Process Automation: Complete Guide & Top Tips

May 12, 2021
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According to McKinsey, 31% of businesses have fully automated at least one of their functions. When it comes to business process automation, organisations are able to lower costs, hasten execution, and standardise processes in an organised and seamless manner.

Download Now: How to Drive Process Improvement with Automation

We’ve covered business process automation (BPA) many times and here we aim to encapsulate all there is to know about process automation.

Coming Up

1. What is Process Automation?

2. Why Automate Business Processes?

3. What are Process Automation Examples?

4. How Does Business Process Automation Work?

5. Which Business Processes Should You Automate?  

6. What are the Benefits of Using Process Automation Tools?

7. What are the Best Practices for Process Automation?

8. What are the Steps for Process Optimisation?

9. How to Start Business Process Improvement

10. What is Robotic Process Automation?

11. What are the Benefits of RPA?

12. What are the Pitfalls of RPA?

13. Which Companies Use RPA?

14. Tips for Effective Robotic Process Automation

15. How is RPA Different to Other Process Automation Tools?

16. How Does RPA Work?  

17. Wrap Up

What is Process Automation?

Process automation is the application of technology, software, and artificial intelligence to replace manual tasks so that robots can essentially carry out business processes. In most organisations, humans are expected to complete manual and repetitive tasks that can become mind-numbing, frustrating, and dangerously error-prone. This is especially true when it comes to finance departments and data-driven functions.

With BPA, organisations can automate tasks and route necessary information to respective parties in a timely manner.

Why Automate Business Processes?

There are many reasons why all organisations (especially financial institutions) should be deploying automation solutions and leveraging the power of BPA. For starters, through the implementation of process automation, organisations are able to achieve operational efficiency and reduce costs.

There’s more to it than just these crucial upsides. Process automation provides every stakeholder and employee with transparency into operations. Those with access into the software can see where a process is and be alerted should there be a need to intervene.

BPA helps with workforce management as any task is directly routed to the person who may need to take an action. This removes the risk of bottlenecks and aids in streamlining a process so it can be completed without delay.

Furthermore, by automating business processes, the initial step involves modelling processes and mapping out the steps. By doing so, it’s possible to pinpoint the opportunity for process improvement.

Process automation makes it easy to pull audit reports as the system will document every action and retain all the data that’s been used to complete a process. In this sense, organisations benefit from decreased compliance risk, as well as the peace of mind to know that data is securely stored within the system.

What are Process Automation Examples?

It’s easiest to see how process automation can benefit your business when you take a look at a real use case.

No matter the type of industry in which you work, you’re likely aware of the hassle of account reconciliations. Account reconciliation is one of the most important business processes to perform accurately, but when it’s done manually, it can be time-consuming and rife with mistakes.

With process automation, a system like SolveXia can pull internal and external documents of financial data to compare statements to internal ledgers. The matching process takes seconds, even for thousands of records. If all checks out, then the system will alert the person in charge that everything is good to go. If an anomaly exists, the system will also send out an alert for further investigation and rectification.

Tools like SolveXia are able to speed up the account reconciliation process by 98%. This means that your team can focus on high-level and value-add tasks rather than being stuck in various spreadsheets while manually comparing line items.

How Does Business Process Automation Work?

Business process automation works through connections. When an automation software is deployed, it is paired most commonly through the use of APIs to other existing new or legacy systems within your toolstack. This allows the system to connect and pull data into its centralised location to be used for process automation, data analysis, and reporting.

Process automation also utilises the power of machine learning so that the more data that becomes available, the better the tool can perform through its own artificial intelligence and learning “on-the-job.”

Which Business Processes Should You Automate?  

After having read the benefits of process automation, you’re probably ready to dive right in. But, it’s important to realise that some processes are better suited for automation than others.

Automating processes has become easier than ever before because tools like SolveXia exist such that you can deploy the solution and it requires no/low code. With the benefits ready to work straight out-of-the-box, the only thing you need to do is choose the processes to automate.

That being said, here’s a list of criteria that work best for process automation:

  • Tasks that are high in volume
  • Tasks that typically involve various people
  • Tasks that are time sensitive with deadlines
  • Tasks that impact other processes
  • Tasks that require compliance and audit trails

With the short list above, it’s clear to see why finance functions are the perfect match for automation.

What are the Benefits of Using Process Automation Tools?

Automation tools are only growing in the value they add to organisations each day. For starters, think about the structure of workforces nowadays. You may have your finance team sitting in New York, your product team in Europe, and various freelance contractors performing functions around the globe.

At the top of your list of concerns is not only if work is being performed, but it’s also if all your company and customers’ data is safe and secure.

Process automation tools provide a brevvy of benefits to teams of all sizes. Along with boosting productivity through the ability to streamline tasks, process automation tools also help by:

  • Providing detailed reports: Automation tools run reports and have access to real-time data so that you always have a finger on the pulse as to how your business is functioning.

  • Decreasing errors: By removing the need for intensive manual effort, automating processes will naturally lead to a reduction in human errors. Errors can be costly and potentially damage your reputation, so it’s always better to avoid them when you can.

