To ensure employees don’t skip steps in workflows, overlook details, repeat tasks unnecessarily or abandon tasks before completion, businesses establish standardized processes. These business processes ensure compliance and conformity in how a company operates. Business processes therefore need to remain consistent over repetitive executions. This is where business process automation (BPA) software comes in.

Most companies use BPA today to manage things like projects, portfolios, knowledge assets, self-service portals, workflows and dataflows. The industries that most heavily use BPA are banking, health care, telecommunications, and trading and manufacturing.

What Is Business Process Automation (BPA)?

BPA refers to codifying and programmatically incorporating a connected set of software applications to automate processes and workflows across a business’s departments to occur without manual, human intervention. More than focusing on individual tasks, BPA focuses on overall processes.

Although some business processes like form filling and recordkeeping are automated, BPA is about more advanced functions involved in running a business, like processing payroll or keeping track of inventory, for example.

How does business process automation work?

Business process automation uses software to automate repetitive tasks that require manual efforts. There are various methods for automating tasks, and users will interact with each method differently.

Overall, BPA can be defined as software performing the same task repeatedly and in exactly the same way until its use is modified or deleted.

What business processes can be automated?

There are two categories of business functions: core and support. Core functions are the activities that lead to income for the business. These are the primary reason the business exists—and hopefully prospers. Support functions are secondary activities that support the core functions.

Businesses use BPA to automate numerous steps in both core and support functions to increase efficiencies and reduce costs.

Support functions are the activities that firms are most likely to outsource, insource or near-source. Thus, BPA can cut or eliminate these outsourcing costs. Many companies use BPA for support functions so they can channel employees’ efforts solely toward activities that produce revenue. Examples of BPA functions include automated support in:

  1. Distribution/logistics – Examples include automated shipment routing, labeling, and tracking.
  2. Marketing and sales – Examples include automated marketing emails, sales proposals, sales tracking and reports.
  3. IT and technical services – Examples include automated maintenance and status reports, problem ticketing and resolutions, and automated self-service reports.
  4. Administrative dutiess – Examples include automated HR functions such as employee benefits enrollment and distribution tracking, and automated payroll from time tracking to tax withholding calculations to payment processing.

Robotic process automation (RPA), which is a type of BPA that relies on configurable software “robots” to perform repetitive tasks, costs one-third of the amount of an offshore employee and one-fifth that of an onshore employee. RPA is a subset of BPA that focuses more on sets of time-consuming human tasks, while BPA is designed to overhaul the entire process comprised of those tasks.

Professionals within the finance industry routinely deploy BPA to drive greater efficiency, compliance and productivity. An estimated 80% of finance leaders are currently using or planning to use RPA, with accounts payable and contract management among the top applications, per Gartner.

Customer service organizations are also big users of BPA and RPA. According to market research firm Forrester, the customer service industry commonly uses both as “tactical and short-term approaches to digitize common agent tasks.” Common agent tasks include retrieving customer data and customer conversation logs across channels as well as purchased product information, recommended problem resolutions for that product and escalation scripting (moving an irate customer up the chain for management to deal with).

Human resources departments typically use business process automation to simplify and speed onboarding and employee-facing self-service tools such as employee benefits options, information, training and registrations.

Why Is Automation Important?

BPA improves compliance so businesses don’t run afoul of regulations and incur large penalties and fees—it also applies controls to a business to mitigate fraud and theft within a company. It can also speed up processes so that work is completed faster and with less repetition. Think, for example, of a software that tracks various managers’ approval of a purchase order, vs. an employee asking her managers for signoff one by one.

BPA also standardizes business processes, which can help eliminate biases and prejudice that employees may bring to a given task (e.g., an HR employee choosing which candidates to interview vs. an automated system making the choice based on pre-set requirements). It substantially reduces errors (e.g., that HR employee forgetting to email an interview invite) and increases efficiencies. Further, BPA relieves workers of monotonous tasks (like parsing through candidates’ online job applications), improving both the employee and customer experiences.

Ultimately, automation makes a business more competitive and thus more likely to be profitable.

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10 Benefits of Business Process Automation (BPA)

Nearly all business processes can be automated to some degree today. Most can be heavily automated. Research firm Gartner indicates that 89% of general accounting operations and 72% of financial controlling and external reporting can be automated.

Business process automation tools make automating tasks simpler. They often include templates your team can follow to automate processes common in and between industries, with benefits such as:

  1. Operational efficiencies – BPA can create efficiencies by reducing the work involved in processes and/or cutting payroll costs by limiting the need for additional headcount as operations grow.
  2. Productivity – Speed up processes so that work is completed faster and with less repetition.
  3. Morale – Relieves monotony for workers and improves employee experience, as well as customer experience, which in turn further improves the employee experience. According to a CIO report, “When employees spend more time on the interesting and rewarding aspects of their jobs, productivity and satisfaction rises and—by extension—so does employee retention.”
  4. Governance and controls – Improves compliance so businesses don’t run afoul of regulations and incur large penalties and fees.
  5. Cost reduction – Efficient use of time gives companies the option to increase output without expanding the workforce, or to cut payroll costs and maintain the same level of output.
  6. Workforce allocation – Employees can be reassigned to work that is better matched with their talents. Employee are more satisfied with their work, and employers gain the most benefit from each individual’s talent.
  7. Reduction of human errors – Substantially reduces human data input and insight errors and increases efficiencies since employees’ time is no longer wasted on repetitive, low-level work.
  8. Collaboration – Tracks project process, updates the team, sends reminders and performs other functions that makes collaboration easier and more organized. Further, BPA relieves employee frustrations and frees up time for them to collaborate, which tends to speed work, increase problem solving and spur innovations.
  9. Improved insights – Increases leadership’s ability to track the completion of a business process, as well as understand the steps in the process. This makes it easier to refine processes for faster and better business outcomes. BPA also allows leaders to dig deeper for more insights and to analyze more and newer data. Further, it standardizes business processes, which helps ensure fairness and weed out biases that can skew insights.
  10. Greater availability – Allows employee- and/or customer-facing services to be available more often than if they were also responsible for other, manual tasks.

There are clearly a large number of business processes that can be automated today, heavily in many cases, to ensure compliance and mitigate mistakes consistently.