What Exactly Is Business Process Automation and How To Get Started?

Business Process Automation in an office environment is actually quite a simple concept:

In a nutshell, business process automation enables autonomous data flow across the business process workflows without any human interaction, free of errors or inaccurate or incomplete information.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

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Business Process Automation Explained

Let’s use a real-life example, such as booking a doctor’s appointment.

In a doctor’s office, currently, we are used to talking to a person when booking an appointment and providing insurance information and personal contact details over the phone. Some offices enable different levels of self-service portals in their website to make things easier.

In an automated process, clients can contact the front office in several ways to book an appointment. In each contact method, let’s say a phone call, an email, or a text message, an automated bot is handling all communication with the end-user. The process continues until all necessary information is gathered in a convenient way for the client and is processed automatically without front office staff intervening. The automated process is then able to schedule the appointment and complete the booking process.

Think about the benefits this automated booking process offers for the doctor’s office. The time saved can be then put to better, more productive use within the office. Many clients report increases in customer satisfaction, employee retention, and satisfaction as well as increase process efficiency. Automating the booking process is much cheaper than the annual operation cost for the booking department.

By now, you might be thinking: “No way will my clients talk to a robot”. They will, likely you already have several times without knowing. The restaurant and fast food industry are in many ways leading the automation front from order taking to food processing and serving. Today’s clientele especially the younger generation is increasingly trying not to talk to a person. We are getting more and more used to things being more simple, fast, and automated. Would you like to book your next appointment with your doctor by texting and sending your ID and insurance card via text message and in less than 60 seconds have a time booked that works best for you? I would.

How Is This Office And Business Process Automation Achieved?

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Business Process Automation can be achieved with process design and small task automation and integration.

Automating the doctor’s office booking process is achieved by breaking the process into small tasks. Tasks could involve things like client personal information, ID verification, Insurance details, preferred appointment time, the reason for a visit.

Whether the client is contacting the office via phone, email, or SMS, the contact is automatically forwarded to the automated bot. (a Bot is a small software robot, that can perform one simple task.) This bot then communicates with the client and completes the initial task of gathering background information. Let’s say I choose to use text messages, the bot will ask me follow-up questions until the information meets the predefined information criteria. This information is then processed and connected to the next step, scheduling.

The second bot would then continue with scheduling the appointment. It needs to access the scheduling system, find a doctor and send booking details and confirm with the client. This process continues until the entire booking is completed. All this can be achieved with a simple software system that is always available, day and night, cannot make mistakes, never gets sick, and can complete the task much faster than any human can.

Each bot is trained, coded, or configured depending on the simplicity and other driving business-critical factors. In many cases, these bots can be simple screen-recorded macros, where you show the task to a bot once and it knows how to repeat the task indefinitely. Think of copy-paste from one document to another. Would you write the content or copy-paste it? What if you need to copy-paste the information 500 times? Show it to the bot once and the 500 entries are completed within one second. The same principle works here with the tasks, except they are much more clever than that.

Once you put all the small bots together, it forms an automated process. Now the entire booking process is completed.

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What is Robotic Process Automation or RPA?

Robotic process automation is simply a small software module (ofter referred to as a bot), that can perform one simple task. A simple example of such a bot is inventory fulfillment; if a product A is nearing out of stock, order more. This simple bot automates the simple task of ordering more product A with predefined criteria.

Automation is achieved by combining multiple bots to achieve a higher level of automation without any human interaction.

Process Automation Without Replacing Your Existing Systems

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Business Process Automation and the bots will usually work with your existing software systems avoiding any additional costs from replacing current CRM or ERP solutions.

This is a common misunderstanding. Automation can work with your current software systems and in many cases can even get full benefits out of the existing systems. In our booking system example, the existing system would stay in place and the inputs and outputs (data in and data out) would remain the same. Unless there are other factors in play, the existing systems can still remain part of the new, automated process. This lowers adoption costs and usually delays the need for updating to replacing the current systems in use. Sure, in many cases it can be beneficial to change some parts of the overall process with updated software products, but the main driver is automation not systems.

Automation Will Increase Integration and Process Efficiency

When you automate your business processes, integration is many times a big advantage for overall process efficiency. Combined with error-free process execution, sending information in real-time between systems is a great advantage. It can improve cash flow, increase billing and eliminate errors.

Integration means for example linking information together in the booking system to the billing or insurance verification process. This enables faster and more accurate information transfer across the process and benefits clients and as well as staff. The client’s information system will go through the process faster and with zero input from humans.