  • Increasing visibility: No matter where your employees are located, when you have access into an automation tool, you can clearly see what’s happening. This boosts accountability and improves communication between departments.

  • Enhancing access: The optimal automation tools will work on-premise or in the cloud. SolveXia’s system can run in the cloud, which means that you can access your data and information on the spot without delays. No matter how much data you need to pull or review, everything is stored in a centralised location to satisfy your needs.

  • Securing information: With the explosive amounts of data that expands with each passing day, security is always a priority. Automation tools will store your data and protect your business’ privacy inherently.

  • Promoting high-level work: Rather than bogging down your highly-skilled workforce with manual tasks, you can allocate their time to creative tasks and duties that require the human mind.

What are the Best Practices for Process Automation?

Even when you pair your team with the perfect automation tool for your needs, you still need to have a solid approach and strategy to the implementation of process automation.

Although every organisation has its own nuances and goals, keep in mind these best practices to make the most of automation:  

  • Begin with a roadmap that outlines all your business processes. This should include the inputs, outputs, and value of each process, along with who is responsible at each step along the way.
  • Define the goals you have in mind for adding automation into the picture. Having goals and a way to measure success versus failure aids in assessing how your processes are functioning.
  • Have patience when taking stock of results. Although some results will be immediately clear, others may take some time to materialise.
  • Piggybacking on the last point, consider measuring results in both the short-term and long-term, but maintain a long-term position when looking at your return on investment (ROI).
  • Take the necessary time and utilise resources to ensure employees are properly trained within the new system. Most automation tools, including SolveXia, provide access to support, along with a multitude of resources.
  • If possible, choose a no/low code solution that provides an out-of-the-box and ready to work answer to your challenges.

What are the Steps for Process Optimisation?

Process automation and process optimisation go hand-in-hand. By utilising process automation software, you are able to optimise your business processes.

The idea behind process optimisation is to achieve organisational efficiency. This is done by minimising costs and maximising outputs. Business processes can be optimised within each respective category of control optimisation, equipment optimisation, and operating procedures.

In order to achieve process optimisation, follow these steps:

  1. Define: Define and map all your processes. This crucial step is where you can identify which processes have the opportunity for improvement.
  1. Consider: Think it through. Do you have what it takes to make this process better with your existing resources? If so, give it a go. If not, consider what tools and solutions are available to you to help achieve business goals.
  1. Analyse: Now it’s time to conduct analysis. You’ll want to consider how you’ll measure any changes that you implement. Define your objectives, constraints, and who will be involved.
  1. Automate: If you’ve found that in step three an automation tool can be the saving grace for a process (or many), then implement automation. Automation can aid in securely storing data, reducing errors, matching records, sending notifications, procuring reports, tracking real-time data, and more.
  1. Track: Process optimisation has a clear beginning, but it in theory never ends. Continue to monitor results and find areas where you can further improve.

How to Start Business Process Improvement

It’s always a good time to begin business process improvement (BPI). But, with all your moving pieces, where do you start?

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, you can direct your attention to specific types of processes. Consider the benefits of business process improvement to help decide what processes are relevant. These include: error reduction, improved quality, lowered waste, and saved time.

BPI methodologies are numerous. Here’s a few to consider:

  • Six Sigma: Six Sigma is a highly statistical approach to executing business process improvement. If you have processes by which you control the input within a function that creates an output, then Six Sigma could be valuable. You’ll use what’s known as DMAIC– define, measure, analyse, improve and control.
  • Kaizen: Kaizen is the Japanese term for “continuous improvement.” As such, it’s focused on small and continuous changes that create big effects over time. Everyone, from the bottom-up, can be involved in business process improvement within the Kaizen methodology.
  • Lean Management: Lean management centers on waste. It involved identifying the value of every process and creating a flow that removes any unnecessary step (or an activity that does not add value to the end user).

The above is an abbreviated list of BPI methodologies. Regardless of which methodology you feel most drawn to using, the BPI steps are:

  1. Outlining what needs to change
  2. Analysing specific issues and answering why they are occurring
  3. Redesigning processes for optimisation
  4. Implementing solutions to achieve results (i.e. automation)
  5. Review how the new process is functioning to assess if it’s in fact better than before

What is Robotic Process Automation?

Process automation exists because of robotic process automation. Robotic process automation (RPA) is the technology that allows a robot (computer system) to mimic human actions to carry out a business process. RPA leverages the user interface just like a human otherwise would to pull data and execute tasks.

RPA is a highly effective and relatively affordable solution to automation business processes. Without having to replace your existing toolstack, RPA can be added into your organisation and start working instantaneously.

What are the Benefits of RPA?

Think about the businesses processes you’re currently operating. The chances high that your team is often bogged down in spreadsheets and various data sources trying to accomplish their duties.

Instead of allowing your team to spend their valuable time conducting repetitive activities, robotic process automation can stand in and cut the time it takes to get the work done. Not only does this save time and reduce costs, but it naturally will decrease the chance of human errors.

Furthermore, with a robotic process automation solution, you can say goodbye to bottlenecks and key person dependencies. When a key employee is out sick, the process doesn’t stop working. Instead, the software can continue to get the necessary job done.

