Are there parts of your business processes that feel redundant, tedious, or inefficient?
Do you wonder if your staff’s time could be better spent on more meaningful work?
As businesses grow, they need to rely more on systems and technology as mission-critical components of their infrastructure. But along with powerful systems comes the need to manage them. This is where Business Process Automation (BPA) can help.
What Is Business Process Automation?
The goal of Business Process Automation is to streamline these parts of your business by automating tasks. BPA also reduces errors and saves time.
By using BPA, businesses can better leverage the systems they have in place, as well as introduce new systems to greater gains. BPA can improve internal processes as well as make your company more responsive to the needs of your customers.
There are many ways that you can implement BPA, impacting workflows, automation, integration, technology, and more. You may see improvements either internally, or with your customers, or both.
Let’s look at some common problems that companies face in their daily operations.
1. Connecting Multiple, Disparate Systems
It is natural that businesses will add new systems as their needs change. Higher revenues, more orders, or a growing customer base all may force a business to re-evaluate internal tools.
Often, new systems are added because they meet an immediate need, without much consideration for what is already existing. Bringing new applications and legacy systems together can be challenging.
Or, if multiple systems serve different functions, lack of integration between them leads to inefficiency or redundancy.
Cost may also be a reason that businesses choose to maintain separate systems for different processes. Solutions may exist, but they are too costly to justify making a switch.
Mergers and acquisitions also are a factor here. As companies join forces, they must also figure out a way to use the systems that they may already have in place, or make a decision to migrate to one and abandon the other.
Business process automation can help here. Tools can help with the integration process between all of the different components, whether legacy, on-premise, or cloud-based applications.
2. Reducing Data Entry Errors
Whenever manual data entry is part of the process, there is room for error. Even the most conscientious employee is bound to make a mistake at some point.
Businesses may believe that the cost of minimizing or eliminating errors is too high. But the 1-10-100 “Cost of Quality” rule states that for every $1 spent on preventing errors saves $10 in correcting the error and saves $100 if the error reaches the customer.
Disparate systems, as mentioned previously, contribute greatly to this. Employees are forced to do redundant data entry between systems, if there is a lack of integration.
Each time the data is re-keyed into a different system, there is a chance for a mistake. Every mistake will cost money down the road.
Business process automation can help with manual data entry. By capturing and moving data between systems, BPA can reduce or eliminate manual data errors.
And, if employees are not spending their time on mundane data entry, they could be completing more productive tasks.
3. Automate Reporting
Whether daily, monthly, quarterly or annually, every company has reported. They may be complex and draw on many different data points.
Sometimes the data exists in multiple systems and needs to be drawn together. Employees responsible for reporting may find that they need to produce separate reports and then combine them together in something like Excel.
Or the report data needs manipulation in some way in order to make it meaningful and employees spend time with formulas or formatting.
Whatever the need, reports are time-consuming and tedious. Hours, if not days, are spent on producing the various reports for different levels of management.
BPA can do a lot for reporting, including:
- Connecting multiple systems into a single repository for data
- Built-in rules reduce or eliminate data manipulation
- Automate generating the reports, versus pulling reports manually
By improving the reporting process, you can spend more time on the information presented, rather than the process to generate the report.
4. Streamline Approvals/Orders
Does your business require approvals in the process? Do approvals get “stuck” in the process?
Or maybe your business involves taking orders. How quickly are orders fulfilled?
Approvals and/or orders often involve making a decision about the next step. How does your business know what approvals are pending or what orders are awaiting fulfillment?
BPA can improve these functions greatly. By creating workflows, approvals, or orders are routed to the appropriate people. Notifications can make employees aware that something is pending.
Automated rules can also help in automated approvals. By establishing parameters, the human element is removed from part of the process, speeding up the amount of time between submitted and approved.
Establishing workflow rules will also improve consistency. Rather than making decisions about “this order needs this type of fulfillment” or “this approval goes to this person” the routing will happen automatically.
BPA can also bring transparency to the process. Management can understand at a high level when or how approvals/orders are handled.
5. Improve Customer Service
Customers appreciate good customer service. A bad customer service experience may make them look elsewhere.
Bad customer service can bring down an entire business. Poor response time, lack of knowledgeable staff or repeated errors can drive customers away.
Not only are customers lost due to poor service, but good customers can help grow a business. Your happy customers will be word-of-mouth references or purchase additional products or services.
Much of the experience is based on the human interaction between the customer and service staff. However, there are ways to improve the process while still maintaining that “feel good” that customers want.
BPA can impact customer service in several ways. In addition to speeding up the approvals and orders that your customers may be waiting on, BPA can assist your customer-facing employees.
Ticket escalation could be set up through rules. If the initial employee cannot help, that an issue is routed to someone who can. This ensures that the customer receives the appropriate response.
BPA could help to establish queues, so that customer service staff can know what to work on next, and in what priority.
Automation can also be set up to provide “suggested” responses, either internally to the customer service staff or customer-facing. If the issue is something that comes up frequently, a standard response saves time.
All of these achieve what your customers are seeking: a knowledgeable, quick resolution to their problem.
What Is the Next Step in Business Process Automation?
You may have identified that BPA can help your processes. Now what?
The next step will be determining which parts of your business need the most improvement. Is it streamlining orders? Eliminating manual data entry? Reducing errors?
After those needs are outlined, finding the right tools will be the next step. Some effort is needed in initial project management to make these changes. The project may involve everything from selecting tools to implementation.
Identifying the cost will also be a necessary component. An integration tool may have an upfront cost or recurring fees, depending on what is selected. The benefit may or may not have tangible cost savings.
For example, if the goal is to reduce errors, one step you will want to take is to identify how many errors occur. Then assign a dollar amount to those errors – even if indirect. The 1-10-100 rule is a place to start.
Improve efficiency can be a bit harder to quantify. With manual data entry or report preparation, you may want to identify the hours involved in those tasks and the amount of time that would be saved by automation. The employee’s wages or salary can help in assigning cost savings.
The other consideration is what is needed internally to train staff or make changes. There may initially be a learning curve, but this should quickly be offset by the process improvements.
Calculating return on investment (ROI) will help to justify the cost. If the investment cannot immediately be made, then evaluating where the greatest benefit will be may help to make incremental improvements over a longer period of time.
Finding the Best Support for Your Business
Business Process Automation may sound intimidating. BPA is only as effective as the time and cost savings that can be realized.
Connecting systems and figuring out how everything should fit together requires some internal planning. You may find that you do not have the internal resources to take the necessary steps to gain efficiencies in your workflow. A managed IT service might be the best solution for implementing business process automation.