Process automation refers to the use of technology to automate repetitive and manual tasks within a business process. It includes technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) or intelligent document processing (IDP), workflow orchestration, artificial intelligence (AI), system integrations, and business rules. The goal of process automation is to reduce the need for human intervention in time-consuming, routine tasks for more efficient and effective processes.
Process automation works by breaking down a business process into smaller, more manageable components, and then automating those components. These components can be simple, like sending automated emails, or they can be more complex, like automating the routing and approval of documents.
Once the components are automated, they can be integrated into a workflow that orchestrates a larger business process. This workflow can be customized to meet the specific needs of an organization, allowing for greater flexibility and adaptability.
A good process automation strategy incorporates continuous improvement, which should include three main efforts:
You’ve probably encountered many examples of process automation, maybe without even realizing it.
Let’s say a new employee needs to be onboarded. In this process automation example, we start with a new hire: a candidate has accepted an offer and set their start date. When the HR recruiter enters the start date in the new hire onboarding application, built on their process automation platform, it triggers several automated steps:
You can apply automation to processes across an organization, like supply chain management, acquisition management, or customer onboarding. Automated processes can save you considerable time and headaches, resulting in smoother workflows and better experiences for customers and employees.
After reading the example above, you might be wondering how process automation is different from RPA.
RPA and process automation should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but rather, complementary. RPA complements process automation by automating tasks within a process in a way that emulates human interaction with an application user interface. It’s still a common misconception to think only of RPA when thinking of process automation, but the truth is, many challenges require more advanced capabilities than RPA can provide on its own, such as content extraction or email classification. RPA is one component of a broader process automation approach where you employ multiple automation technologies, such as IDP, AI, API integrations, and business rules.
RPA serves two important functions in your process automation journey:
[ How does RPA fit into a process automation strategy? Get the Gartner® Beyond RPA: Build Your Hyperautomation Technology Portfolio report. ]
At the heart of every organization are hundreds—often thousands—of processes. Most enterprise processes interact with a variety of people, data, and systems, and they are constantly changing and developing. Processes cross-cut each other, and to be effective, they need to flow through different systems, across organizations, and between both internal and external parties.
If your business processes are inefficient, broken, or non-compliant, your organization will face risks, including poor customer experience, fines, lost productivity, frustrated employees, higher costs, and weak competitive positioning.
With process automation, a key part of digital transformation, your technology and your people all work together to accomplish workflows in the most efficient way possible. By integrating digital workers into your standard processes for human-based tasks, your operations will be more resilient and you’ll see a marked improvement in outcomes.
Next, read about the broad benefits of process automation.
Automation unleashes innovation by freeing your organization’s human capital from repetitive work, enabling them to do what they do best. When you adopt process automation, you will:
In addition, process automation leads to:
For more details on the benefits of process automation, including the advantages for talent strategy and compliance work, read: Business process automation (BPA): 6 key benefits.
To get started with process automation, consider the following steps:
RPA can’t fix every process challenge. For a successful program, you’ll need a process automation solution that offers a wide range of automation technology.
Consider these top process automation capabilities and the ideal use cases for each:
Using standalone systems for different automation tasks is part of what’s led to such difficult management for IT teams and stunted growth for business leaders. Even if you have multiple process automation technologies, if they don’t work well together, you’ll run into substantial challenges when trying to scale your automation initiative. A process automation platform that unifies these technologies enables you to use the best-fit technology that works well with your data, and enable automation-native operations.
One of the best ways to coordinate your efforts is with an automation center of excellence (CoE). This CoE is a dedicated business unit focused on implementing automation across the entire business. It leads areas such as researching and purchasing a new process automation platform, establishing best practices and training employees, reviewing processes before they go live, and overseeing all the ongoing maintenance and improvements needed.
[ Check out 5 Best Practices for an Automation Center of Excellence. ]
Every CoE will look different depending on organization size, automation goals, and internal team structures. But regardless of how it’s set up, having one team to lead all your automation efforts helps evangelize projects and set standards for business process management across the organization.
You came here for essential information on process automation. Take away these key lessons:
[ Want to learn more about platforms for process automation that help you streamline operations? Download the Everest Group Process Orchestration PEAK Matrix® Assessment 2023. ]