Guide to Automating Your Business
Automating Your Business Can Improve Workflow and Processes
The day starts out per usual. You’ve hung up your coat, sat at your desk, answered a few emails, maybe went for that second cup of coffee. You’ve exchanged pleasantries with your team and are making last-minute edits to this afternoon’s finance slide deck, adding some of your own meeting updates.
Out the corner of your eye, you catch some numbers that don’t quite look right. They’re regarding invoice payments — and a handful appear duplicate.
You reach out for help. Only multiple employees process invoices and several managers approve them. Some prefer electronic approvals and checkpoints, while others like good old-fashioned printed paper. You’re not even sure if you have access to the invoice receipt spreadsheet to check it yourself.
Around lunch, you receive notifications for a company training module that needs completion. Nothing exhaustive, just a few updates on department procedures and compliance regulations. Upon logging in, though, you realize you’ve already completed this training — only human resources has no record of it.
Near the end of the day — and after another cup of coffee — your manager needs your help hunting down a paper trail of original vendor shipment invoices. You quickly discover they aren’t saved in a central repository as you thought but instead sprinkled throughout multiple folders saved in disparate locations. It’ll take you a few hours — and a few more emails — to dig your way out and find what you’re looking for.
Just business as usual, right?
Business Process Automation: Your Solution to Smoother, Streamlined, More Successful Operations
How many hours have you spent like this? How much time and energy have you used searching, organizing, correcting and double-checking even the most basic business documents? Energy not meant for these tedious tasks or frustrating process glitches, but for higher-level operations and strategic direction — the things that put the pulse in your business.
This is where automation steps in.
We know what automation is not. Automated business systems are not computers taking over the workplace, eliminating the need for human talent and presence. It’s not complicated and expensive technology disrupting operations as you know them. And it’s certainly not a way for businesses to cut corners or skirt protocol.
Instead, business process automation systems are sets of tools that free your organization to do what it’s meant to do. It simplifies many of the routine tasks and procedures your company already performs — making them quicker and more efficient, ultimately liberating your employees from the mundane to the meaningful.
How to Automate Your Business Processes
This guide will outline a step-by-step system to bring successful business process automation to your company. It covers automation across key industries, plus answers the fundamental questions you may have on what it takes to automate your business — from necessary automation infrastructure and equipment to implementation and performance tracking.
You’ll learn business process automation insights on:
- Where to begin automating your business
- The three Rs strategy — redefine, reshape and revitalize the workplace
- Industry-specific automation product tools to consider
- Departments and domains where these automation tools best excel
- How to persuade people to embrace automation across all org levels
- Ways to test automation metrics and report performance
Because business as usual shouldn’t mean business that’s stagnant.
Chapter 1: What Is Business Process Automation, and Why Should I Use It?
The Definition of Business Process Automation
Contemporary business process automation asks three questions:
- What are the routine, daily operations we perform that allow us to provide the goods and services we do — but are not necessarily the goods and services themselves?
- How are these operations completed, and by whom?
- Are there new ways we can simplify, speed up or straighten out said operations to better align with our broader business goals?
It’s these core questions that frame the meaning of an automated business. They allow employees and managers alike to step back and survey the way tasks are accomplished with fresh eyes and curious minds, not so hung up on just “getting things done” but on making their professional lives truly easier.
Note, though, that business process automation is about more than convenience. Its purpose ultimately prioritizes people — freeing personnel from the mundane so they can perform the meaningful. Automation without a person-centered approach is ultimately shapeless, yielding empty business results.
By using the “Three Rs” approach, you can begin to define strong points of automation for your business, marrying the technological with the human to streamline everyday business operations.
1. Redefines Roles
When you learn how to automate business processes, you’re really learning how to unlock human capital. People are no longer tied up in monotonous, routine or low-skilled tasks — which they aren’t meant to do anyway.
As a manager, supervisor, administrator or executive leader, you likely already know this. You want talent unearthed and strategic energy prioritized. The best-automated business processes allow these shifts to happen by redefining how you look at the everyday tickings of your organization. Automation lets you first:
- Identify unnecessary or overlooked process checkpoints
- Analyze redundant roles and related activities
- Simplify superfluous red-tape or bureaucratic bottlenecks
2. Reshapes Infrastructure
Process automation then sharpens the way you use and manage in-house technology, allowing those redefined roles to function the way they’re meant to.
In other words, after you’ve outlined specific places and points where more efficient activities can occur, you then outfit those points with problem-solving technology. A department equipped with the right tools — both digital and physical — is a department where roles are more comfortable, intuitive and less repetitive.
