Business automation tools help companies and their customers by automating repetitive, day-to-day tasks. They free up employees to focus on more strategic projects and provide an auditable trail of data that teams can use to make more informed decisions and apply consistent controls.

Companies of all sizes can apply business automation to myriad tasks, projects and processes. The key benefits usually include time and cost savings, elimination of errors and setting up controls to ensure that policies are followed.

How Do Business Automation Tools Work?

Business automation tools use technology to take the manual labor out of day-to-day business processes. From human resources to sales to accounting, nearly every corner of a business’s operations can benefit from business automation.

Using business automation, companies can both eliminate the need for manual labor while improving and simplifying the individual steps that make up different processes. For example, by automating the preliminary job candidate selection process, companies can save significant manhours that would have otherwise been spent giving all received applications an initial review.

Much more than just replacing paper and PDFs with digitized data, business automation factors in the key steps in a company’s workflow and then makes these processes cheaper, faster and less error-prone. By bringing these processes onto one or more technology platforms, companies also get better reporting capabilities and the ability to analyze data over time, then use it for more informed decision-making.

Types of Business Automation

By making certain business processes “automatic,” business automation eliminates repetitive tasks, reduces hours wasted on redundant tasks, and helps improve overall productivity. For these and other reasons, a growing number of organizations are infusing more and more business automation into their operations.

Here are four types of business automation, how they work and when they should be used.

Marketing Automation

Marketing is an important business activity that can be both laborious and costly, making it ripe for simplification through automation.

Through marketing automation tools (which usually take the form of software), companies can generate highly qualified leads that are ready for sales engagement. These tools also provide a framework for teams to target, build, execute and measure the success of marketing campaigns—taking the complexity out of lead qualification and conversion.

Some marketing automation software can automate email marketing processes, allowing companies to better align these campaigns with the efforts of their sales teams. Companies can also use marketing automation tools to track and measure a prospect’s activity, identify when a lead meets known buyer-readiness conditions and deliver leads to sales as soon as they meet predefined criteria.

Marketing automation is useful for companies of all sizes. For example, a smaller company may use the software to develop, generate and send out monthly emails to convey relevant content or offers to a client distribution list. This process can significantly reduce the number of hours spent on customer “touches” over the course of a year.

A larger firm, meanwhile, may want to take advantage of extended marketing automation features, like the dynamic segmenting of an extensive customer database, the targeting of customers with automated messages via social media and text, or custom-built workflows that align with the company’s specific marketing processes.

By automating online marketing and lead generation campaigns, companies can reduce the cost of developing and running these campaigns. This, in turn, helps to create a higher measurable return on investment (ROI) for each of those campaigns.

Accounting and Bookkeeping Automation

By automating their accounting and bookkeeping functions, companies can save considerable time on accounts receivable (AR), accounts payable (AP), billing, collections, credit card applications, data backup and other financial processes that have to be managed on a daily or weekly basis.

They can also apply automation to core processes like closing the books, general ledger (GL) management and bank account management. By removing manual elements from the accounting team’s work—and handling the number-crunching and transactional work—automation makes a complex process more manageable.

Take accounts payable management, for example. About 55% of companies still handle their AP processes manually. Using an automated system for this specific area of business finance management saves money and time: Data capture is automated, invoices are automatically matched to documents, and approvals are electronically routed. 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. AP automation software reduces manual tasks and frees up cash flow. Teams can submit invoices, manage approvals and process payments through a single platform with swift approvals and better visibility and control over important financial processes and data.

For companies of all sizes, accounting is a time-consuming process that includes many manual steps. By automating some or all of those steps, companies can free up time for important tasks like analysis, strategy and collaboration among team members.

Process Automation

Business process automation (BPA) goes beyond basic automation and incorporates integration of applications to help companies improve value and efficiency. A subset of BPA, robotic process automation (RPA) focuses on automating routine tasks, while BPA helps companies get more out of their automation investments. BPA does this by aggregating data across multiple sources to develop analysis that would be difficult to attain manually.

