Business automation can increase efficiency across an organization by eliminating a significant amount of repetitive workplace tasks and reducing hours wasted on redundant tasks and helping improve overall productivity. Those key benefits and others have led a growing number of organizations to infuse more and more business automation into their operations.
What Is Business Automation?
Business automation uses technology to take the manual labor out of day-to-day business processes. From hiring to email management to accounting, nearly every corner of a business’ operations can benefit from some level of business automation.
With business automation, companies can simplify and optimize workflows. Put simply, the ultimately goal is less to replace human labor and more to augment with technology in a way that helps improve the entire, end-to-end process.
Much more than just replacing paper and PDFs with dynamic digital data, business automation factors in the key steps in a company’s workflows and then attempts to make these processes cheaper, faster and less error-prone. By integrating these processes onto technology platforms, companies also benefit from better reporting capabilities and the ability to analyze data over time. That information then informs key decisions and helps the business grow.
Why Does Your Business Need to Automate Processes
Automating business processes saves time and money, but the rewards of investing in automated systems don’t end there. These systems also help reduce the amount of manpower that it takes to complete key tasks and allows workers to focus on more important projects. For instance, when you can automate your accounts payable processes or customer service chat rooms online, your paid labor can center its efforts on more critical, business-building tasks.
Automation also helps reduce costly errors and the time it takes to correct them. Most document processing and data entry mistakes are a result of human error.
Business automation can also introduce new levels of standardization into daily workflows by walking employees through detailed steps and tracking all relevant documentation. All of these improvements can help companies reduce both operating costs and overhead.
13 Top Business Automation Ideas
While automation has the potential to generate improvements across many aspects of your business, there are a few areas where it can be particularly impactful. Here are 13 areas of your business ripe for automation, and some advice on how to implement these ideas:
Hiring new employees is a multi-stage process that starts with a job posting or recruitment of specific candidates, and ends when the employee is fully onboarded. Many steps along the way can be automated, making the overall hiring process simpler and less time-intensive.
A human resources management system (HRMS) is a valuable tool in automating the hiring process. As part of a broader set of functionalities, these systems automate the candidate management process. They can reduce the work that comes with making offers to candidates and setting them up with all the equipment and access to systems they need for the role.
An HRMS can enhance the overall candidate experience. That, in turn, improves the reputation of your company and helps you attract better candidates.
HR departments charged with evaluating employees’ work can use data to track all the tasks of each employee and generate ready-to-use reports for managers and leaders. If, for example, employee turnover in the warehouse has become unusually high over the last 90 days, the company can use HR tools to pinpoint the specific problem and make better hiring decisions going forward.
The days of moving files between different filing cabinets and walking them over to various departments are long gone. Today’s organizations rely on digital file transfers, but not all of those transfer mechanisms live up to expectations. Using a platform like Google Docs or a service like Dropbox, for example, comes with its own set of challenges.
Using business automation, companies can efficiently store and share files either within their four walls, or with customers, business partners and other stakeholders. Automated File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) software solutions move the files to servers. Users can then schedule an FTP/SFTP download or upload of one or more files without having to ask a colleague for help
Report Generation and Distribution
If spreadsheets and reports are the foundation of your daily operations, then automating report generation and distribution will save your company time, money and hassle. Business can use software to automatically distribute this information on a daily or weekly basis, and recipients can use it to review historical data, forecast future performance, and make optimal decisions.
The software allows automated reports to be generated at specific times (i.e., at the end of every week or quarter). The system can also trigger report generation by events like a manufacturing backlog or a product shortage in the distribution center.
Equipped with the reports they need to be able to do their jobs—and in a way that requires little or no work—employees are empowered to make decisions that benefit their departments and the company as a whole. This lets managers and supervisors spend more time on core tasks.
Most employees spend hours of their day receiving, sifting through, and replying to emails, many of which are irrelevant to their core responsibilities.
For many companies, the answer to the question, “How much more could your employees accomplish if they were twice as productive?” can be found with email automation. Rather than manually handling every message as it hits their inboxes, employees are using automation to organize their stacks of daily emails, sending automated responses to some and directing everything else to specific folders for further attention. By automating employees’ inboxes, companies help their workforce see and respond to relevant messages quickly and efficiently.
Processing claims of any kind is a long (e.g., returns, repairs, etc.) and arduous process that often creates a lot of frustration for everyone involved. When some or all of the steps involved can be automated, it takes the pressure off the claimant and the organization and allows them to focus on the most important aspects of the process.