Plus, robotic process automation can get better on its own, without human intervention. With intelligent automation, robotic process automation is further enhanced through artificial intelligence and machine learning so that the system itself improves with access to more data.

Allowing your team to spend their time on high-level and creative work provides people with the awareness that their time spent working is pivotal to the business. This adds to a sense of purpose and boosts employee satisfaction (which, in turn, may result in less turnover).

What are the Pitfalls of RPA?

Robotic process automation doesn’t necessarily have its own pitfalls inherent within the technology. Rather, pitfalls exist in terms of bringing RPA into an organisation. For starters, it’s highly possible that your team will feel like the robots are replacing their jobs. That’s why at SolveXia, we like to think of our solution as a human analytical automation tool, rather than a robotic process automation tool.

Although it’s based in the same technology, the fact of the matter is that people are still involved. Automation doesn’t replace humans. It just provides them with the freedom and time to spend on activities that require human thought and interaction. The repetitive tasks are still of utmost importance in most organisations, but there’s no reason why RPA shouldn’t be implemented to take on those types of tasks.

Additionally, when adding any new tool or software into an organisation, there needs to be a consensus and buy-in from stakeholders. This requires that teams or business leaders (in many instances, CFOs) make the case of the value of such tools. To perform change management, buy-in is just the beginning. Your entire team should be aligned with the business strategy and vision and understand how the tool can help everyone individually and as a  whole.

Which Companies Use RPA?

As time progresses, it’s becoming easier to answer what companies aren’t using RPA as opposed to which companies are. When RPA was in its incipient changes, the benefits were clear, but the adoption was stunted.

However, with RPA becoming more popular and cost effective, more businesses of different sizes are taking advantage of its benefits. Some notable companies who have deployed RPA include:

  • Walgreens
  • Coca-Cola
  • Walmart
  • Deutsche Bank
  • AT&T
  • Earnst & Young
  • American Express Global Business Travel

Tips for Effective Robotic Process Automation

Manage Expectations

RPA can be implemented on a small or broad scale. It can also start small and then become scalable along with your business needs. When you first consider the use of robotic process automation, set and outline your expectations and use cases. Be sure to communicate the idea and goals with your entire team.

Start Small

Robotic process automation can expand into intelligent automation, involving machine learning. When you’re just getting started and using robotic process automation, apply it on a small scale.

Choose one process to begin and test out the automation solution in a test environment before going live with it across your organisation. This helps to protect against fatal flaws and optimise your choices before it’s too big to manage or edit.

Estimate Business Impact

In many cases, business leaders will assess the impact of RPA in a quantifiable way, such as assessing ROI or cost savings. While these are bound to be important measurements when deploying RPA, it’s not the only way that the business will be impacted.

It’s useful to also consider  how RPA is improving your customer and employee experience. Although these measurements may be more difficult to quantify and measure, they are surely impactful and of great value to any business trying to thrive.

Focus on Change Management

Deploying a technology like RPA involves change within your system of people and tools. While you can continue to use your existing toolstack, there will be a learning curve on behalf of your team. That’s why training, communication, and proper management must be a priority in order to avoid downfalls.

Gauge the Need for IT

Depending on the type of solution you choose, you may or may not need to involve your IT team. When choosing a no/low code tool like SolveXia, this is less necessary.

However, other RPA solutions may require some coding and extra technical training. When this is the case, keep your IT team looped in as early as possible so that they can be prepared.

Involve Your People

All people within your organisation need to be aware of RPA, even if they aren’t directly working with the software. For example, it’s easy to forget to loop in your Human Resources team because you may think that they won’t be affected. However, the rest of your departments may go to talk to HR about their changing duties and responsibilities.

How is RPA Different to Other Process Automation Tools?

Traditional automation has meant that you have to code a system to carry out a task within the operational process. It requires expert level knowledge of programming to deploy because it takes place on the back-end of a specific system.

On the other hand, robotic process automation can execute tasks on the front-end, using the same user interface that humans do. Through machine learning and artificial intelligence, it gets better and improves upon itself over time without the need for human intervention. Once it has been trained (told what to do and how to do it), you can walk away and let the system do the work.

RPA can also work across any type of application and integrates with your existing toolstack. So, as soon as a business decides they want to utilise RPA, it can be deployed instantaneously.

How Does RPA Work?  

RPA works the same way that a person would. RPA can be programmed to manage whatever task you so wish.

RPA accesses data within your existing systems through integration. This could be through front-end connections or enterprise web services in the back-end, for example. RPA is rules-driven and scheduled. Robots can perform tasks like users would, including: copying and pasting data, connecting to other systems through APIs, logging into applications, reading databases, writing databases, moving files, scraping data, performing calculations, opening emails, and more.

Download Now: How to Drive Process Improvement with Automation

Wrap Up

Gartner estimates robotic process automation can save finance teams about 25,000 hours of time that’s otherwise spent correcting human errors. The adoption of automation tools is accelerating worldwide as organisations recognise the immense benefit of process automation. Process automation allows for organisations to optimise their processes and save both time and money.  

If you’re interested to see how automation can better your business, try a free demo.

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