Process automation refers to the use of digital technology to perform a process or processes in order to accomplish a workflow or function. The term “business process automation” is also used to describe digital process automation.
A wide variety of business processes and activities can be automated, or more often, they can be partially automated with human intervention at strategic points within workflows. Sales, marketing, production, supply chain, inventory control, administration, IT and management process are among those benefitting from digital process automation.
Digital process automation is based on a comprehensive IT strategy, which may include automation of processes for finance, HR, etc. The combination of digital tools and principles can create just the BPA solution your business needs.
The two principle approaches to BPA are:
- Automation of a process when the outcome is already known
- Automation of a process when the outcome is required to be created based upon external and/or internal parameters.
Digital process automation typically involves a combination of software, data and processes.
Software is the primary element within a BPA solution. It is typically an enterprise software solution which can be used to replicate simpler business processes within a broader work scope.
Data is an integral part of any BPA strategy and must be used to provide logical understanding the context, purpose and purpose of data driven processes to create business value and/or achieve a greater part of a business goal.
Processes to be automated are chosen based upon impact to the business and a specific process is chosen based upon the following criteria:
- The process is manual at present
- The information contained in the process is not being captured in a digital manner
- The process is error-prone
- The process is inefficient
- The process is hard to maintain
- The process is not compliant with an internal or external policy
- The process is predictable in return on investment
- The process is a valuable target for a BPA solution
Benefits of BPA include:
- Time savings
- Improvement to productivity
- Receive data, action it and take a decision faster
- Reduced human error
- Fewer rework cycles
- Improved customer service
- Improved compliance
- Improved Return on Capital Investment
- Expand the capability of existing workforce
- Enhanced security
- Improved Risk Management
When evaluating a business process, be sure to consider the following areas:
- What is the critical functionality or business outcome of the process?
- What tasks need to be completed to complete the process?
- What information do we need to collect within the process itself?
- Is manual data entry required?
- Are any decisions executed manually that could be automated?
- What existing tools and systems are in place?
- How are employees trained?
- When in place are changes expected?
Whilst digital process automation is a significant undertaking there are numerous instances when BPA pilots can be conducted to ascertain the value of a fully-fledged digital automation platform to the business. Key areas to consider, when embarking on and implementing a pilot project are:
Time – it is worth considering how long should the pilot last? Pilots should last long enough to complete a process using a automation platform and any necessary changes.
Volume – is an appropriate amount of process and activity being automated? Pilots should have a sufficient amount of data entry and the ability to introduce new data. This ensures an accurate representation of the processes in the actual environment.
Business impact – How automated are our “best-in-class” organizations? It is worth considering an adequate set of organizations within an industry. The intent is to determine what is realistic and what can be possible and to gauge the success of best-in-class organizations as a reference point.
- Think about the following when looking to implement digital process automation:
- What is the goal of the business process automation project?
- What is the background and experience of the project team?
- What business processes should we consider automating?
- What benefits will be achieved from the business process automation solution?
- How will we analyse the data and derive meaningful information from it?
- How will we ensure that data is not re-entered into any process and is documented within a digital format?
- How will business process automation change our organization and our people?
- Is our IT infrastructure and architecture ready to support digital process automation?
- Will we be able to accommodate the data volume that the digital process automation solution will be expected to deliver?
- What decision-making elements will be automated?
- Who within the organization will be able to access the system?
- Will the business process automation solution be accountable or transparent?
- Can we refine existing processes and do they have value?
- What other applications can be considered to source information from the business process automation solution?
- How will the business process automation solution be integrated with our other tools and systems?
- If at all possible, test-drive a BPA solution before committing to it?