital process automation has the same goal as RPA but the medium is slightly different.

BPA often involves human inputs at some point. RPA systems are built on rules-based logic and are, at times, supported by machine learning AI that helps them become better over time.

In any organization, the major benefits accrue when you use RPA, DPA, and BPA together to create holistic automation systems.

How to get started with Business process automation

Generally speaking, business process automation can be a complex process that’s difficult to get right if you don’t follow the right steps. The last thing you want to do is jump in and figure it out as you go.

Get clear on the business goal

Yes, BPA is gaining steam but it’s different for every organization. Law firms may use BPA to streamline client onboarding by using a document generation solution. A digital marketing agency, on the other hand, my use software to automate their content posting on social media platforms.

The applications of BPA are wide and varied based on the business and its goals.

Ask yourself:

  • What do we want to accomplish by automating X process?

If you’re automating a sales process, you may want to free up your BDRs so they can generate more leads which turns into more revenue.

If you’re automating the electronic signature process, you may want to reduce the time it takes to onboard new clients, produce results faster, and improve customer satisfaction.

Once you’ve identified the main business goal, determine what success looks like. Quantify it in a way that it can be easily measured. For example, a result could be 10% more leads within 4 weeks or $20 cheaper to process each document in three months.

Identify and audit processes to automate

Once you know what your goal business goal is, you can work backward and figure out the processes that need to be automated to achieve it.

Take the time to identify all the processes used to help you hit the goal you’ve described in the previous point.

  • How many of those have a manual or labor-intensive process?
  • Of the ones that have manual processes, which ones have aspects that are clunky or can be streamlined (maybe they have many people involved or include additional steps that don’t add much value)?
  • Of the ones that can be streamlined, which ones are repetitive, relatively straightforward, or time-sensitive?

The ones that meet the criteria above are prime targets for automation because they can have the biggest impact in the short term.  

Standardize the processes that need it

Before you can start to automate a process, it needs to follow the same steps every time. That’s why it’s difficult to automate many types of creative work. No matter the process you follow, the outcome will be unique each time.

If your current processes only follow a loose set of guidelines with no set order, they won’t translate over to BPA well. You’ll need to at least:

  • Determine the specific steps that are needed to complete the process
  • Identify the order of the steps that need to be carried out for the best results
  • Assess whether those steps can be automated in part or entirely.

As you can see, business process automation forces you to organize and optimize processes before you start. Even if you don’t end up using any BPA tools, you’ll still have better processes.

While you’re standardizing things, it’s important to get input from the stakeholders that interact with the process on a daily basis. This will prevent unnecessary pushback and it may even uncover better ways of doing things.

Choose the right software

Once you’ve standardized multiple processes, it’s time to select the best BPA software to use. As mentioned previously, there are many ways to go about business process automation. It can be used for everything from social media marketing to document generation.

To get it right, identify your needs ahead of time so you can shortlist the right providers.

  • What features are a must-have
  • What features are nice to have
  • Ease of use (for example, UsefulPDF was designed with the end-user in mind).
  • Which features are mostly irrelevant
  • What is the maximum you’re willing to pay
  • How many users are necessary to keep your automation processes running
  • What are the necessary integrations so it can play nicely with your current tools

Your list may look different based on your needs and that’s fine. The most important thing is to detail your requirements and then start looking for software to meet them.

Implement simple automations first

You don’t want to start by creating a dozen automations and throwing them to the people meant to manage them. that’s a recipe for disaster.

Instead, start slowly. Choose one or two important but simple automations to start with and introduce them to your organization.

Create training tutorials to get people up to speed with the software and the processes that are being transitioned. Make it clear about how it’ll make them more effective at what they do.

An important part of this process is to encourage your team to look for ways to further improve the process. Additionally, they can also start looking for ways to standardize, optimize, and automate other processes they’re in charge of.

Measure and ramp up over time

Once you’ve set up a few simple processes, give them enough time to produce the results you’re looking for.

Measure the outcome against the goals you set out at the beginning of the process. Did you hit, miss, or exceed your goals?

If you missed them why did that happen and can you do anything better next time? Are there any steps you can take right now to improve the initial automations that were created?

After you measure the initial BPA initiatives, continue to introduce more and measure the result. Consider them a work in progress that can always be improved. If you take that approach, you’ll continue to see more and more applications for BPA in your organization. 

Applications and examples of BPA

When used properly, BPA can transform a business for the better. In fact, most organizations use limited business process automation without realizing it. Here are just a few applications.

