woman pointing to a board in a meeting

What is business process automation?

And why it’s essential to business success today

Summary

Understand what business process automation is, and how it can make your business agile.

Time: 8 minute read
Businesses today must do more with less. 

Business process automation makes it possible to get more done by reducing manual tasks and menial work that must be done but take time. 

And businesses that implement process automation solutions cut costs, increase efficiency, empower employees, and improve their agility. 

Today, nothing could be more critical for success.

This article defines business process automation, why companies embrace it now more than ever before, and how you can implement it in your organization.


man reviewing data on a mobile tablet

What is business process automation?

Business process automation uses technology to perform traditionally manual work and recurring business tasks with minimal employee intervention. Databases, like a CRM, are a traditional form of process automation. They simplified the process of data handling. Today, business process automation encompasses a much more comprehensive range of advanced systems and platforms that enable:

  • Digital document workflows
  • Data capture
  • E-forms
  • Automated approval processes
  • Real-time collaboration

Practically speaking, any technology that...


  1. Accelerates how quickly work gets done, and 
  2. Streamlines a process into a single, seamless, simple, and user-friendly workflow... 

...qualifies as business process automation.
 

Benefits of business process automation

Business process automation makes it possible for you to:

  • Accelerate the speed that work gets done
  • Empower remote work by creating digital workflows
  • Focus on strategic, rather than menial, tasks

The benefits themselves go much further. Here are five to consider:


1 - Increased customer satisfaction.

Streamlined operations make it possible for your team to process requests faster. Information and data can be retrieved more quickly too. You will deliver a higher quality of service as your people focus more on servicing the customer than capturing and recording data and moving paper. 

In short, you can respond to customer and business needs faster, making you more agile and more competitive.


2 - Improved employee satisfaction.

Automation removes much of the frustration related to paper-based and manual workflows. It also increases employee productivity by eliminating repetitive, manual tasks. As employees get more done, there’s a greater sense of satisfaction that, in its own way, drives greater productivity and an even greater sense of satisfaction.
 
two men reviewing data

3 - Accelerated employee productivity.

Data, documents, and information move faster digitally than they ever could on paper. Employees only need to confirm the accuracy of the data on the screen. Then, click or swipe, and the document or information moves on to the next step in the process. 

Automated routing also simplifies sharing of a document along a workflow or filing it for storage. 

Plus, once captured and stored digitally, documents can be recovered right from the employee’s desk. There’s no more getting up to go to the file cabinet to retrieve paper files.

For example, Ricoh’s Smart Integration solution, paired with one of its MFPs, enables push-button workflows. Set the paper documents in the document feeder and select the designated workflow button. The document is scanned and moved into the location where an employee can easily start the next step, even if the employee is located in a different office or home office.

With advanced indexing technology like that in DocuWare, data can be captured automatically from predefined documents like AP/AR or purchase orders. This data can be applied to the document as searchable “tags” or index fields. Based on the information, such as “ABC, Inc.,” the document can be classified, sorted, and routed to the correct manager for approval. Rules and conditions can be established with alerts sent to appropriate individuals at each stage of the process to keep it moving.

And the information remains secured throughout the entire journey, protecting customer privacy and meeting compliance requirements.

 

group of employees working together

4 - Enhanced communication and collaboration.

Without paper, an approval process can start in Philadelphia with a document scanned. In Los Angeles, the first approver can review and accept, or send back for corrections. The document moves along for the next approval or resubmitted for approval before moving on to the next approver in Miami, Florida.  
 
Business process automation eliminates physical boundaries. It also enhances the way we communicate, helping us stay connected to the work and each other.
 
Another good example is healthcare. A digital fax technology like XM Fax can receive incoming documents and sort and distribute them based on the fax number. As documents arrive, its ability to integrate with Microsoft 365 makes it possible for the fax platform to email team members about the document’s arrival. Now an entire claims department can remotely work, just as if they were in the same office.
  

5 - Sustainability goals achieved.

Eliminating paper-based processes does more than reduce manual work, save time, and boost productivity. It also eliminates paper usage, supporting your sustainability goals.

In fact, today, you can eliminate paper right from the start with e-forms. Customers, employees, and job applicants can complete traditional paper forms on a tablet or online, creating an audit trail. And once completed, the form’s data is captured and stored in a centralized repository. If a workflow is needed, it can be immediately started.