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7 Typical Low Hanging Fruits for Office Automation

Business process automation can be started with smaller tasks and areas, and in many cases can offer very effective and tangible results in a relatively short time frame. Most of these example areas below can be automated in 1-4 weeks and benefits will start accumulating immediately after implementation. Let’s check typical areas where automation will be beneficial.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation is an area where automation will increase results and drive lead generation. Improvements are typically generated through more precise, timely, and accurate marketing messages. These interactions can be personalized and delivered to cultivate and engage existing clients for increased customer retention and satisfaction. Automation also enables more integrated functions for sales and after-sales processes.

Marketing Automation is one of the most common areas currently used in many companies. The automated integration to sales and other processes is an area for improvement for many and can drive additional cost savings and increases in revenue.

Sales Automation

Tools like Hubspot combine many marketing and sales automation tools. In many organizations, the use of sales CRM tools can help manage sales teams and individual sales personnel. Automation can help sales personnel with providing small task automation in areas such as prospect company and personnel background information gathering, proposal generation, inventory status updates, pricing automation, and prospect communications. By automating each or any one of these tasks will save sales personnel time and help focus on more important tasks at hand.

If you are interested in seeing some typical advanced Sales automation tools out there, take a look at the Microsoft Dynamics product suite and how the process flows through from sales to accounting. This is nothing new though. Having a paperless process doesn’t mean it’s automated. Process automation means that tasks will take place without ANY human interaction. Microsoft Dynamics can offer just that. With the Power Automate feature, we can use the Dynamics suite and automate the tasks within the tool itself! This is true automation. Example of true automation is proposal generation, order processing and things like inventory automatic fulfillment process.

Order Processing Automation

Order Processing is a great area for automation. Typical manual order processes require several human interactions and can involve several people. A manual process is often error-prone and from the client’s perspective, it can be frustrating. Real-life example; Spectrum Internet order process. Right now at the time of this article, clients can start the ordering process online, but in order to complete the order at least 2 phone calls are required to complete the order and activate the Internet service. This manual process takes several interactions, several people, multiple days and creates frustration for clients and internal service personnel. These types of manual processes are costly. Companies will lose clients to competitors while at the same time spending more money on the manual process.

Order process automation would solve the example process and greatly increase customer experience. In Spectrum example, simply allowing customers to:

  1. complete the order online
  2. process the order internally with an automated task
  3. integrate the order to automated activation process and finally
  4. use an automated communications bot to handle all communication with the customers

With these relatively simple changes and adding automation, Spectrum would shorten the overall process completion time and increase customer retention and save a ton of time.

Inventory Automation

Companies delivering physical products need to process inventory. The fulfillment and inventory management can also be fully automated. If the inventory system itself doesn’t provide automation tools, the automation bots can handle inventory monitoring and handle fulfillment. In many cases, companies still work with phone calls, emails, and online proper processes to order items to stock. Automated tasks can take over these tasks and handle them autonomously and with much more accuracy. It can also help with analyzing the fulfillment process, handle and negotiate the pricing, and order products more efficiently lowering the money tied to a standing stock, and increase cash flow by a more efficient fulfillment process. Again, all this is without any human interaction.

Seasonal changes in sales and inventory management are another great area for automation. The systems can be taught to analyze and learn from these seasonal changes, hook up to your marketing transactions and predict inventory levels and requirements for the future. It can react to pricing changes and create feedback loops to sales and marketing for input.

HR Management, Hiring and Firing and Exit Interview Automation

Automated CV processing is already widely used in Fortune 500 companies. 99% of the companies use automated CV ranking systems for applicants, but automation can help in many other ways to improve HR processes in all-size companies. Typical HR processes for automation include hiring and firing processes and also exit interviews. Especially an interesting and often neglected area is exit interviews. What if you can collect very valuable information and knowledge from employees leaving the company? If you were to automate all time consuming and receptive tasks currently in your HR process, benefits will include time savings, increased visibility, and compliance. Automation can also help mitigate risks involving hiring and firing processes.

We recently analyzed and visualized a hiring process. The challenge was to solve the very long hiring process and find out why the application process took several months and resulted in lost prospective employees because of a very slow and antique manual applicant process. By visualizing the process and running the data through the client was able to identify exactly where the time was taken. Findings also enabled automation design and implementation to drastically shorten the hiring and background check process to eliminate the root cause.

In today’s market, it seems to be more and more difficult to hire personnel for many simple office tasks. In some areas, wages are spiking. By automating office workflows and simple time-consuming and repetitive tasks, companies can eliminate much of the back office work and reduce the need for added office staff. Employees will work less, be more productive and companies and employees will make more.

Booking Process Automation

We talked about the doctor’s office appointment booking challenge. Other automation areas include order workflows where the customer is required to interact several times and information gathered in the process is fairly repeatable. Most companies fall into this category. In any industry that requires background information in order to set an appointment, the process can be automated. Today’s trends are quickly going mobile, online, and SMS / text messaging. Millennials refuse to talk over the phone and businesses will have to adapt to overcome these challenges.

