Have you ever wondered what everyday business will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years?
Can we expect a slight change or will we see a revolution across the markets? Will we continue to work in offices or will we go beyond their borders? What tools will entrepreneurs use?
Let’s look at it from another perspective. What is the difference between business 20 years ago and today? Certainly technologies used on a daily basis. Just as each of us cannot imagine life without a cell phone and computer, we are getting increasingly surrounded by software at work. Currently, Excel or Outlook are no longer enough for entrepreneurs. The huge amount of data, their sources and points of contact with customers pose revolutionary requirements to companies around the world. Employees are no longer able to independently cope with the tasks entrusted to them. They are more and more often supported by machines or computer algorithms. Today we are witnessing a global transformation. Tasks and processes performed by humans yesterday, today are automated. This has its pros and cons, but it is a trend from which there is no escaping. In this article, we will answer the questions: What is business process automation, how does business process automation work and what are its benefits.
What is business process automation?
In short, the automation of business processes means that tasks do not have to be performed by humans. It doesn’t matter if we employ a factory robot, a line of code or artificial intelligence tools for this purpose. Automation is the acceleration of tasks and their standardization. Remember that not every process can be automated. The computer will not create a well-adjusted, creative advertising campaign or negotiate with the client. Automation tools work best for repetitive tasks based on clearly defined patterns.
Automation of business processes depending on the industry
Each industry has different requirements for automation systems. Some enterprises are satisfied with web-based solutions, while others rely heavily on physical robots and machines. It is worth doing thorough research on what tools we need, because it is not always visible at first glance.
Automation of production processes
The manufacturing industry is characterized by its stationary nature. Electronic tools can certainly help in automating accounting or logistics activities, but the main competitive advantage in this market will be real devices. The most commonly used for this purpose are all kinds of pneumatic grippers, used for transporting, assembling components and maintaining elements. Other solutions here are also technological transport systems, vertical conveyors or palletizing systems.
Automation also applies to quality control (e.g. through vision systems) and even sorting items based on manually defined criteria.
Automation of warehouse processes
Warehouse processes strongly overlap with the characteristics of the manufacturing industry. It is a similarly operating environment, also focused on the automation of transport and logistics activities, such as handling and manipulation of loads, the process of unloading and loading, and quality control. Machines such as industrial conveyors, shuttle trucks, suspended rail transport systems, pallet stacker cranes or hydraulic lifts are most often used to automate the above-mentioned procedures.
However, a common mistake is to focus too much on automation in the warehouse, and thus forget about electronic systems. Thanks to appropriate tools, it is possible to automate the organization of warehouse work by, among others:
- Planning and organizing the work of warehouse operators
- Streamlining the processes of picking and preparing orders
- Optimization of the method and place of cargo storage
- Stock status and flow monitoring
Automation of transport and logistics processes
For optimal operation, transport and logistics need both an effective system of stationary work, as well as the use of appropriate electronic automation tools. Since logistics is based on work efficiency, it needs data for its work, preferably in-real-time. Electronic systems for automating processes in this case work perfectly well, collecting information on the processes carried out and analyzing them, thanks to which we gain knowledge which tasks can be optimized better and how.
Specific actions can also be automated by such systems. According to research conducted by AIIM (Association for Intelligent Information Management) and Nintex, the circulation of invoices and letters can be about 40% to 68% shorter when we use workflow systems. This also applies to order forms and goods documentation, which can be generated automatically, based on the data provided by us.
An electronic automation system is also great for inventory tracking. If we have the infrastructure to collect information about our stocks, we are able to link this system to the platform, thanks to which we get all data on our stocks in real time on one dashboard.
Stationary forms of automation include, for example, automating the flow of loads using pallet or container conveyors, automating picking using belts or robots, as well as automating the dispatch of orders via transport devices.
Automation of legal processes
Today, working in the legal industry is more dependent on automation than ever before. Although a human is irreplaceable for direct contact with other people or for reacting in unpredictable situations, the role of the computer is a huge competitive advantage. Starting from simple invoicing, verification of compliance or information flow with the client, to standardization of risk assessment, jurisprudence search and even monitoring of legislative changes. Working on a huge number of documents cannot exist without algorithms for searching file directories or data classification.
Automation can also support the introduction of new employees to the company and the comprehensive simplification of life at every stage of electronic work.
Automation of accounting and billing processes
Working in accounting means constantly dealing with documents of various kinds. It means many hours spent on checking the correctness of data, creating letters, offers or invoices, as well as controlling budgets. Fortunately, systems for the automation of accounting and billing processes come to our aid, and alongside them comes the overall improvement of work.
