Hanson Cheng is the founder of Freedom to Ascend. He empowers online entrepreneurs and business owners to 10x their business and become financially independent.
Running a business is hard work. There are so many things to do, and there's never enough time to complete everything. From keeping track of inventory to dealing with customer inquiries, staying on top of everything can be challenging. That's where business process automation comes in.
Business process automation (BPA) is the use of technology to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Businesses can free up their employees to focus on more important tasks by automating these tasks.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most common business processes that can be automated, as well as some tips on how to get started with BPA so that by the end of it, you'll have a good understanding of how it can help your business.
Business process automation can be used in various ways, depending on the needs of the business. Some everyday use cases include the following.
Data entry is a time-consuming and error-prone task that often falls to your staff. BPA can help automate this task by using optical character recognition (OCR) to convert scanned documents into digital format or automatically extracting data from electronic sources such as email messages.
Document creation and management can also be time-consuming, especially if the documents are complex and need to be updated frequently. BPA can help by automating the creation and update of documents by using templates or generating reports from data sources.
There are many tasks traditionally done by people within your teams which could be performed by automated software. These include tasks such as form filling, data retrieval, and customer service requests. Robotic process automation (RPA) can help to automate these tasks, providing a faster and more consistent service.
Reports are essential to most businesses, but they can be time-consuming to create manually. BPA can help by automatically generating reports from data sources. This can save time and ensure that reports are always up-to-date.
While the above use cases are general and apply to various businesses, some specific use cases will only be used by certain types of companies. That said, understanding the benefits that business process automation can bring will enable you to know if this technology is right for your needs. Here are some of the top benefits businesses can achieve by automating their processes.
By automating your business processes, you can streamline your actions and make them more efficient. This can save time and money, reduce errors and improve accuracy.
For example, you may want to automate your book-keeping process. This can be done by using accounting software, which can save you time and money, while it can also help people to find jobs, reducing the need for manual data input. Automating your book-keeping process will prove a considerable upgrade over using a manual or paper-based system.
Another example could be automating your marketing processes. This could involve using marketing automation software to send automated emails or publish social media posts. This saves time and ensures your marketing activities are carried out consistently. You can also combine more traditional methods with business automation. Using an SMS marketing service can aid with this, automating the process of sending out bulk text messages over a process that before would have been very time-consuming.
This all means that business process automation can help organizations with effective time management - whether through online bookings, office management, or employee rotas, the right automation has its place in business operations.
Business operations inevitably incur various expenses, which only increase as the business grows. Automating your processes can help you to reduce some of these costs.
Putting an automated inventory management process in place allows you to reduce the need for manual data input and eliminate errors. You can also save on storage costs by automating your inventory management process and keeping track of your stock levels electronically.
Increasing business productivity is always a top priority for any organization. Automating your processes can help achieve this, while in turn boosting employee morale.
Employees can feel frustrated when carrying out mundane and repetitive tasks. Automating these tasks can help to reduce this frustration, allow focus on more productive jobs and make employees feel more positive about their work.
As part of the right customer retention strategy, businesses should focus on automating their customer-facing processes to make things easier for the most important stakeholders in their business. Whether it's better communication, shorter waiting times, or more personalized service, automating your processes can help you improve customer satisfaction.
Not all processes are suitable for business automation. Typically, organizations should only consider automating processes that follow certain criteria, some of which are below.
A well-defined process is clear and concise. It should be easy to understand and follow. In addition, a well-defined process can be measured. This means you can track the process's inputs, outputs, and outcomes.
As an example, consider a process for onboarding new employees. A well-defined onboarding process means that you can track the inputs (e.g., new employee information), outputs (e.g., completed onboarding checklist) and outcomes (e.g., increased employee satisfaction).
Regularly performed processes are those that are carried out on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Automating these processes can save you time as you will not need to set them up each time they are carried out.
Ordering office supplies is likely to be a process that is performed regularly and might involve raising a purchase order, sending it to the supplier, and then receiving and checking the delivery. Automating this process would mean that the purchase order is raised automatically and sent to the supplier with minimal manual input.
Rule-based processes are those where there is a clear set of rules that must be followed. These rules should be well-defined and easy to understand. In addition, rule-based processes do not require too much human judgment. This means that they can be carried out without humans needing to make decisions along the way.
An example of a rule-based process is a process for approving expense claims. The claim can only be approved if it meets specific criteria (e.g., the expense is valid and has been incurred within the current financial year). Automating this process would mean that claims are automatically approved or rejected based on these criteria.
Predictable processes are those where the inputs and outputs are known in advance. This means there is little or no variation from one process instance to the next.
Consider the process of sending out invoices. The input is the customer information, and the output is the invoice. The process is likely to be the same each time it is carried out, with little or no variation. Automating this process would mean that invoices are automatically generated and sent to customers with minimal manual input.
There are various types of automation available, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The type of automation you choose will depend on the specific tasks you want to automate, your budget, and the level of complexity you're comfortable with in your business.
Here are some to consider.
Social media automation can help you manage and grow your social media presence more effectively. Automation tools can help you with tasks such as scheduling posts, finding and sharing content, analyzing social media analytics, and more.
On the other hand, eCommerce automation can help streamline your online sales process, ranging from product listing and inventory management to order processing and customer service. Automation can also help you optimize your website for conversion, track shipping and fulfilment, and handle returns and refunds.
Combining these to form social commerce automation results in a powerful toolset for businesses of all sizes. Social media can drive traffic and sales, and eCommerce automation can handle transactions seamlessly.