Email marketing

Sending emails to every person who joins your email list can be time-consuming and tedious. Simply setting up an autoresponder to send out emails every few days is also far from ideal.

Email marketing automation is a form of business process automation that allows you to create dynamic sales and nurturing sequences based on various inputs.

For example, if someone subscribes to your email list related to fitness, you send them a welcome email. Depending on how they interact with that email, you can segment them into different categories and branch the email sequence so it’s more relevant to them.

If you weren’t able to automate this process, you’d have to send them an email manually, analyze the data from their interactions, then add them to a different email sequence yourself.

Social media

It takes considerable time and energy to create an engaging social media presence. It takes just as much time to maintain it. You have to post daily (or even more often in some cases), curate content from other sources, and keep up with trends.

With social media automation, you can curate content, publish new content, and repost your best performers. This is accomplished with social media management tools and doesn’t require you to constantly log in to all your accounts to keep them fresh.

Sales

Traditionally, sales have been a hands-on personal pursuit. While it may still be about building relationships and getting contracts signed, a large portion of the processes can be automated.

For example, a sales rep sends out an automated email nurturing sequence and then steps in when the prospects meet certain criteria. They progress the deal toward the agreement stage with hands-on interactions. After that, they use a document signing platform to send out the contract to the prospect. Follow-up notifications, the creation of electronic signatures, and signing guidance are all handled automatically by the software.

Customer service

Many of us have experienced BPA in customer service and this is a trend that’s poised to continue. Chatbots, canned responses, and relevant FAQs are all examples of business process automation. Chatbots alone save companies billions of dollars a year.

Support tickets can be analyzed, categorized, and then routed to the right person or customer service department. This saves a lot of time and reduces the chances that a customer will be bounced around before getting the help they need.

These use cases are just scratching the surface of what you may be able to accomplish. In the end, the way your organization is structured, the nature of your work, and your ability to streamline processes will determine how impactful BPA will be for you.

Employee onboarding

Employment contracts, NDAs, tax forms, etc. are all pretty standard employee onboarding documents. At most, you’ll change a few things here and there.

After someone has accepted your offer, it’s not necessary to spend hours preparing the documents. With document automation solutions, you can take a standardized template, tweak some of the information based on any relevant changes, and send it to your employee to fill out.

All you’ll need to do is review the final document and sign electronically. The document automation software you use will be able to route completed documents to the right people and places.

Benefits of business process automation

Standardize and optimize business processes

We touched on this previously when discussing how to get started with BPA. The simple truth is that broken processes don’t make good candidates for BPA. Automation will amplify the flaws already there.

Instead, when preparing for BPA, you’ll need to audit your processes, fix what’s broken, and make them repeatable/scalable. The experience of doing this can be applied across an organization.

Reduce and eliminate human error

Human error can have massive negative impacts on different aspects of a business. The error stems from a wide variety of causes such as poor data entry methods or employees that are exhausted.

Whatever the case, when there are fewer opportunities for humans to get involved, there are fewer human-caused errors. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate human error, you can reduce it by up 80% in some cases by automating the right processes.

This results in money saved and even more money made.

More productive employees

Instead of performing routine tasks such as data entry, sending emails, and preparing documents, all of it is automated. They just need to check up on the results occasionally.

This frees employees and teammates up to focus on higher-level tasks that have a larger impact on the organization.

For example, instead of preparing documents for employee onboarding (and possibly making mistakes), the entire process can be automated. This allows the HR staff to focus on better ways to motivate and retain your top talent or get more of them into your sphere of influence for hiring.

The impact of freeing up people to focus on more strategic tasks cannot be over-emphasized.

Conclusion – business process automation is here to stay

In a word, yes. Whether you realized it before reading this guide or not, BPA is already an integral part of many organizations. To unlock its full potential, deliberate steps need to be taken. Those steps include:

  • Analyzing your processes and the technology that can be used to automate it
  • Implementing simple BPA on a limited basis and increasing the complexity as you go
  • Expansion of your BPA programs to the entire organization and deeper integrations with other technology you’re using
  • Assess, iterate, and maintain your BPA initiatives over time

Just like with any new process or technology, you get out what you put in. If you spend the time to understand BPA and get your organization behind you, it’ll have a marked positive impact. If, on the other hand, you give it a half-hearted attempt then you’ll also get half-hearted results.

Let me know what you think of business process automation in the comments and don’t forget to share.