Have your ever found yourself wasting time on manual, repetitive tasks and workflows?
It’s a frustrating cycle that repeats itself day after day.
By the end of the week, you’ve accomplished little of what you’d planned.
And though it might seem like it’s just a few minutes here and there, the truth is that it all adds up.
Almost half of the professionals in this survey reported spending a quarter of their work week on busy work, like emails and data entry.
Thankfully, more and more organizations are beginning to realize there’s a better way. And it’s thanks to business process automation.
A study by IBM showed most companies already use basic process automation.
If you’re new to the idea of business process automation, we’ll discuss how to get started today, so you can get more work done, faster.
What is Business Process Automation?
You can sum it up like this: business process automation involves using technology to automate workflows. Put another way, once you establish the most efficient way to execute a routine task, you turn to technology to put the slog work on autopilot.
As humans, we’re always on the hunt for an easier, quicker way to get things done. We see it everything from our love of keyboard shortcuts to the explosion of instant messages.
And it’s this search for improving efficiency that’s lead to some remarkable modern inventions.
Consider the story of the Harvard Business School student who co-invented the spreadsheet.
Dan Bricklin was attending a lecture where the professor was creating a financial model, adding formula and data into cells. When he made any changes, the professor was forced to redo the entire table.
That’s when inspiration struck. Bricklin came up with the idea of an electronic spreadsheet, one that would automatically recalculate cells and formulas. The software was shipped with Apple’s early computers and provided the foundation for applications like Excel.
But the concept behind business process automation has been around for millenia. In Ancient Greece, Engineers built machines to automate basic tasks, like opening gates.
Today, in the 21st century, new tools mean we have access to advanced technology to simplify work.
Why does it matter?
Study after study shows developing systems and using technology to execute your processes cuts costs and saves time.
And if you’re struggling to come up with a use case for business process automation in your organization, just think of tasks that fit the following criteria:
- Performed frequently
- Large volumes of tasks
Activities that require some kind of audit trail are also ideal for automation.
Benefits of Business Process Automation
Here’s a few benefits that make the case for business process automation.
- Improve productivity. Imagine all the time your team would reclaim if they could ditch rote, routine tasks. Instead of pouring energy into low-value work, employees have more time to focus on the things that matter, e,g., building relationships with clients.
- Reduce human error. By automating your workflows, you reduce errors. This is especially relevant for processes involving data entry.
- Clear processes. The value of business process automation is in the clarity it brings to your workflows. You can, for example, make sure that signing a sales agreement is now a simple, automated process. The immediate benefit is that you eliminate the need for emails and constant follows-ups.
- Audit trails. When you use technology to execute processes like document management, for instance, you have a detailed log of the entire signing process. This is ideal for industries where compliance is non-negotiable, but it’s a good business practice for any type of organization.
Tips for Getting Started with Business Process Automation
If you’re convinced that business process automation will boost your workplace organization and efficiency, here's a few pointers to help you get started.
- Begin by clearly defining your processes and workflows. What needs to be done? Who is involved? How long does each step of the process typically take?
- Invest in employee training. Accept that there might be teething problems at the start.
- Don’t start from scratch. Decide on your needs and use existing business process automation technologies.
- Monitor. Evaluate your progress and refine your system.
Examples of Business Process Automation
Of course, business process automation isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Your organization has unique challenges and opportunities. And that calls for a tailored approach.
We’ve collected a few examples and best practices in business process automation to get you started.
Modern projects are plagued by pitfalls: projects frequently come in late, over budget, or not at all.
A survey by Capterra found the top challenges included communication problems, inaccurate time estimations for tasks, and inefficient workflows.
Project management software solves a lot of these challenges.
Using project management software, teams collaborate in real-time. Even better, the application stores all project-related information in one shared, digital workspace.
Here’s some of the common project management tasks you can automate:
- Send team members reminders about tasks
- Alert managers when tasks are complete
- Access real-time overview of project progress
Businesses know if they want to succeed, they need to put their customers first. Responsive customer service plays an important role in achieving that goal.
And the digital world has hiked up customer expectations. Research by SuperOffice shows customers expect to hear back from a company within one hour.
How long do companies actually take to respond to customer queries?
An average of 12 hours.
You can imagine that the gap between reality and expectation is creating a lot of unhappy customers. And that’s bad news for businesses.
Hubspot’s State of Customer Service Report 2019 found customers were more likely than ever before to share a positive or negative brand experience with others.
So how can business process automation help?
Start by figuring out your most common customer questions. Use a tool like Freshdesk to build an online knowledgebase with all the frequently asked questions. Consider adding chatbots to your site to guide the customer in the right direction. If they still can’t find what they’re looking for, customers should have the option to reach out to one of your team members.
In fact, pairing chatbots with human customer support agents yield the best results, reports the MITSloan Management Review. Plus, now your support team is freed up to devote their attention to the customers that the most help.
Traditionally, human resources was known for its dependence on manual, paper-based processes.
But new technologies are changing all of that.
An analysis by McKinsey discusses the case of a company that used a bot to generate offer letters, based on candidate information in the system. By automating the process, the company reduced processing time by 66%.
Software like eversign gives any organization access to this kind of efficiency. You can, for example, send a digital contract to a prospective candidate. They get to complete the form online, from wherever they are. Once it’s done, you get an alert straight to your email inbox.
Another obvious area is leave requests. Instead of filling out paper forms that need to travel to a supervisor’s desk and then to HR, look into HR technologies that automate this entire process.
Routine finance functions are ripe for business process automation. Think of activities like creating invoices and purchase orders. These tasks are high-volume, repetitive, and routine.
Instead of manually creating invoices, software like Xero saves your templates, sends your invoices online, and lets you know when your clients have paid. Applications like Kissflow give finance professionals the power to send orders from their phones, with built-in tracking.
Social Media Management
The research is clear: brands that post on social media consistently achieve better engagement.
But depending on the size of your team, posting every day, or even multiple times per day, might place considerable strain on your resources.
That’s where tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, and Later can help.
Automating your social media updates gives your more time to engage with users in comments and come up with content that’s genuinely helpful. A useful strategy is to set a few hours aside to schedule your content once or twice a week.
For most sales people, there’s never enough hours in the day. And that’s because many of them are spending 5.9 hours each week on routine, administrative tasks, according to this survey by InsideSales.
We’ve covered sales process automation strategies in detail here.
A quick summary of the best ways to automate sales tasks include:
- Use scheduling software like Calendly to book appointments
- Set up automated email drip sequences
- Opt for electronic signatures
Accomplish More With Business Process Automation
Modern workdays don’t need to be filled with busywork that drains your energy.
With smart systems and the right tools, you can use business process automation to transform your workweeks. You’ll end up with more time to focus on work that requires creativity and problem-solving; the kind of work that takes you closer to your most important goals.