Email automation can help you save time and improve your email marketing results. The right tools can help you with tasks such as creating and sending newsletters, developing email lists, segmenting your audience, analyzing campaign results, and more.
Email automation can also send targeted, personalized emails to your subscribers at scale. This allows you to build relationships with your customers and improve brand awareness, which can help you increase sales and revenue by making it easier to upsell and cross-sell products and services.
Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) tools provide a way to connect and manage data flow between different software applications. iPaaS can be used to integrate on-premises software with cloud-based applications or to connect multiple cloud-based applications.
These tools can help you automate business processes by providing a way to trigger actions between different software applications. For example, you could use iPaaS to automatically create a customer record in your CRM system when an order is placed on your eCommerce website.
Speaking of CRM, customer relationship management and sales automation are closely related fields.
With CRM integration, you can automate tasks such as importing customers from your eCommerce website into your CRM system. This helps various departments within your organization, such as sales and customer service, to have a single source of truth for customer data.
Sales automation can then manage customer contact lists, create and send quotes and proposals, or track sales pipeline progress. The combined net effort of CRM and sales automation can automate many tasks necessary to make sales.
Cloud automation can provision and manage cloud resources, such as virtual machines and storage accounts.
Cloud automation can also automate tasks such as deployments, monitoring, and scaling. Automating these tasks can save you time and money and improve your organization's agility. For businesses involved in software development, cloud automation can help you speed up the software development life cycle.
Queue management systems (QMS) manage and automate queueing processes for customers using your services.
If you've ever been to a theme park, you've likely seen a QMS in action. QMS can be used to assign guests to the next available ride or attraction automatically. This can save time and improve the guest experience. This also applies to some banks or grocery stores, where automation technology helps keep the line moving.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is all about managing and integrating an organization's various resources and operations. ERP can be used to manage financial resources, human resources, manufacturing resources, and more.
ERP systems are often complex and can be challenging to implement. However, they can provide significant benefits, such as improved efficiency and accuracy, reduced costs, and better decision-making.
Industries that might benefit from ERP include manufacturing, healthcare, construction, and retail.
While automation does help in many cases, certain common automation mistakes can lead to issues. Here are some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
One of the most common mistakes is not clearly understanding the current or 'as is' state of the process and what the future or 'to be' state should look like. This can lead to improper or inefficient automation.
As a small business, the 'as is' process might involve a customer calling a customer service line and waiting on hold for an agent. The 'to be' process might involve the customer being automatically routed to the next available agent based on their location and the current call volume. This will help to reduce or eliminate hold times.
Governance can be defined as the set of policies, processes, and controls that an organization puts in place to manage its data.
Data governance is important for ensuring the accuracy, completeness, and compliance of data. It can also help to prevent or resolve issues such as data duplication, inconsistency, and security breaches.
As such, governance helps ensure that automation is used correctly and doesn't lead to any negative consequences.
Small businesses should consider creating a governance framework that outlines how automation will be used, who will be responsible for it, and what processes will be automated.
Just because something can be automated doesn't mean it should be. There are specific tasks or processes that are better suited for manual execution. For example, if a job requires creativity or critical thinking, it's probably best to leave it to a human. Automating that task would likely lead to sub-par results.
It's essential to carefully consider whether a task should be automated before moving forward. For example, it might be best to keep the initial contact with the customer service representative manual in specific customer service situations. This allows the customer to explain their issue in detail and helps ensure that the proper steps are taken to resolve the issue.
To properly automate a process, it's essential to have a clear understanding of the customer journey. The customer journey is the path a customer takes, from becoming aware of a need or problem to taking action to resolve it.
This can be used in all types of industries and businesses. Consider a hypothetical example of a website that provides various solitaire games. The aim is to progress a customer from being unaware of the need for such a tool to understanding its benefits to eventually using it regularly and paying for a premium version.
In this case, the customer journey might look something like this:
This customer journey can then be used to map out the automation process. For example, automated emails could be sent at each stage of the journey to provide the customer with relevant information.
As you can see, this logic applies to any type of customer journey. Thus, it's essential to map out the customer journey before automating any processes.
Change management is the process of planning, implementing, and monitoring changes to a business. It's essential to incorporate change management early in the automation process to help ensure the transition goes smoothly.
This is especially true for small businesses, as they often have limited resources and might not be able to handle a large-scale change all at once. Change management can help to phase the implementation of automation so that it's less overwhelming and easily trackable.
Without success metrics, it’s not easy to know whether or not the automation process is working.
There are a variety of different success metrics that can be used, depending on the business goals. Some examples include customer satisfaction rates, conversion rates, lead generation rates, and cost savings.
It's essential to track these metrics over time to see if there is an improvement after automation is implemented. If not, it might be necessary to make some changes to the process.
Automation can be a considerable undertaking, so it's essential to have executive sponsorship and partnership from the start. Executive sponsorship involves having buy-in from upper management to ensure that the process is given the resources it needs to be successful.
The right partnership is also essential. The automation process will likely impact different departments within the company, so it's vital to have a partner from each department on board. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Business process automation is a powerful tool that can help businesses of all sizes improve their efficiency and bottom line. However, it's essential to consider your needs before investing in any automation solution. By understanding the different types of automation and their benefits, you can choose the right solution for your business.
Hanson Cheng is the founder of Freedom to Ascend. He empowers online entrepreneurs and business owners to 10x their business and become financially independent. You can connect with him here.