What would you do with an extra 2.5 hours in your workday? For most people, the question is pointless. “Finding more time” is a nearly impossible feat. But there is a strategy top business leaders are using to turn back the clock to start gaining back hours of lost productivity. Enter: business process automation.
In a study of over 2,000 workers, researchers found that we typically spend more than 142 minutes per day toiling away with administrative tasks, paperwork, and data entry. We’re so busy with busywork, that 90% of us don’t have time in our day to focus on creative business ideas. And it costs organizations dearly. Busywork piles up into losses of over $534 billion per year.
Business process automation enables us to shift the responsibility for these productivity-draining tasks over to technology. Instead of wasting over 15 weeks per year on mundane, repetitive activities, we can enlist software to run them for us.
What is business process automation?
Business process automation (BPA) is a way for organizations to streamline their core processes end-to-end through a platform. With BPA, organizations can reduce their reliance on human intervention by automating a range of repetitive tasks.
As organizations grow in size, there is an ever-expanding number of people, teams, departments, and tasks to coordinate amongst. Relying on manual execution and follow-up creates bottlenecks and leaves space for minor missteps to snowball into disastrous obstacles.
Compared to a simple task management platform, BPA helps you create, control, and manage complex workflows at scale. The strategy centralizes all of the processes that churn through your organization into one portal.
Here are some commonly automated tasks within a workflow:
- Content marketing approvals
- Onboarding new employees or offboarding departing staff
- Reviewing time-off requests
- Preparing sales contracts
- Auto-populating agreements and other documents with information from your CRM
- Filling out spreadsheets
- Preparing reports
- Submitting a query to an online database
- Validating data
- Assigning tasks
McKinsey cites automation as a key digital transformation tool ready to unleash the untapped potential of your strongest team members. By freeing them from manual tasks, they can focus on more revenue-generating activities that drive company growth. In fact, the researchers at McKinsey project that automating tasks like those above can yield a 20–25% gain in productivity across your organization.
How? 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
With these benefits in mind, it’s no surprise that Gartner predicts that 69% of routine work will be fully automated by 2024.
How does business process automation work?
BPA occurs whenever an organization automates a process, but workflow solutions aren’t created equally.
BPA enables multiple apps to “speak” to each other. For example, a marketing team member can stitch together a few apps to streamline portions of a workflow, like adding a new email address to the CRM and into a separate email marketing platform.
An effective BPA strategy includes more than a handful of automations performing tasks scattered across your organization. It’s a company-wide initiative that extends the benefits of automation into every role and team. When 45% of workers say they’re too busy with admin work to perform the jobs they were hired to do, you can see how important it is to grant the power to automation to every employee.
To manage a large-scale BPA program, organizations turn to business process management.
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 a sequence of tasks, BPM is about managing and monitoring those workflows from end to end.
From a software standpoint, BPA performs the automation. A BPA platform offers the comprehensive architecture needed for an organization to systematically manage every process it automates. It helps route tasks through various individuals, departments, and software tools. BPA platforms also give you the ability to cohesively monitor their progress from a central hub.
A process automation platform should be low-code, meaning workers of all proficiency levels can wield it. By using drag-and-drop apps that look more like a whiteboard than a coding environment, sales managers to customer service representatives can collaborate on workflow design. These “citizen developers” can easily pull advanced technologies like robotic process automation or artificial intelligence into the fold to extend automation beyond basic data pulls. Also known as digital process automation, these AI-infused platforms:
- Connect legacy systems to third-party software to enhance process automation
- Leverage third party AI integrations machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) to perform more complex jobs like reading and extracting information from documents
- Make sense of unstructured data
- Learn and improve from experience
- Improve the customer and employee experience
- Reduce operational costs and drives revenue
Digital process automation injects AI into all of your systems to minimize manual data handling. By using more efficient, lightning-quick software to perform these tasks instead, you can significantly increase the speed of decision-making and information processing within your organization.
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. When tedious, manual details inundate their to-do lists, workers only spend 25% of their time on high-value activities. Let’s look at one common scenario, contract generation for sales teams, to see how BPA can free up valuable time.
- Manual hand-off of information
- Extensive data entry
- Maneuvering between multiple apps
- Re-emailing managers to check in on approvals
- Automatic distribution of information to the right parties
- Contract is routed to an approving manager
- Autonomous data entry
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 preformatted document.
- Sales reps contact the accounting department to share the contract terms. Someone else then enters the 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 in parallel: a new profile is automatically created in both the accounting and customer service software.
- The contract is automatically sent up the approval ladder. Managers can approve the contract within the body of an email without leaving their email client.
- The system also automatically adds a step that will alert the account manager if the customer ever contacts customer service. They can step in and handle any concerns with white-glove treatment.
Using 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.
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.