This is perhaps the most tangible aspect of automating strategic business processes. From your actual computer hardware to its core applications, programs and software to the way you manage your network and its subsequent data, use technology as the key that unlocks personnel potential — not replaces it.
3. Revitalizes Operations
Finally, a well-tuned automated business process that harmonizes the right roles with the right technology will ultimately save you time and money.
That’s because you’ve created a new standard operating procedure, one that’s fluff-free, linear, lean and organized. These standard operating procedures are understood by your employees and complemented by the right tools. They become the operational backbone for your business and the reason projects and tasks get done, from inputting new client data and recording vendor invoices to managing a customer’s service complaints and dispatching rush orders efficiently. These sorts of operations may not be the life of the company party, sure, but they sure keep the party going.
While revitalized operations are critical for your bottom line, it also means you can align these updates with real business metrics and short and long-term goals. Businesses can spend many years (and many dollars) trying to sync the daily with the directional better. When all parts of your business work together for a broader strategic purpose, not a series of broken tasks or isolated responsibilities, real growth can begin.
Remember the Three Rs — redefine, reshape and revitalize — and you’ll have a blueprint to start implementing successful enterprise processes today.
The Benefits of Automated Business Systems
Here are just some of the benefits to embrace when implementing automated, streamlined business processes throughout your organization:
1. Better Quality Control
Standard operating procedures don’t just ensure all employees know what they’re doing and when to do it. When paired with a well-defined team, straightforward action steps and process-enhancing technology, standard operating procedures provide the necessary formula for cohesive quality control across your products and services.
Identical processes and procedures ensure greater consistency. This is a brand enhancer to turn clients into evangelists and keep all your operations airtight.
2. Improved Efficiency
From more successful project management workflows to decreasing product order lead times to finally creating a central invoice management repository, you can address all the efficiency pain points in your industry with business process automation.
3. Reduced Operating Costs
Automatic data-inputting software is repeatedly shown to be superior to manual single-key and double-key data entry regarding speed, accuracy and a reduced number of errors. Automated inventory management systems and point-of-sales trackers better structure your vendor shipments and forecast reorders. Digital automated form systems take inputted client information and safely funnel it your private network without a coworker playing middleman. All these examples illustrate the way automation manages your cash flows to reduce operating costs and support a streamlined tomorrow.
4. Enhanced Compliance Documentation and Oversight
With digital systems taking care of many repetitive tasks, you’ll quickly discover there’s less chance for costly human errors to strike. This also means reduced risk for noncompliance or data mismanagement — particularly pressing concerns for those in the healthcare, finance, food and beverages and pharmaceuticals industries, which are the most heavily regulated.
5. Drive Data-Driven Strategic Decisions
Automated tech-backed systems generate metric-based, quantitative insights on everything from billing and sales cycles to new employee onboarding operations. You can tailor operational changes and organizational processes with actionable, data-backed solutions — the key to selling these changes to your seniors.
Framing Automation: How to Pitch Automation to Employees, Managers and C-Suite Stakeholders
Business workflow automation is a universal need. To stay competitive and cost-effective, you need your employees and your technology working in tandem for easier, simpler day-to-day functionality.
Yet how do you ensure your direct managers or C-level stakeholders buy into business automation? Not only to save money but also to merge the strategic with the streamlined solutions every employee stands to benefit from? We’ve got a few suggestions.
1. Stick With the Data
Nearly 71 percent of American workers report being “actively disengaged” with their jobs. The culprit? Repetitive tasks — the very thing automation aims to take off their plates.
Sit down with your team and gather information on what they find redundant, inefficient or downright frustrating across each of their daily responsibilities. No suggestion is off limits — even the way you use email can be a process improvement. Use these insights to generate a numbers-backed data report on the excesses and inefficiencies currently at odds with higher organization goals. C-level executives and managers themselves operate at this wavelength. Give them data that speaks to it.
2. Stress What It Can Do, Not What It Will Change
Depending on your industry, automation stands to reduce data management costs, labor costs, lead and turnover times, communication backlogs, workflow chokepoints, points of error and more. These are further selling points to any member of your organization. Focus on the results automation can bring, not how processes will change. Some people will always fear change, even for the better.
3. Cut to the Chase
Business process automation is not an impending boogeyman that will eradicate jobs and displace workers. In fact, it does the opposite. Automated solutions are cost-effective and virtually inevitable for any industry, and they can be broken down into step-by-step outlines that are approachable and scalable. Make sure stakeholders know this.Chapter 2: How to Automate Business Processes: Departments, Operations and Procedures Where Workflow Automation Excels