What is process automation?

What is process automation? Short answer: your team’s newest MVP.

Long answer: an AI-based, robot-supported, work step-automating approach to optimizing business workflows. Process automation lets organizations automate business processes to free up time and company resources. It also supports risk management and overall security by removing human error from repetitive tasks. With digital transformation taking center stage in so many business strategies, process automation has (and continues to be) a valuable tool for continuous improvement.

Process automation examples

Though process automation is more dynamic, flexible, and intelligent than ever, the concept has been around for a long time. Humans have been creating machines to assist with tedious work for thousands of years, after all; today’s machines are just much more sophisticated.

For an example of process automation in the wild, just look around. You might turn to an AI-powered chatbot for customer service while online shopping. At work, your PTO request generates records automatically for your organization’s convenience. And in the IT department down the hall, your organization’s security experts access reports and activity logs from several different teams across the business to track safety and compliance trends.

Process automation is everywhere, and it can make nearly every workflow in your organization more efficient. In fact, most businesses that use process automation tools have directly benefited. (Read some of their stories here.)

Business process automation (BPA) vs. robotic process automation (RPA)

Business Process Automation, or BPA, describes an approach to automation in business settings supported by technology. That technology can include Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, which is a type of BPA that uses software bots and artificial intelligence to observe, memorize, and replicate a series of actions performed by a human. So if BPA is an umbrella, RPA lives beneath it (along with other types of automation technologies).

BPA is often confused with Business Process Management. The latter is best described as a strategy–one that may combine many different types of philosophies and technologies to document and manage business processes. The former, on the other hand, specifically refers to technology-driven improvements in business processes through automation. Put simply: Business Process Automation automates, while Business Process Management documents.

How to implement business process automation

It’s tempting to say that there’s no wrong way to start using Business Process Automation tools. But only Sith deal in absolutes. Instead, let’s talk about the better ways.

Trial and error will be your best friend on your process automation journey (continuous improvement is a hallmark of the most competitive businesses) but don’t worry: software does the hard and repetitive work. That’s its job!

Identify opportunities

Begin by looking at your organization’s most significant processes. These are often the ones that have the greatest impact across teams and departments–the processes that take up the most time, use the greatest number of resources, and attract the most error and security incidents. In short, identify the processes that, if fully automated, could have the most dramatic impact on your productivity.

Not sure where to start? Phone a friend. (Or a coworker, in this case.) In most businesses, the people closest to problematic processes are the ones best-suited to shed light on where things could be improved. Ask for specifics about pain points in workflows, wasted resources, and compliance or audit frequency. This data will serve as a reminder of how far you’ve come later on.

Set goals

Once you have a greater understanding of your business’s most impactful processes, it’s time to turn your attention to the competition. Think about the organizations that set the standard for performance in your industry. What are they doing well? What are they doing more efficiently? Given the time, support, and resources, could your business realistically achieve the same results?

The first step to tackling any great goal like this is to break it down into smaller, more manageable bite-sized goals. Thinking about each workflow, and each event within that workflow, list goals that are “essential” versus “nice to have.” Remember, the best goals are both ambitious and achievable–give your teams something to work toward that is challenging, but not pie in the sky.

Choose a get of tools

In the wide world of process automation, there are hundreds, if not thousands of tools to choose from. For most businesses, shopping for an automation solution is a multi-faceted challenge: not only must you choose one that can scale to support your organization (and keep growing with you, once your digital transformation really takes off) you also have to consider accessibility.

Tools that are easy to understand and easy to use can be adapted and implemented much more quickly. Unfortunately, many process automation solutions come with a high cost of entry: working knowledge of code in the context of software development. You see the problem, right? Most people in most businesses don’t have that highly specialized knowledge.

The solution: low-code automation. What is low code automation, you ask? It’s a kind of process automation solution based on intuitive interfaces (often drag-and-drop) and simple logic. No coding knowledge required here: artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning do the heavy lifting.

Change management

Getting buy-in from your entire organization is key to driving your digital transformation via process automation. So, be sure to loop in your managers and decision-makers–anyone with oversight around the workflows that will be most affected.

These are the people in charge of introducing personnel to new ways of working (including implementing new tools on the departmental level, once you’ve shopped around) and they’ll need a deep understanding of your current problems, future goals, and incoming solutions.

Evaluate and monitor

The final step of your process automation journey isn’t really the final step at all. It’s one you’ll perform again and again, because keeping business momentum means always looking for ways to improve and get ahead.

As you begin to automate key processes, continuously monitor them and track changes in performance. The data you gather now will help you understand whether you’re becoming more efficient, highlight areas that are working well, and pinpoint areas where you could be doing better. Tracking this information will keep your teams accountable and let you know how close you are to the goals you set earlier.

Benefits of automation

It might be easier to list the downsides. (We can’t think of any.) Automation has dramatically impacted business and their customers around the world across nearly every metric: productivity, cost efficiency, security, quality, and satisfaction, to name a few.

Improve efficiency

Let’s face it: repetitive tasks are boring. There are hundreds, if not thousands of better ways for workers to spend their time, and process automation frees them up. Streamlining a process with automation technology (like form generation and signing in the employee onboarding process, for example) gives teams tons of time back, improving efficiency and making more room for higher-level thinking.

Reduce cost

Letting robots software automations handle simple tasks can save businesses big time, especially where labor costs are concerned. Workers are empowered to focus on more urgent and complex action items–the ones that strategically impact the trajectory of the business. And of course, fewer errors means fewer funds spent on paying to resolve errors, which further reduces costs across the organization.

Fewer errors

Here’s the bad news: where humans are involved, errors are unavoidable. Humans get tired, stressed, and confused. Humans, even with the best intentions, make mistakes–especially where repetitive tasks are concerned. The good news? Process automation almost entirely eliminates human error. Automated workflows and bBots learn how to perform a task, then repeat that workflow exactly with no deviations.

Compliance and regulatory

Risk management is a major concern for every business out there. New threats are born every day, and to keep up with them, organizations must continuously improve their processes and weed out failure points. Process automation supports compliance initiatives by automating and expediting response to security events. Picture a world where security gaps are quickly discovered and closed for good, and audits are rare, uneventful, and rarely ever costly.

Efficient utilization of staff

Ongoing employee growth is a key trait of leading organizations. Workers that continuously learn and develop their skills become assets that make businesses more efficient and strategic. Imagine what a worker who spends most of their day on time-consuming data entry could do with eight extra hours, especially when you invest in their skillset via citizen development. (What is citizen development? Glad you asked.)

Process automation solutions

Process automation software might be the newest member of your team, but it’s guaranteed to become one of the hardest-working–especially when you commit to an organization-wide transformation. Nintex can help power that journey with low-code tools: a process platform that puts the power to discover, automate, and optimize workflows in everyone’s hands. Now that you know where to begin, let us help you gain momentum: contact us for a free demo, and we’ll show you the power of process.