When asked about “automation”, the first thing that often comes to mind for most people is robotics.
This isn’t necessarily the case for the information age today. Since the 1900s, we’ve seen automation's role evolve from the use of keyboards and telephones, to its more modern application of business process automation – where companies leverage technology and artificial intelligence tools to process massive amounts of data in multiple platforms and formats.
In 2021, the business process automation market is expected to reach 12.7 billion dollars globally with growth driven by Digital Transformation initiatives of modern enterprises.
Business process automation (BPA), is the process of automating recurring business processes through the use of software and other applications. One of its primary goals is to free up employees from doing menial tasks. Other than this, BPA allows organizations to go beyond traditional data management and use advanced software systems and programs to integrate all applications.
Sometimes, BPA is also referred to as information technology process automation (ITPA). However, the more important point to understand is that BPA or ITPA do not necessarily refer to industrial automation or robotics.
The focus of BPA is to automate workflows and processes. In common BPA practice, processes within organizations and businesses are automated, and then these processes are analyzed and optimized until the desired end result has been achieved.
Organizations use BPAs to reduce the time required to move tasks from one business unit to another, increase the transparency of workflows between different departments, and better adhere to technical and legal compliance standards.
Business process automation (BPA) is the strategic utilization of technology for organizing systems and personnel.
In BPA, processes represent sets of activities related to the business which can be automated to achieve the desired effect. BPA can be associated with processes from normal data management to advanced systems integration across the enterprise. With this automation practice, an organization can control various programs like customer relationships, sales, planning, analytics, development, and more.
Using BPA, an organization can cut down operational costs, support its employees with better technologies, and free up resources from performing low-level tasks. It reduces the turnaround time of operations, making customers happy as they can be helped immediately, while also reducing or completely eliminating human error. BPA can significantly improve decision making and human interaction whilst creating real-time transparency.
These are three principles of BPA:
It allows organizations to orchestrate, automatically execute and integrate processes.
It centralizes processes with transparency whilst retaining the underlying computing architecture. It also logically integrates the business functionalities spread out across the organization.
It addresses human-centric activities, hence, minimize human intervention and errors.
Business Process Management has six stages:
Planning and strategic alignment
Automation can be traced back to Ancient Greece with the use of automatons for toys, fountains, crossbows, gates, and a number of war machines that operate with levers, pulleys, and wheels for self-directed machinery. The automation concept was also present early in the manufacturing industry, but the most significant utilization was in 1931, when Henry Ford began using automation to produce the signature Model T cars.
With automation, Ford was able to revolutionize the production process in the automotive industry with the first moving assembly line for mass production. This made a radical change in the way people worked, establishing America as an industrial powerhouse, paving the way for American middle class, and enabling workers to refine their individual skill sets while delivering substantial cost savings for businesses.
As technology progressed in the 1970s and 1980s, companies began using computers for basic automation. Redundant tasks and processes were eventually delegated to machines. As a result, human resources gained an opportunity to be more productive and creative in high-level jobs, and the risk of human error was mitigated.
This shift allowed BPA to become a staple for organizations wishing to achieve process excellence with continuous improvement. BPAs would often include several components such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), systems integration, and workflow tools.
Additionally, the Internet of Things (IoT) concept allowed for systems, objects, and components to connect to the digital world. In this context, BPA can facilitate data transfer over a network without any human interaction. Similarly, with the advancement in mobile technology, BPA can enable an organization to manage a remote workforce, significantly reducing a company’s expenses.
Here are some compelling reasons why you should automate your business processes.
The world is going digital, and almost all organizations seek the path of digital transformation. Business process automation is a stepping stone to adopt the culture of continuous transformation.
Automation needs a certain amount of clarity and transparency right from the start of the designing stage. So, unless the people carrying out BPA know what tasks would be involved and the people responsible for those tasks, they can’t design and automate the workflow accurately.
Process mapping becomes instrumental here, as it can provide clarity on the resources and systems for automation. Thus, the insights we gain from analyzing an automated process helps us analyze the gap between the as-is process and what the process ideally should be.
