Automate the Most Important Business Processes in your Company

Please note: This post originally appeared on (EXTOL has been acquired by Cleo).

Common business processes are performed within any size company each and every day. Many of these processes are manual, but they don’t have to be. They can be automated. Numerous companies use business process automation to initiate these common processes and see them through from end to end.

What exactly is business process automation?

Business process automation (BPA) is the concept of technology to support or replace manual, repetitive tasks or procedures. BPA can produce significant benefits in productivity, saving the company time and money, minimizing errors, and enhancing transparency. This automation, which can come in many various forms, has the potential to produce positive effects for businesses across all industries and divisions. BPA works best when performing repetitive, error-prone, or boring jobs that don't make the most use of your employees' time or abilities. This automation can commonly come in the form of business automation software.

Business process automation is defined by Gartner as the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities, usually through the use of advanced technologies. It not only includes the automated execution, but also the composition and the integration of the processes within the company.

So, why automate your business processes?

The simple answer is to save time and money. By replacing manually initiated processes with software, companies can realize a reduction in errors, an enhanced work and process flow, lower expenses and improved efficiency. Companies can basically do more with less which directly affects the bottom line.

Lowering Expenses — For instance, by boosting productivity and reducing payroll and associated expenditures.

Process Visibility Improvement — Emerging issues that are difficult to identify early often expand and become more expensive to resolve.

Standardizing Procedures — including reducing the time, money, and effort needed to identify information in non-standardized fields and forms, finish activities, and ensure compliance with both internal and external rules.

Enhancing Compliance — For instance, human mistake and unfairness are decreased, and every procedure is carried out in accordance with the compliance norms you establish.

Streamlining Procedures — Processes frequently continue for years or even decades simply because that's how it's always been done. But new technologies and alterations in the industry or market could call for a more adaptable approach to functioning; streamlining procedures can greatly aid in achieving that objective.

Increasing Accountability — Know where everything stands and who or what is causing a bottleneck, which improves responsibility.

Increasing Efficiency — Automation completes jobs more quickly and accurately than humans do, which cuts down on line wait times and error correction. Employees just need to review exceptions.

Human Errors Expedited — manual errors are reduced or eliminated since automation completes the procedure consistently. Be sure to update the procedure as necessary.

BPA can improve the work of all employees and helps a company avoid increasing personnel at the same rate that it grows. With the usage of BPA, employee satisfaction tends to increase.

What processes can be automated?

Some of the most common business process candidates for automation are associated with the order to cash cycle which includes processes such as receiving orders, order fulfillment, order updates, ship notices, and invoicing. Other candidates are part of the procurement to pay activities such as identifying when to purchase, placing orders, tracking orders, receiving orders and paying. Other less common, but steadily growing processes include, internal ones, such as payroll, updating employee information, or even setting budgets.

How can these processes be automated?

One of the most important steps of automation is to first identify the key processes that can be automated and develop a plan. The plan should include some of the following steps:

1. Obtain stakeholder and executive buy-in and commitment

2. Identify the incoming or outgoing channels or events. Basically, find what triggers the execution of the process. This includes:

• communications: paper mail, fax, email attachments, FTP, AS2, web service

• application changes: a change to a specific field, or a new record

• trading partner service-level agreements (SLAs)

3. Identify the data format, such as:

• Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): which standard, versions, etc.

• spreadsheet: which type

• flat file: fixed or delimited length, single or multi-format

• Extensible Markup Language (XML): xsd or dtd defined, etc.

• database: which application is driving the process

4. Identify what types of activities have to be performed during the process. This can include:

• communications activity

• data routing

• data transformations/modifications

• data look-ups

• process routing

• event notification

• error handling, and many others

5. Identify a solution. Since each business environment is unique, research and careful consideration should go into determining which solution makes the most sense. This includes:

• custom-coded solutions

• business process automation software: can be industry-specific and part of a business process management suite

• integration platform middleware: performs the tasks to handle all of the automation requirements including the automated execution, data transformation/routing, script composition and integration requirements to complete the end-to-end processes

• hybrid solutions containing the right amount of custom coding, automation software, and integration middleware

6. Based on the solution selected, pick the best people suited for the project and assemble a team

7. Implement the solution

With a good strategic plan and the right tools, business process automation is an attainable goal any company can strive to achieve.

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