Companies are using BPA for functions like:

  • Automated order entry
  • Email automation
  • Automated batch processing
  • Automated file transfers
  • Automated report generation and distribution

From hiring to email management to accounting, nearly every corner of a business’s operations would benefit from BPA, which not only replaces manual labor but also simplifies and improves the workflow steps that make up the process. When a business process is automated, entire steps in the existing workflow—emails chains and document transfers, for example—are eliminated.

HR Automation

Hiring new employees is a multi-step process that starts with an online job ad or recruitment effort and ends when the employee is officially onboarded. Many steps in this process can be automated.

A human resources management system (HRMS) is a valuable tool in doing so. As part of a broader set of functionalities, these systems automate the candidate management process. This relates specifically to automated employment offers sent directly to candidates, which helps share roles to fill to both the outside world and current employees who may wish to apply for internal jobs or make referrals.

An HRMS is valuable to companies for which the candidate experience is a primary concern—from applying to resume management to interview scheduling to making offers, all the way through onboarding. Using this automation, HR teams can process job applications, handle payroll, manage current and past employee data, improve the user provisioning process and administer benefits.

Because HRMS automates all facets of human resources management, including onboarding and payroll, it provides complete analytics across these processes. It also automates core HR processes like managing employee time off, benefits, and other fundamentals. Using analytics, these systems also provide critical insights into a company’s workforce productivity and efficiency.

Other HR tasks that software can manage include:

  • Employee record retention and retrieval.
  • Reviews of job applications submitted online.
  • Distribution and signing of work contracts, confidentiality agreements, waivers and other new-employee documentation.
  • Employee tax form management.
  • Benefits enrollment eligibility.
  • Training requirements (e.g., when an employee moves into a new position).

Charged with evaluating employees’ work, HR departments can use the system’s data to track all tasks of each employee and generate ready-to-use reports for managers and leaders. If, for example, employee turnover in the warehouse has become a serious issue over the last 90 days, the company can use an HR tool to pinpoint the specific problem and make better hiring decisions.

What Business Process Automation Tools Should I Use?

Which tools you use to automate your business will depend on the specific processes that most need it. By mapping out your needs in advance, and by identifying the key areas of your business that are ripe for automation, you’ll be able to pick the best solution for the specific problem.

For instance, if your accounting team is spending entirely too much time matching invoices to purchase orders and sending those invoices through the internal approval process, then an AP automation tool will help you vastly improve these processes. Or, if your marketing team dedicates much of its time to developing and sending relevant content to customers, then a marketing automation platform is in order.

When looking for areas to automate, find the ones in which your employees are:

  • Managing a high volume of repetitive tasks on a regular basis.
  • Working in large groups to get small tasks completed.
  • Missing deadlines due to lengthy, manual processes.
  • Trying their best, but still negatively impacting other business processes (e.g., sales campaigns that can’t be kicked off because marketing is taking too long to develop and send introductory emails).
  • In need of better compliance, audit and other paper trails.

As you explore the various automation tools on the market, look for solutions that will help cut costs and drive efficiency—the two primary goals of any automated solution. Whether you are deploying a sales and marketing tool, an automated accounting platform or an HR management solution, either find one that is tightly integrated with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or find an ERP system with a comprehensive platform that includes multiple automation tools.

When automated software and ERP are integrated, companies can eliminate data irregularity, minimize the time spent moving information across these systems and gain access to more accurate, real-time information. This gives them a holistic view of their operations and allows them to take full advantage of their automated systems’ capabilities.

Automate your business with NetSuite

NetSuite supports all of the business automation described in this article and helps companies save time, money and manpower by handling myriad day-to-day tasks. From marketing automation to HR management to BPA, its full range of products is designed to take the pain out of managing day-to-day processes.