When you hear the phrase “industrial revolution,” what comes to mind? Essentially, an industrial revolution involves the application of new technologies resulting in transformative effects on industrial and commercial processes. The first industrial revolution saw steam and water used to mechanise labour in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This was followed by the second industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century, which gave rise to mass production and the rapid development of transportation and new communication technologies. The most recent of these revolutions was known as the “Digital Revolution,” which occurred in the late 20th century and saw digital technologies irrevocably change the way we communicate and work with the rise of computing.
What may not be obvious, is that a new industrial revolution is currently underway. Known by some as the fourth industrial revolution, this new age centres around the application of “smart technologies,” bringing unprecedented productivity, efficiency and interconnectedness to organisations across all sectors. While different sectors are adopting these new technologies in different ways, some common themes can be observed:
- Interconnectedness. Involving people, sensors, software, machines and mobile devices, communication across data sets underpins much of the change being observed in this new age.
- Data-led transformation. Businesses are collecting more data than ever before and using analytics to spot trends and make operational improvements.
- Technical assistance. This involves using technology to improve decision-making. A consumer-level example of this is traffic sign recognition technology in vehicles, which can inform drivers of speed limit changes. There are countless examples of such technology being deployed in industry.
- Autonomous decision-making. The most revolutionary of all the changes being observed, organisations of all sizes are introducing automation, machine-learning and artificial intelligence technologies to enable decision-making without (or with reduced) human input.
Business process automation is an example of a technology which enables autonomous decision-making, and it’s becoming increasingly accessible to businesses of all sizes and budgets.
What is business process automation?
Business Process Automation is an umbrella-term for a group of technologies which reduce or remove the need for the human input normally associated with routine, manual tasks. BPA links data sets and automates the transfer of data via pre-established, user-defined workflows.
Interesting, but how can this benefit my business?
BPA adds structure and minimises errors.
You might have your business processes committed to memory, but we’re all make mistakes form time to time. Human beings get tired, distracted and sometimes just have off-days; resulting in procedural missteps. Business process automation software on the other hand, never forgets! It will religiously apply the workflow you’ve set for it, and ensure you’re business processes are followed to the letter.
BPA boosts productivity.
BPA can perform in a fraction of a second, actions that might take a human operative a minute or two. This might not sound like a game-changer, but all those minutes will add up to hours over the course of a week, and you as an employer are paying for each of those hours. Automation boosts productivity by allowing staff to devote more of their time to value-adding activities, which might include finding new prospects or investing more time in client relationships.
BPA is scalable
Multitasking is a myth! Studies suggest humans can only apply themselves to one cognitively demanding task at a time. So if you have to manually bill 120 clients you’re going to be at your desk for a while. Automation technologies on the other hand aren’t limited in this way, and can perform as many actions as required simultaneously; saving huge amounts of staff time when workloads are at their heaviest.
BPA creates better customer experiences
The growing convenience-culture we’re all living under, means today’s customers expect issues remedied and products/services delivered faster than ever before. Business process automation can be employed in a customer-facing capacity to speed-up and streamline processes such as onboarding, and can harness data to deliver a more personalised experience.
BPA protects your bottom line
While business processes are essential to the smooth running of any business, clients are oblivious to them and don’t directly draw value from them. As a result, spending too much time on these tasks could leave clients feeling underserved and neglected. By automating the mundane, you can devote more time and energy to the relationships which are bringing revenue into your business.
When should you use Business Process Automation?
It’s possible to apply automation in some way to almost any business process. Having said that, automation suits some workflows more than others.
Automation is perfect for tasks where consistency is key. Similarly, processes which demand a certain amount of flexibility may be less easy to automate.
Processes which repeat frequently are ideal candidates. Setting up an automated workflow can be straightforward, but for maximum return for your time investment you’ll want to apply it to processes which occur on a regular basis.
Tasks requiring accuracy should be automation priorities. Automation doesn’t necessarily eliminate human error, but by initiating actions at exactly the right time, and getting the right information in front of the right people every time, it can go some way to eliminate human error.
Let’s consider a few examples…
The world of HR is chock full of time-intensive, heavily procedural tasks which present huge administrative burdens to businesses. From the recruitment and onboarding process to payroll and performance reviews, automation can be implemented to free-up HR staff for more meaningful work such as improving employee engagement.
We’re already seeing A.I involvement in the recruitment process, with the ability to pre-screen applications and direct HR staff towards the best candidates. Automation is also increasingly common in the employee onboarding process. With paperless onboarding now a possibility, new starts can upload documents and receive access to resources within a matter of hours as opposed to days. Lastly, performance analytics coupled with automation gives HR staff unprecedented ability to monitor staff performance and hone in on individuals who might benefit from extra training and support. Rather than trawling through KPI data manually, automation can be used to flag up poor performance in real-time.
Operation Management Automation
Complex projects involving lots of employees and expensive material assets can be difficult to oversee and monitor without the right tools. Business process automation is perfect for inventory management, allowing managers to location-track and monitor the condition of physical resources, enabling them to be deployed most efficiently.
Automation is also ideal for managing workflows and reviewing project progression. Where task dependencies occur (the requirement for certain criteria to be met before a new task can begin), automation can be used to notify the relevant parties that the next phase of work can progress. This boosts productivity, by eliminating the lag between successive tasks.
Finance Department Automation
There is perhaps no corporate department better suited to automation than finance.
One example, is the use of smart modules which allow for the processing of expenses claims with minimal input from a finance team. Claimants can upload receipts remotely and scanning software does the rest, drawing out key figures in seconds and transferring the data into the expenses system, saving accounts teams lots of legwork.
Automation can also be used to generate recurring invoices, even if the amount being billed changes every time. Automated workflows can draw billing data from multiple sources and combine them in a draft invoice. Admin teams can then quickly check for errors and make small changes if necessary, before sending it out.
Automation also has applications in unpaid bill recovery, with the ability to trigger automated payment reminders when delinquency occurs.
Automation is about more than saving a few minutes here and there on repetitive task. By adopting automation for your business you’ll get to know your business processes more intimately, and become more acutely aware of where current pain points lie. Business Process Automation is about creating intelligent pathways between data sets which follow your unique set of business processes and align with your business’ goals.
And; If your business utilises the Microsoft 365 suite, you’ll already benefit from access to Power Automate – Microsoft’s automation workflow designer, tailored to integrate apps & data flows together to help you achieve BPA.
Your dedicated Microsoft Partner.
If you’re looking to improve your operational efficiency and start on the journey of automating your business processes and bridging gaps between systems by integrating them together, Centrality is incredibly well placed to guide, support, and deliver transformational business process automation improvements.
With our thorough approach and intimate experience of the capabilities contained within Microsoft 365, Centrality are the Microsoft Partner you deserve on your journey to achieving operational excellence and unrivalled competitive advantage through innovative technology.
Get in touch today to propel your journey towards becoming an automated and integrated business.