Through automation, organizations can streamline various operational processes and workflows. BPA can provide clear accountability, valuable insights, customizable notifications, and faster turnaround times to make work easier while eliminating unnecessary activities to focus on enhancing tasks that add value.
Organizations need to record data coming from various processes, transactions, and the like. BPA allows for this information to be recorded in a more consistent manner, and the data from that can be transformed to information that can demonstrate compliance during audits.
When business processes are automated, organizations can expect a consistent standard of outcomes. As processes become standardized, the organization is seen by both customers and stakeholders as credible and reliable in handling its data, information, processes, and transactions.
The consistency and speed of output that BPA offers can improve customer satisfaction. As organizations shift their focus towards process and operational excellence, BPA can help them meet the promised standards at a more consistent rate and eventually exceed customer expectations.
Apart from minimizing human errors and mapping out tasks using an intuitive interface, automating business processes can be seen as tools that help reduce work-related incidents of stress.
For example, in an office management system, self-automating activities can reduce worries about missed emails or leaves. Some of the advantages of automating business processes are:
Decreased manual errors and defects
Better monitoring of business processes and operations
The establishment of a clear approval hierarchy
A consistent process speed
Decreased time to perform repetitive and menial tasks
Easier and faster analysis for auditing purposes
Happier workforce with fewer laborious repetitive tasks
More avenues for employee and workflow flexibility
More satisfied customers, thus, increase business’s competitiveness
Ability to produce faster responses to mission-critical system problems
More efficient allocation of resources
Providing customers a flexible platform
Offers a digital labor model
Because of the advantages it offers, the 2020s are now seen by many experts to be the decade of process automation, where the world will see more workplace transformations, more digital maturity, and more decisions made based on process automation strategies.
Does signing up for a business process automation tool solve all your problems at once? Probably not. Like in every other practice, organizations can get some inspiration and follow some of the industry’s best practices to achieve the best results.
Here are some guidelines on how organizations can achieve success from automation.
It is not wise to automate all processes in one go. When selecting an automation tool, users will be new to its functionalities and after-process impacts. So, it would be better to run some proof of concept with the lightweight processes first to understand the roadblocks and assess how it works with an existing solution. Users need to identify the pros and cons of automation for their organization, and then gradually move to automating actual processes. It is often best to start with the lightweight processes and move on to mission-critical components later on.
The selection of the right tool that is the right fit for a business is another critical step in the automation process. Currently, there are numerous enterprise application integration (EAI) tools in the market that offer integrated business process automation options. However, not all the tools serve the same purpose. Some tools may be appropriate for application development, whereas others can leverage process tracking and transparency.
An organization’s choice will depend on their specific needs and preferences. That’s why an assessment based on the scalability, types of users who would use such a tool, and the workforce’s level of capability should be done beforehand.
Furthermore, the tool must sport an easy and intuitive interface, allowing even non-technical users to use or at least understand it.
The ultimate goal of any organization for automation implementation may be to enhance the business process itself, reduce costs, and/or increase revenue. Before any implementation, the goals of the organization must be thoroughly laid out and assessed before they move towards automation.
Investing in automation requires significant financial and manual effort. It is critical to analyze the gap for existing and automated processes beforehand. Otherwise, efforts may go in vain. Automation should follow a phased approach so that there will be room to pull the plug or shift things around if things do not go as expected.
Automation not only brings technical changes in a process but may also change the roles and responsibilities of the associated people in an organization. To retain the organization's professional integrity before implementation, these changes must be clearly conveyed to all concerned. Additionally, the implementation of BPA needs a human-centric solution to clarify the changes in the hierarchy.
To enforce accountability in the process, it is essential to set up a transparent hierarchy. Such strategic alignment can avoid the single most common point of failure in the BPM process.
Automation can bring a significant, and perhaps even a radical change within an organization. It can bring both positive and negative impacts affecting all employees. Automation efforts can fail if all the employees do not embrace this change. Thus, it is of utmost importance to involve all stakeholders from the early stage of the automation process to remain on the same page. Organizations would often conduct a brainstorming session to identify the challenges across all levels. Doing this will make employees feel important in the organization, despite the changes being made.
