Whether you’re a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, a not-for-profit operating on a shoestring budget, or a global tech-giant like Microsoft and Google, doing more with less is a fundamental principle of good business. Reducing costs whilst maintaining or improving operational output not only makes efficient use of resources, but also sets you on a clear path to increasing revenue.

With continuous advancement in the capability and affordability of artificial intelligence (AI), more and more businesses are embracing process automation. Business process automation can help to reduce or eliminate costly, time-consuming manual forms, tasks and approvals, and allows you to complete repeatable tasks efficiently at scale.

Keep reading to find out more about the importance of automation for businesses in today’s competitive landscape.

What is business process automation?

Business process automation (BPA) focuses on using technology to automate traditional manual processes and workflows. Automation can be applied to any process that:

  • Is repetitive in nature
  • Needs to be performed consistently
  • Doesn’t require subjective human intervention or judgement (but even then, we can automate part of the process)

Typically, the goal of automation is to reduce costs and improve productivity by leveraging technology to do all the running around for your staff. It frees staff to focus on more crreative, higher value tasks.

What types of business processes can be automated?

Process automation can be applied to a wide range of business processes including timesheet approvals, leave requests, helpdesk support, sales order processing, invoicing and payroll, procurement, and customer support. Common examples include:

  • Setting up an onboarding workflow to automatically send key documents to a new employee upon creating their profile. This replaces relying on the HR manager to manually collate and email documents.
  • Creating online forms for the submission of invoices to accounts payable with automatic document routing to the relevant approver. This replaces having invoices mailed or emailed and manually distributed through the accounts payable team.

5 advantages of automation in business

  1. Shorter turnaround times: Many processes are slowed down by the time it takes for an individual to review information, supply a document, or forward something to a decision maker. With automated workflows, there is no need to rely on an individual to take action which means processes can be completed faster.
  2. Reduced risk of error: Automated processes are far less susceptible to error than manual processing. For example, automated workflows have predefined rules and activities that ensure the same actions are repeated every time. Similarly, forms built into an automated process can be designed to check for incomplete or inaccurate data.
  3. Efficient workflow: Automated processes are particularly beneficial for processes that involve multiple people. Rather than relying on one individual to notify another when action is needed, automation can ensure that the necessary people are notified and have the information they need to complete a process.
  4. Notifications and reminders: With automated processes, it’s easier to stay on top of the status of key activities. Automated reminders and escalations can be provided when there is a delay in the process (e.g. an invoice awaiting approval after a certain number of days), unlike manual processes which require an individual to manually track status.
  5. Less reliance on paper: Automated processes reduce the reliance on paper. Rather than receiving hard copies, printing copies, or spending time filing attachments, all necessary information relating to a business process can be captured electronically within a system, form, or workflow tool.

Process automation is intuitively appealing to simplify and streamline processes that are manually intensive or have a high reliance on paper-based processes. It can be used effectively for both simple and complex processes as well as for low and high-risk activities.

Choosing the right platform for automation

There are plenty of workflow management and online form tools out there that businesses can use to get started on their process automation journeys. When choosing the right tool or platform, it’s important to understand the capability you’re signing up for and the potential benefits and trade-offs associated with different products.

Emerging capabilities

In recent years, significant leaps have been made in the sophistication of process automation. For example, robotic process automation (RPA) is emerging as the next big thing in automation. RPA is already increasing the range and scope of processes that can be automated by using software robots to mimic human actions.

For example, we recently partnered with Nintex to deliver an automated workflow system at the State Library of New South Wales that will preserve and make over 12 million digital assets accessible, leveraging the power of RPA.

When choosing an automation tool, consider industry leaders that are at the forefront of innovation and who have the proven capability to help you remove repetitive and mundane tasks.

Legacy solutions

Many of today’s popular process automation solutions such as SharePoint on-premise workflows have now become legacy, which means their capabilities can be expected to remain static and potentially unsupported in the future.

As part of making good longer-term investment decisions, organisations should consider modern automation tools that take a cloud-first approach such as Nintex Workflow Cloud or Microsoft Power Platform (which includes both Power Apps and Power Automate)

Reporting and analytics

A key selling point that is often underappreciated with process automation is the reporting and analytics that can be leveraged from data collection throughout the process.

Reporting on process times at each stage, individuals involved in the process and process outcomes can help businesses to identify what works well and where there are points of failure. This provides an important evidence base for business improvements.

Where to from here?

While business process automation might sound intimidating, working with a trusted partner can help to ease the transition. Antares is an industry leader in helping businesses of all sizes to take advantage of artificial intelligence. To find out how you can get started with business process automation, contact us today.

Read more: Why data-driven process automation is essential for digital transformation