21/12/2023 |

Process automation: More freedom to drive added value

Challenges, such as high costs and competitive pressure, characterize the professional world. At the same time, many companies are squandering their potential with unnecessarily long routine tasks. The solution is to automate repetitive business processes. This article shows exactly what this means and how it can work for your business.

What is process automation?

Process automation is the optimization of business process and/or workflows by using tools, instead of people, to start and complete various process activities. Also known as business process automation (BPA), it eliminates many time-consuming routine tasks so that employees can concentrate more on value-added work for the customer and your organization.

Process automation and process optimization

As the name suggests, BPA simply refers to the fact that process activities are automated. In contrast, process optimization aims to improve processes.

  1. Optimization changes processes.
  2. Automation retains existing processes.

In process management, automation requires optimization. There is little point in automating a non-optimized process.

The differences between automation and digitalization

The terms digitalization and automation are often used more or less synonymously, although the two describe different areas in which technology is brought into the business environment. Digitalization refers to the conversion of information into digital formats. On the other hand, automation uses this digital information to complete a business goal. Digitalization is, therefore, a basic prerequisite for automation.

Advantages of process automation

Companies do not use automation for its own sake, but rather to achieve something. In fact, there are numerous reasons for automation. What they all have in common is that they are optimizations designed to perfect processes, workflows and task management.

A recent OTRS Group study of 500 global IT leaders found the following to be among the most important benefits of BPA:

  • Increased efficiency: By automating recurring (and sometimes tedious) tasks using tools, processes can be completed faster and with significantly less manpower.
  • Lower costs: Process automation saves money, especially in the long term, as it increases productivity and creates opportunities for better performance. On the one hand, routine tasks are completed more quickly; on the other, employees can turn their attention to higher-level tasks.
  • More added value: Investments in automation usually pay for themselves quickly, as they noticeably reduce the associated workload. The resources freed up can then be redirected into value-added innovative work, which has a positive effect on the customer and business.
  • Adapting to change: The world is changing at a rapid pace – especially in terms of technology. One important reason for implementing automated processes is that it becomes simpler to adapt to change and keep pace with the latest developments.
  • Better quality through fewer errors: Especially in monotonous and small-scale work, human errors happen often. This can be avoided through automation, thereby enabling consistently good results.
  • Higher employee satisfaction: When automated workflows replace manual work steps, employees no longer have to go through the same – possibly boring – routines and can instead devote themselves to more exciting and strategic tasks. This increases employee satisfaction and motivation.
  • Better compliance and security: When processes are automated, employees can focus more on monitoring and management of them. This makes it easier to comply with regulations and guidelines. Data security is also increased.
  • Data-based analyses: Systems and tools that automate processes generate a lot of data. The data can be used for in-depth analyses, which in turn can reveal optimization potential. This enables companies to make more informed business decisions, for example.
  • Faster reactions: As automated systems can process data in real time, they act as a kind of early warning system for critical business processes.

Overall, automation makes companies more successful – at least in some areas. It has positive effects on the customer side and improves key performance indicators.

How does process automation work?

If you want to automate a process, you usually divide it into sub-steps, from which a workflow is created. Based on this, software automatically coordinates the individual steps until the entire workflow is completed.

The exact sequence of a process automation naturally differs from case to case. It strongly depends on the type of process and the approach of the respective company.

Steps in process automation

In general, the following steps can be identified:

  • Analysis and planning: Define and understand the process. Identify recurring steps and evaluate any automation possibilities.
  • Selection of an automation solution: Various solutions are considered based on the business requirements. A suitable solution is selected and integrated into the existing IT infrastructure.
  • Testing: The business checks whether the automated processes work and deliver the desired results.
  • Implementation: The automation is (gradually) transferred to ongoing operations.
  • Monitoring and maintenance: The company checks whether the automation is working properly and carries out regular maintenance and updates.
  • Optimization: The automated process may have revealed potential for improvement so that it can be further optimized.

When is process automation successful?