Everyone gets more done, faster, and in an eco-friendly way.


4 features of business process automation

In our experience, every business has unique needs, yet many of the processes are very similar. Ideally, you would want a customized business process automation plan to address your specific situation. Regardless of what your plan looks like, you can expect:

Enhanced access and agility 

Today, most business process automation tools are cloud-based, meaning your information is stored in a centralized and secured location. This makes accessing your documents and data simpler, as you can get it anytime you need it, whether your team is in-office or working remotely.

Better insight 

As visibility increases, you'll be able to collect data and see where bottlenecks or gaps occur in your processes. You'll also gain insights to predict and prevent future obstacles.  

Improved transparency

Automated business process tools allow you to track and monitor projects in real-time, which increases visibility and accountability through each stage of the process.

Reporting and compliance 

A significant advantage of business process automation is that every action gets documented, which offers an audit trail for compliance regulations like HIPAA, GDPR, and Sarbanes-Oxley.
 
 

An example of business process automation in practice

Almost any process can be automated today. Let’s take a closer look at one popular process many businesses have automated: employee onboarding.

Your HR team recently interviewed the perfect candidate who has just accepted your offer. Now information collection begins. 
 

Conventional process for onboarding a new employee 

Conventional processes often have multiple and often repetitive steps. Forms need to be filled out. Onboarding sessions need to be arranged. Passwords must be assigned, bank accounts set up for payroll, and personal information collected. 

A traditional, paper-based process like this introduces potential challenges like:

  • Data entry errors
  • Conflicting document copies
  • Poor visibility of task statuses
  • Tracking down endless paper documents
  • Securing sensitive personal information

Automated process for onboarding a new employee

Workflow automation allows you to streamline tasks. This makes it possible for work to quickly shift between each stage of the process, with key employees having visibility and awareness. A new hire can sit down at their laptop, open a link, and complete the form guided by the predefined workflow.  

With these pre-built workflows, you can:

  • Automatically route information to necessary stakeholders
  • Pre-schedule follow-ups and reminders
  • Automate document management, storage, and archiving
  • Keep information accessible to only authorized users 
  • Reduce process and approval time

As documents move at the pace of a click, forms get filed, and approvals are validated faster. It’s simply a faster and more secured way to get new employees onboarded and working.

 
man reviewing tablet data

What processes can you automate?

Some tasks are well-suited for business process automation. The most common types of processes that are ideal for automation are: 

  • AP/AR. Automate invoice approvals, 3-way matching, and other AP processes as you monitor and verify purchases. Quickly provide PODs to accelerate Accounts Receivable with full process reporting for stress-free audits.
  • HR Onboarding. The interview and onboarding process can be streamlined. Paperwork can be routed, information stored in a secured, compliant location, and employee self-service actions enabled like viewing pay stubs, completing forms, and more.
  • Purchase Order Requisitions. Keep process documents, material lists, and other notes clearly documented to retain records and ensure purchase orders stay on budget and on schedule.
  • Payroll. Payroll is naturally repetitive, making process automation ideal for minimizing time spent working through multi-site communications, exporting data, and waiting for updates and approval.

The business challenge of process automation

Technology drives process automation. This means a business must find the right partner. 

You want to find the ones with the right tools, support, and which your employees will embrace the quickest. Change can present real challenges, so it’s essential to involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process. 

3 most common change management problems

Organizational change isn't always easy. Here are 3 common problems that can arise and how to prevent them.

How to find a proven partner to help with process automation 

Here are some suggestions as to what to look for in a partner: 

  • The provider you partner with can provide expert advice and consulting throughout the implementation process and beyond, helping you make the most of your investment. 
  • To ensure you’re working with the latest tools and technologies, be sure your provider is continuously improving their applications and offerings.
  • You’ll want a partner with access to an extensive library of dynamic applications to meet your business’ needs and align with your business process goals.

You should also look for a partner with a track record of success. If you are a small business, does the prospective partner have a history of working with SMBs to match their service offering? Enterprises should ask the same.

Ultimately, you want to partner with a trustworthy provider with proven expertise in the business process automation technology you seek to implement. 

Want to learn how business process automation might benefit your business?


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