One of the ways to automate your activities may be to unify document formats and complete them. It is easier to work with documents on an electronic platform. Just upload the file to the system and he will read the data itself using artificial intelligence algorithms called OCR. The processed data is then checked for correctness and compliance. In the case of errors, we receive a notification, and in the case of incompleteness, information about what we are missing.
The intelligent system is also able to compare payments with invoices, detecting differences in settlements in the blink of an eye. Thanks to the budgeting function, it is also able to inform about the degree of its use or automatically calculate potential expenses.
Automation is also capable of generating accounting contracts, more efficient posting of invoices or checking transactions.
Automation of sales processes
The sales industry is strongly connected with the electronic world. Just as we cannot replace an employee in direct contact with the client, we are able to automate numerous actions taken in the virtual space. Already the first contact with the customer and responding to messages can be standardized, for example, by using email templates or automatically sending emails to customers. However, the main tool, without which today’s salespeople cannot imagine their lives, are CRM systems. These are comprehensive sales and contact management tools. This is where all the “magic” of automation happens. Customers can be arranged in priority or chronological order, and the system, according to ready-made formulas, can remind us of the action necessary to take in the right order. This is a huge time saver and makes life easier for our employees.
Creating sales documents can also be limited to a few simple clicks. Letters are generated automatically and the form itself tells us what data we need. Modern systems are also equipped with an Electronic Signature, thanks to which we can sign documents without the need for tedious printing and scanning.
An additional advantage may be the automatic sending of offers based on information collected from the client. And when a purchase is made, the system will synchronize stock levels and prices by itself.
Automation of IT processes
IT processes are easiest to automate with electronic workflow tools. For this industry, their functionality extends from freeing up human resources and automating work with documents, to more complex tasks, such as creating environments or backing them up. With the right systems in place, the overall effectiveness of team management increases, and more time can be spent on higher-priority tasks.
How does business process automation work?
Currently, the most commonly used automation solutions are ERP (also known as workflow) systems for workflow and document flow. This software allows you to transfer the entire company with its resources and employees to the virtual world. And thanks to it, it is possible to work from anywhere. The transferred processes can then be automated. How does business process automation work? Let’s look at an example of an incoming invoice workflow. This document can be delivered to the mailbox, to the office or by fax. Then the document is automatically converted into a uniform format (paper to electronic). Next, the system reviews the document and rewrites the information from it, assigning it to the appropriate fields. Then the employee checks the correctness of the data and completes the next elements. After this step, the invoice goes through another verification in the system, which checks whether there has been an error, e.g. an account number that does not agree with the counterparty or an amount deviating from the standard value for a document of this type. In the next step, the accountant checks the content and records the fee.
This is just one of many examples of the use of automation, but it shows the essence of processes that can be automated, as well as the universality of its use. Automation can be helpful at many stages of various business processes.
Time saving thanks to process automation
Talking about the benefits of automation, it is impossible not to mention the time savings throughout the company. One automated process can translate into precious seconds, minutes or even hours of work. However, when we multiply this savings by the number of such processes and the frequency of their execution, it may turn out that thanks to automation we have gained the equivalent of a few additional employees.
Anyone who works in the system will be able to do their job much faster than if they had to do it manually. This applies to the accounting department, marketing, sales, management, controlling, logistics and all other employees performing their duties at the computer.
Profitability of automating business processes
Every larger company should invest in tools to automate the company’s business processes. Why? Because of a few reasons. First of all, by performing tasks faster and more accurately than regular employees. High efficiency combined with reliability close to zero, allow for significant savings in the pockets of managers. In addition, all obtained data is collected and subjected to transparent analyses, thanks to which it is possible to automate or improve subsequent activities. According to Forbes, an investment in automation usually pays for itself within a few months to a few years, saving from 40% to 75% of costs. These numbers speak for themselves. The automation of processes in the company is able to take our business to a previously unattainable level.
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Benefits of automating business processes
If the automation of business processes did not bring benefits, it would not have been listed by Gartner as a business development trend 4 times in a row in recent years. According to research conducted by the agency, forecasts predict that approximately 69% of managerial tasks will be automated by 2024. It is therefore impossible to ignore the influence of automation on today’s enterprises.
The main benefits of automation that we have not mentioned before are:
- Productivity increase
- Reducing the cost of business processes
- Reducing the risk of errors
- Standardization of business processes
- Streamlined collaboration and communication
We devoted a whole separate article to the benefits of automation. https://archman.eu/is-business-process-automation-in-a-company-worth-it/
Marketing Intern, especially interested in SEO and SEM.
Right now is beggining to write his master's thesis in Informational Management at Jagiellonian University. Michał loves playing billiards, board games and is a huge e-sports fan.