The following areas can be identified as indicators of success:

  • A smooth technical process
  • A clear benefit in accordance with the previously defined objectives
  • Learning factors and further development

The most important thing is that process automation brings clear benefits, such as cost savings or increased efficiency. This makes it all the more important to carry out a detailed analysis at the beginning that evaluates where and how automation will deliver the greatest possible benefit.

An example of process automation

This example shows how an automated process can help a business move forward:

When hiring a new employee, there are many tasks to organize. The administrative effort is high. Sometimes, on the first day of onboarding, the material is not complete and access to important tools is not available. It might take many days before the new employee can log on to their new laptop and start working productively.

Onboarding new employees is a repetitive process. Therefore, automated solutions are possible and desirable. These save time and reduce errors – such as forgetting to order a laptop – because the software automatically triggers each activity to be completed once the HR team starts the process. Now, the new employee can quickly get to work productively, and the HR team can work on more creative projects.

Steps that can be coordinated with the help of BPA include the following:

  • Entering employee data into an HR tool
  • Clarification of legal matters
  • Creation of requests for work materials (hardware, software, office supplies)
  • Approval of material requirements
  • Configuration of hardware and software
  • Provision of work materials
  • Creation of a comprehensive onboarding plan
  • Management of appointments

These tasks involve quite a bit of exchange between the IT and HR teams, so use of automated workflows in either an ITSM or HR software solution is ideal.

Types of process automation

There are different types of process automation that are used depending on the specific requirements of the enterprise. This means that companies can benefit from automation in a variety of ways.

Below are some examples of process automation applications and platforms.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – robot-supported process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) refers to the use of software robots or bots to relieve humans of repetitive and time-consuming tasks. In business, RPA makes particular sense for rule-based tasks, because companies save time and reduce the susceptibility to errors. In concrete terms, the bots take on the role of software users and interact with other systems.

In contrast to physical robots, robot-supported process automation uses purely software applications. For example, customer inquiries can be processed faster with the help of software robots, which increases customer satisfaction and saves costs. RPA goes so far as to automate the delivery of important documents, such as invoices.

Automated workflows

In contrast to RPA, workflow automation automates a whole series of tasks. For example, calendars can be filled automatically according to the availability of certain resources. Tasks can also be automatically distributed to suitable team members according to criteria such as due date or workload.

If employees do not have to create workflows manually, but the right work steps are available automatically, this reduces errors, the forgetting of individual tasks and the time required.

Business Process Management Software (BPMS)

Among other features needed to support BPA, business process management software (BPMS) offers the possibility of automating digital workflows and integrating them into systems. One aspect of how such a software solution works is BPM diagrams, which graphically represent all work steps in a standardized way. By designing automated processes based on these diagrams, workflows can be made more efficient.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

Both areas are closely linked. Machine learning (ML) can be described as the forerunner of artificial intelligence, which uses ML data to automate tasks and continuously optimize business processes. This is useful, for example, for recognizing patterns, making rule-based decisions or language processing. A frequently used example of ML and AI is DeepL (translation tool and writing assistant).

Chatbot technologies

Chatbots are text-based systems that use AI and natural language processing (NLP) to understand and answer customer queries. They have long been used in the support and service sector and are now widespread – both in the world of work and in the leisure sector. Modern chatbots use advanced AI technology and can therefore also understand the context and intentions of users.

Conclusion: Automated business processes – make the most of its benefits

Despite the many advantages and technological possibilities, companies still implement BPA too rarely. The aforementioned study shows that many companies – mainly due to a perceived lack of expertise – stick to manual processes. Despite this, some businesses have already invested in tools for automated business processes. To keep up with the competition, today’s companies need a good mix of suitable software solutions and appropriate (external) expertise that can support them in leveraging BPA.

While there are numerous process automation options available today, companies must recognize the value of BPA. A significant one is a stronger focus on value-added work: If people don’t have to invest a lot of time in repetitive work steps, they can concentrate more on crucial business aspects – such as strategic or innovative projects. Other important factors, such as increased efficiency and cost savings, are also vital to growing businesses.

Get in touch with us to find out more. We offer ready-to-use and tailor-made software solutions to support your business in optimizing processes and workflows throughout the enterprise.

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