What Is Process Automation?
Process automation is the use of technology to automate manual processes, especially repetitive ones. This often applies to paper-based business procedures, such as invoice processing and employee management. With process automation, any simple, repetitive task can be off-loaded from a physical work environment into a virtual workspace requiring far fewer human resources. Process automation produces faster, more consistent results.
Consider, for example, a paper document that must pass from an outside sales rep to a sales manager to a vice president to a fulfillment manager. This document could potentially take days to cycle through an office and could lost somewhere along the way. Using process automation, this document could be digitized and cycle through each department seamlessly and with confirmation of receipt from each team member. This use of digital document management is just one example of how process automation helps boost efficiency in small ways that can, ultimately, add up to major efficiency upgrades.
Key Benefits of Process Automation
The overall goal of process automation in business is to increase efficiency, offer better service to clients, and, ultimately, increase profits. Within these overarching benefits, however, there are many smaller benefits. Here are some of the key benefits of process automation that add up to greater big-picture success:
- Reduced manual labor time: Simple tasks, including circulating paper documents, copying reports, sending form emails and compiling data, can take huge amounts of time. In many cases, these tasks may even require the entire focus of specialized employees. Using process automation, businesses can drastically reduce the time employees spend on manual chores and provide more time to focus on skilled tasks.
- Decreased human error: Even careful employees make mistakes, and you may know how important one errantly checked box or forgotten signature can be on a critical document. With process automation, human errors can be immediately flagged and corrected which greatly improves the accuracy with which critical functions are executed.
- Improved security: A digital workflow can offer a secure environment in which documents are constantly backed up and limited to credentialed personnel.
- Increased operational flexibility: In today's business world, a client's needs can change on a dime. With the right process automation software, those changing needs can be quickly adopted into your project.
- Lower costs: Everybody knows that time is money, and process automation can save your enterprise tons of time. By keeping employees focused on their primary tasks instead of chasing paper, businesses can get the most from a skilled workforce.
- Improved employee and customer satisfaction: Today's workers are better educated and more highly skilled than ever before. Process automation can help your workers apply their hard-earned knowledge in more meaningful ways without the distraction of repetitive, tasks. With more satisfied workers, your firm can be better positioned to offer the best possible service to clients.
Process Automation Can Help in Unexpected Ways
While business process automation is often used for repetitive organizational tasks, it can be a powerful tool throughout multiple departments in a company. For creative business managers, process automation doesn't end in the copy room.
Take facilities management, for example. Using readily available technology such as smart light bulbs and thermostats, businesses can automate facility management tasks that might otherwise require specialized maintenance staff. By pairing the technologies we enjoy in everyday life with the right process automation software, businesses can reclaim a few precious minutes a day — those can add up to hours each year.
Process automation can also be an ideal tool for human resources. The hiring process can create a long trail of digital documents circulated among many individuals at a company. By automating the process in a centralized online environment, each person involved in the onboarding process can easily access documents, add comments, and confirm their participation. Some automated tools can even help hiring managers sift through applications, identify qualified candidates, and rule others out. From meeting scheduling to employee help desks to office design concepts, process automation can help businesses leverage advanced technologies for more efficient, productive workplaces.
Where to Begin With Process Automation
If you've decided that it's time to bring process automation into your company, then you should know a few things. Here is a list of some critical steps to help digitally automate processes in your business smoothly and successfully:
- Identify processes to automate: The first step of introducing process automation to your company is identifying processes that are a good fit for automation. Remember that some tasks within a business are better off with a human touch, but don't be afraid to get creative and explore every option.
- Collect and analyze data: The next step is to collect as much data as you can about those processes you'd like to automate. Dig into factors like current efficiency levels and tripping points that slow things down. By collecting and analyzing this data, you get concrete metrics by which to measure progress.
- Set expectations: Once you've selected processes to automate and analyzed current performance, you need to set goals for improvement. This stage is critical to the implementation process as it helps clarify objectives and ensure a solid return on your automation investment.
- Define each step of the new automated process: The next step is to carefully plan out each step in the automation process. Will any of the manual processes remain in place, or will you move to a fully automated process? Creating a visual representation of the process to be automated can reduce the risk of forgetting any critical steps.
- Adapt to user feedback: Be sure to collaborate with end users during the developmental stages of process automation. Incorporate notes and ideas from those who will use this new technology every day.
- Set benchmarks: Before launching the new automated process, it's important to identify performance indicators. These help determine if the automated process is meeting goals or requires further development.
- Integrate the automated process: Introduce the new automated process in a controlled environment, such as a beta test. Use this testing period to identify any bugs before taking the automated process fully live.
- Monitor and continue collecting data: Once the automated process is launched, continue to use performance indicators and collect data to ensure that goals are being reached.