You may think business process automation (BPA) benefits are all about speed. But while operational speed ranks at the top of many companies’ wish lists, IT and business leaders who successfully automate business processes realize benefits ranging from simplifying compliance tasks to improving talent retention. Let’s explore some of the top potential benefits of business process automation.
What is business process automation, exactly? Here’s a definition in plain terms: Business process automation (BPA) refers to the use of computer systems and software to automate business processes or tasks. You can either automate a complete business process from end to end, eliminating the need for any manual work or human intervention, or you can automate individual tasks in a larger workflow that still requires a human to make higher-level cognitive decisions or handle exceptions. You may also hear business process automation called digital process automation (DPA). Those terms are interchangeable. (Gartner prefers the term BPA while Forrester Research prefers DPA, so you’ll come across both.)
“Business process automation (BPA) refers to the use of computer systems and software to automate business processes or tasks. You can either automate a complete business process from end to end, eliminating the need for any manual work or human intervention, or you can automate individual tasks in a larger workflow that still requires a human to make higher-level cognitive decisions or handle exceptions."
Business process automation is a key part of digital transformation for many enterprises. It offers the opportunity to make workflows more efficient and productive. Business process automation technologies and techniques include workflow automation, robotic process automation (RPA), business process management (BPM), BP-XML languages, ERP, and artificial intelligence. (To learn more about RPA’s role, read RPA vs. DPA: The Differences and Similarities Between Digital and Robotic Process Automation.)
Like DevOps, business process automation involves both adopting tools and changing the way your teams work.
Modern business process automation doesn’t just mean plugging machines into formerly manual processes—instead, it takes a holistic approach, bringing together the strengths of people, bots, and artificial intelligence.
[ Learn more about BPM. Get The BPM Guide: The Key to Workflow Automation. ]
What are some examples of business process automation? Let’s explore some common scenarios where organizations apply BPA:
Onboarding employees – Automating an employee’s first interactions with a company (think badges, payroll forms, training videos) can eliminate confusion and keep the process moving for the new employee. Reducing the need for manual communication or handling paperwork also saves time and eliminates friction for HR team members.
Product returns – When you order something online and return it to a retail store, you’re walking into a business process that benefits greatly from business process automation. The refund needs processing and then multiple systems need data related to the return. The routing of that data can be automated and related steps in the workflow triggered.
Other common business process automation use case examples include:
The more complex the process, the more dependencies can arise. This in turn equals more documentation, chances for error, and technical debt. That’s where business process automation solutions that take advantage of both bots and AI, such as low-code platforms, can flip the script in terms of speed, accuracy, and other advantages.
What does this look like in action? A low-code automation platform offers visual tools that let people essentially sketch out their processes, whether simple or complex. Also known as a hyperautomation tool, a low-code platform includes pre-configured components representing functions that you can drag and drop into a visual workflow interface. These components are reusable for future workflows, which adds up to agility—a top goal in digital transformation work. Low-code also supports cross-functional collaboration in ways traditional coding can’t. Consider a low-code platform that offers pre-configured automation functions, like RPA, intelligent document processing, and AI, that you can drag and drop into your workflows.
A planning factor to stress: Measuring the ROI of BPA requires careful planning, since you’re talking about not only quantitative measures, such as hours saved, service speeds, or reduced costs, but also qualitative factors, such as customer experience and employee engagement.
Also, remember taking too narrow an approach to business process automation can present a disadvantage. You can’t automate your way out of a bad process. A holistic automation strategy will help you identify the best areas for opportunity and lead to compound, long-term benefits.
If you’re making the case for business process automation at your organization, or evaluating expanded use of it, understanding the full range of benefits is crucial. Perhaps you’re trying to understand how BPA could improve interactions with customers or partners or help you meet specific goals. Let’s explore some of the potential benefits of business process automation.
This one tops the list for a reason: every business and IT leader wants to speed up their organization’s ability to change. Rooting out inefficiencies in business processes saves staff time, whereas manual and repetitive tasks drain time and energy from your team. Assigning these tasks to machines often leads to the quickest wins in automation projects.
Once people can pass off repetitive work, they have more time to work on strategic challenges, cross-functional projects, and collaborations that spur real innovation. Think about the smart ideas that went on the whiteboards at your last offsite meeting but did not progress toward completion—was that because your team’s bandwidth is maxed out? Business process automation can help you free up team time to innovate on strategic priorities.
Also, improving the ways you access and synthesize your organization’s data helps you surface insights that focus your innovation efforts where they matter the most.
We have all interacted with business processes that involve manual steps that can introduce error. Particularly when an organization has many data silos, people will gradually create their own hacks and workarounds to save time. Machines don’t make copy-and-paste errors from spreadsheets and dashboards. This helps teams realize additional time savings, because they’re not spending hours chasing down the sources of data mistakes . . . or dealing with the results of those mistakes.
During the pandemic, customer expectations for online interactions with companies rose. Changing business processes to improve customer experience—whether you’re working with customers, constituents, partners, or other external parties—can provide true competitive differentiation.
Think about factors such as reducing wait times, delivering and gathering information quickly, and providing automated status updates on inquiries. These can all improve customer service and increase customer loyalty significantly.
Compliance processes represent an area where organizations do not want to leave the door open to human error. Automating compliance tasks not only reduces room for error but also creates a digital, fully auditable record of activity logs.
Adding automation to compliance processes can help organizations meet stringent regulatory requirements and industry standards and avoid fines. Automation also allows for continuous monitoring, which supports fraud prevention efforts.
Talent retention remains a top concern for organizations across many industries. And business process automation can help here, too. First, manual tasks can negatively impact employee engagement and satisfaction. These tasks can also get in the way of career advancement for employees, negatively impacting retention rates. Second, an organization that is able to show off automation expertise has a recruiting advantage. IT professionals, for example, want to work in a place where they can develop a valuable technology skill set—a place that is forward-looking versus one supporting tons of technical debt and manual processes.
[ Which emerging automation trends deserve your attention now? Get the Gartner Hyperautomation 2022 Trends Report. ]