Implementing process automation is not the end. The real success of automation comes when this new platform is embraced by the employees. That is only possible if they can understand the automation process and the tool itself. Hence, it is important to train all staff so that they can become more accustomed to using the new process. At the same time, the process must be easily understood so that it is repeatable.
Automation does not end with its implementation — rather, we have to consider it as an ongoing process. It is therefore essential to continuously monitor results in order to realize the maximum efficiency of the process. The process owner must consistently measure the performance of the automation. For that purpose, they must select the specific type of data and use key performance indicators (KPI) to break down the process and make continuous improvements. Optimizing through monitoring is the pivotal approach for the success of BPM implementation.
The automation process is not free from technical failures. These failures can come in the form of software glitches, network issues, or hardware issues. However, in any situation, the business process and the day-to-day operations should not be jeopardized. Here is where a backup option can come in handy. It can be human intervention, partial automation, or a technology-based failover option, but the process must not stop due to a technical outage. Failure to do so may have a significant business impact.
As organizations become more familiar with BPA and start working with one, it is important to identify workflows.
Workflows represent orchestrated and repeatable patterns of business activity. These are visual diagrams that allow businesses to automate their processes – usually with the goal of reducing processing time in production, increasing efficiency, and providing more consistency.
There is a wide availability of workflow automation software that can help you in business process automation such as Martini, Pega, Oracle SOA Suite, TIBCO, etc. Using these platforms, an organization can build workflow diagrams by providing inputs, outputs, and business rules with the logic of how the system behaves. It acts as a workflow management system that allows businesses to reorganize and tweak the workflows over time.
A workflow engine manages and monitors the activities and its states in a workflow. It helps organizations coordinate and facilitate the business processes. This is also known as an orchestration engine. The engine sets a time for each activity so that the whole process becomes faster.
Imagine a process that goes through a certain number of departments and people in order to be completed. So, it can take time and resources since the information has to flow through everybody. Hence, if not automated, it will cost both money and resources.
The workflow engine facilitates the flow of tasks, information, and events.
Everybody gets access to the information needed to complete the action.
With a visual representation, employees can easily understand the whole process.
The process execution becomes time-bound as the engine sets a time for each activity.
With every task monitored within a workflow, it is easy to identify the bottlenecks.
It saves time for decision-making processes.
It reduces red tape and paperwork.
Workflow management coordinates the tasks that build the work an organization does. As previously discussed, the term ‘workflow’ signifies a sequence of tasks that are part of some larger task, or 'business process.' While creating a workflow aims to achieve some results, workflow management aims to achieve better results per the set goals. In workflow management, software tools are used to keep track of the work and to automate parts of it.
In workflow management, the tasks can be automated and performed by IT systems. Hence, workflow management includes IT systems integration. This helps share data between workflows and other IT systems within an organization. This is why workflow management is considered as a management discipline and not just a software process.
A workflow management system (WFMS) automates the parts of management coordination which are common to different workflows. It is a general-purpose tool that potentially supports any workflow.
TORO Cloud’s iPaaS platform, Martini, is a low-code API centric solution that facilitates application and system integration, and event-based workflows for orchestrating business processes. Being low-code, there is no need to write repetitive and laborious cookie-cutter code to create workflows, build integration services, consume or publish APIs, transform data, log transactions, or create reports. Workflows, integrations and APIs are all represented graphically enabling developers and business users to collaborate on business process automation tasks.
Business process automation is to the digital transformation revolution, the same way that robotic automation was to the industrial revolution. BPA results in greater transparency of processes and improves operational efficiency that can result in reduced costs, improved employee productivity, and customer satisfaction. Like robotics, business process automation may initially be seen as a threat to the stability of an employee’s position. However, instead of a threat, it provides opportunities for employees to concentrate on less mundane, higher-value tasks such as business development and other activities that contribute to enterprise value.