Using technology like robotic process automation (RPA), organizations can speed up the claims process. For example, a claims adjuster is able to automatically extract and transmit data, versus having to look for it online, call someone about it, or request it via email.
By developing an automated workflow for this and other steps, companies can cut significant time, money and hassle out of their claims processes.
Accounting is a time-consuming process that includes a lot of manual steps. By automating some or all of the steps involved, companies can save time, reduce errors and free up employees’ valuable time to focus on other tasks.
Take accounts payable (AP), for example. PayStream Advisors indicate that for the 55% of companies still handling their accounts payable (AP) processes manually, using an automated system for the processing and payment of invoices saves time and money. It also reduces data errors and helps prevent fraud through a system of “touchless” controls that happen behind the scenes.
Combined, these functionalities translate into important benefits for companies that adopt accounts payable automation software. This software helps companies reduce the amount of manual labor that it takes to process invoices, manage approvals, and process payments. By using a software solution for these and other tasks, companies can effectively simplify these processes and their associated workflows.
Managing calendars, setting up meetings and organizing the details of these events are all activities that have traditionally been handled manually. But a number of different automation platforms can help take the pain out of internal and customer meetings.
By automating meetings, companies can not only manage the event itself, but also the pre- and post-meeting logistics.
An alternative to traditional calendar tools, meeting automation platforms (MAPs) can be used to support the meeting itself, improve communication before, during, and after the meeting, and scale up or down according to the company’s individual needs.
Tasked with everything from managing building security access to replacing leaky windows to repairing heating and cooling systems, facility managers often have to use highly manual processes (i.e., phone calls, emails, etc.) to manage those tasks.
These approaches are inconsistent and decentralized and would benefit greatly from automation that allows teams to react quickly, provide the right level of service and maintain audit trails. In most cases, the software works with an automated response mechanism, whereby an action (e.g., a piece of machinery that’s low on oil, a window left open in the winter, or a dangerous slip-and-fall incident on the factory floor) triggers a response.
Once alerted to the issue, the system either manages the problem automatically or triggers an alert to the facility manager—and all with minimal human intervention. This not only takes the guesswork out of facility management, but helps create a safer work environment for all team members. It also helps companies save money. eMaint facilities management software says its automated services have helped companies save up to $100,000 in annual operating expenses while also improving productivity by 20%.
Keeping team members, customers and business partners up to date on important information is critical, but emailing, texting or calling everyone to share information is both time-consuming and inefficient.
Automation can help. By setting up repeat meeting reminders, for example, sales teams can receive alerts for upcoming events without anyone having to send those reminders. The invites pop up on their calendars, they accept or decline them, and the meeting leader has his or her attendee roster for the upcoming event.
Similar automation techniques can be used when working with customers or prospects, who should receive regular check-ins and follow-ups during the course of a month or a quarter. Using automated drip email campaigns, for instance, companies can stay in close contact with their client bases without the need to write and send individual messages.
Companies use batch processing to automate the management of either grouped or batched transactions. Rather than managing these transactions individually, the software “batches” multiple transactions and handles them all at once.
Batch processing requires little or no human intervention and works especially well for “end of cycle” transactions, such as processing end-of-month or end-of-quarter reports or weekly/biweekly payrolls.
Integration with an ERP system allows automated systems to get information from—or feed information into—the ERP. When all these systems work from the same dataset, companies get a single, unified source of all business data, which can guide major business decisions.
The shared data that comes from ERP integration helps companies eliminate data inconsistencies, eradicate time spent moving information between systems and gain access to accurate, real-time information. Companies then have a holistic view of their operations and can take full advantage of their automated systems’ capabilities.
Marketing is yet another critical business task that can simplified and optimized with automation. Marketing automation software, for example, can organize leads and automate email blasts. It helps companies better align campaigns and programs with the efforts of their sales teams, as well.
With marketing automation software, companies can track, monitor and nurture highly qualified leads that are ready for sales representatives to reach out to and work with. This reduces the complexity of the lead conversion process and enables a faster sales closing process.
When companies use marketing software, they also gain access to tracking and measurement tools that reveal how they’re doing over time (i.e., at converting leads into sales) and allow them to make adjustments that ultimately lead to higher revenues.
With this type of business automation, companies can simplify and optimize workflows by reducing the human labor required with technology improve the process. Business automation factors in the key steps in a company’s workflows and makes these processes cheaper, faster and less error-prone.