Workflow automation can solve these interactions by automating the information gathering and setting the appointment easily without any office staff interaction. By proving easy-to-use online and automated phone, text, and social media booking processes you have already saved time and increasing customer satisfaction.

But automating your internal processes is where your workflow efficiency will increase much further. Once the order or appointment booking has been received, bots will take over and complete the information into your various systems and without any additional human interaction, the booked appointment is processed and completed. The client is also kept in the loop with automated communications.

Permits, Licensing and Compliance Management Automation

In many industries, standards, company policies or legal requirements by regulatory agencies dictate how work is being performed. Meeting the job safety requirements, qualifications, licensing, and insurance requirements is a typical example of an area that can result in a lot of manual paperwork. You are responsible for your supplier and subcontractor compliances for the regulatory requirements and standards, same as your own employees. That results in very complex review and approval processes across your company business entities to comply. It can get very cumbersome to manage. Compliance management can also be automated.

Firstly the process is made paper-free with compliance management systems or using lighter workflows to document and verify compliance. These workflows can then be automated using robotic process automation (a simple bot that completes a simple task). These bots can communicate with employees and subcontractors with your job requirements and gathers compliance documentation, file it and manage the review, expiry, and renewal processes. Upon audits or a client’s tracking, compliance of the subcontractors or employees can be verified at any time, and reports and other required documentation can be produced and notified to the responsible party, without any human interaction.

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How to get started with Process and Workflow Automation?

The first step is to visualize and define the existing processes. You may have internal resources to do this if not, it’s worth spending some money to help get it done properly. Start with the more simple areas and processes that are more easily defined.

After documenting the process you can prioritize the areas in the process that would most benefit from automation. Good candidates are areas where information, inputs, and outputs are relatively static. This means the tasks are repetitive and information is structured or easily standardized.

Once you have a prioritized list of automation candidates, you can continue analyzing the existing systems. What you are looking for is how to make sure these parts are paperless or how to convert them to paperless. After that, you can test if the current systems allow or offer tools to automate the tasks.

After analyzing existing systems you can decide if upgrading the base systems is required to a system that offers task automation or if developing a bot is more cost effective. Usually, the solution is the latter. If the task is currently paperless or can easily be converted to paperless it’s usually very cost effective to automate it with a simple bot, rather than changing the entire system and retraining employees. Even if the system is outdated or is not user-friendly, automating the task will still solve the task. And the beauty is, poorly performing and hard to use systems will no longer be a problem since humans will stop interacting with them.

Implement the first task automation and update the business process visualization document. Has the process changed? Update the task prioritization list and continue implementing the next task.

It’s important to remember and plan how employees use the newly created time savings and cost savings. This means learning a new normal and in many cases, some roles will go away or change drastically. Change management is key to any change and is best handled with a proactive project plan. Plan to succeed by involving employees in the change by showing how automation is a tool that will benefit both the employees as well as the employer.

Business Process Automation is one of the greatest competitive advantages you can implement regardless if industry for the next decade.

Forbes Business Analyst Forum 2020.

Benefits of Business Process Automation in a Nutshell

  • Eliminate manual errors. Yes, really 100% of the errors will go away when automation is designed and implemented correctly.
  • Eliminate 100% of the manual human centric tasks. Yes, even though your current process is paperless, it’s still manual work. Automation will eliminate manual human interaction for automated tasks.
  • Speed up the overall business process as well as each task completion. Bots will get it done much, much faster.
  • Bots are never sick or unavailable or lazy. The process works 24/7/365. Always.
  • Automation elements are highly scalable. Automation will process larger amounts transactions and is also extendable to other areas as well as offers 100% reusability. If you need the same task done in another process, you can use the same bot to automate it as well.
  • Process automation will also reveal overall process bottlenecks and provide valuable metric into your business.
  • Automation tools enable reporting and analytics for further workflow improvements.
  • Automation Design will provide predictive and analytical process improvements. Automation and reporting will reveal the next improvement area, continuously.
  • Increase customer retention. Customers are less likely to leave you when your business process will provide them information proactively and just in time.
  • Increase sales and after sales. Automated solutions will increase hit rates across sales processes when yhey are accurate and more timely and match customers needs better.
  • Increase employee satisfaction. Employees are happier working with tasks that add value and are not repetitive or boring.
  • Lower direct operational cost. Automation lowers employee centric workflow processing times. You can sell and deliver products and services with a lot less operational costs.
  • Increase profitability. Business process automation is proven to increase process efficiency and drive costs lower.

Contact Texas Software Automation Specialists

Reach out and let’s review your current process for workflow automation opportunities.

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