Digital transformation is a massive undertaking with many moving parts. Where should an organization start? Which initiatives matter the most? When research consultancy firm Prophet surveyed more than 600 companies to find out, their answers were telling. Nearly 50 percent said modernizing the IT infrastructure to increase agility, flexibility, manageability, and security was their top priority. But almost 40 percent said improving operational agility and updating their processes was the most important. That’s where business process automation comes in. In an era where remaining competitive means rapidly adapting to change, business process automation is one critical piece of the digital transformation puzzle.
What is business process automation?
Business process automation (BPA) is a way for organizations to streamline their operations through technology. With BPA, digitally mature companies reduce their reliance on human intervention by automating a range of repetitive tasks.
The most mature companies use BPA in a way that impacts the entire organization, not just IT. When paired with other methodologies, BPA can help organizations:
- Better understand the interplay of their processes from end-to-end with business process management (BPM)
- Empower nontechnical end-users to design their own business processes based on predefined models with low-code BPM software
- Service external needs (engaging customers) in addition to internal ones (improving efficiency) with artificial intelligence
BPA vs. BPM: What’s the difference?
To better understand BPA, let’s look at its not-so-distant cousin: business process management (BPM). While BPA refers to digitizing and automating workflows, BPM is about managing those workflows from end-to-end.
From a software standpoint, a BPA platform performs the automation, while a BPM platform offers the comprehensive architecture needed for an organization to systematically manage every process it automates.
For some organizations, BPA and BPM exist as standalone strategies, but the most digitally mature companies use both. With low-code BPM software, every team within the organization can create business processes without the help of IT.
How does business process automation work?
BPA occurs whenever an organization automates a process, but workflow solutions aren’t created equally.
At the simple end, BPA involves integration-based solutions that enable multiple apps to “speak” to each other. With an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) like Zapier, for example, virtually anyone can stitch together a few apps to streamline portions of a workflow.
At its most complex, BPA partners with process management and artificial intelligence to extend automation beyond basic data pulls. Dubbed “intelligent” business process management software (iBPMs) by Gartner, these platforms:
- Connect legacy systems to third-party software to enhance process automation
- Leverage machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) to navigate complex infrastructures
Benefits of business process automation
In general, business process automation helps organizations:
- Accelerate everyday operations
- Make informed decisions faster
- Eliminate process bottlenecks
- Reduce regulatory risks
- Eliminate manual/paper-based processes
Benefits of intelligent business process automation
When combined with machine learning and RPA, intelligent business process automation:
- Makes sense of unstructured data
- Learns and improves from experience
- Improves the customer and employee experience
- Reduces operational costs and drives revenue
Business process automation in action
Sales reps traditionally spend a significant portion of their workday on administrative tasks—from compiling reports to creating lists to generating contracts.
To put BPA in context, let’s look at one common scenario with and without it: contract generation for sales teams.
Contact generation without automation
- Sales reps manually prepare the final agreement once it’s time to close a new account. This multi-step process requires logging into their CRM, copying client data, and pasting it into a pre-formatted document.
- Sales reps contact the accounting department to share the terms of the contract, entering pertinent data into a few different fields.
- Sales reps send the contract to their manager for approval before circling back to the accounting department where they create the accounts needed to process customer payments.
- Finally, the sales team shuttles the information to the customer service team. Unfortunately, someone mistyped the account number, so the support team spends considerable time and effort locating their account when they call with a question.
Contract generation with automation
- With the click of a button, a sales rep pulls data into a pre-formatted template to create a contract.
- This triggers a sequence of tasks that run parallel to one another: a new profile is automatically created in both the accounting and customer service software.
- The system also automatically adds a step that will alert the account manager if the customer ever contacts customer service.
- The contract is automatically distributed through the approval ladder. Managers can approve the contract within the body of an email without leaving their email client.
With BPA, organizations don’t just reduce the number of manual steps required to get things done, they also integrate various disparate systems to form one well-connected and highly efficient machine.
In the process, these organizations save a ton in operating costs by eliminating the need for human intervention and manual data analysis.
How to get started with business process automation
Embracing business process automation can be daunting. To kickstart digital transformation, we recommend three steps: start small with one process, define your business logic, and choose an automation platform that can meet the needs of the business not only as it is, but as it grows.