Written by Megan Simpson
6th September 2021
Read it in 12 minutes
The way we work is transforming – rapidly.
Today, technology supports more efficient, cost-effective, accurate and secure work across a business, than ever before.
Business process automation (BPA) describes this process, using technology to automate repetitive manual processes and unlock time, value and opportunity.
Rather than thinking of BPA as one technology, it can be considered as a range of supporting, integrated and intelligent technologies; and in mature deployments, using AI within set controls – to complete repetitive tasks or processes, and allow staff to focus on more valuable or complex work.
In a working environment changed forever by the 2020 pandemic – where over 70% of workers now want flexible remote working options to continue1 – the demand for digital transformation has been unprecedented.
Expectations on IT teams to support speed, agility, security, and to educate staff on the right technologies that improve business processes have been high – it’s no surprise that 86% of IT decision makers plan to invest the same or more into automation technology in the next year2.
With the right consideration, Business Process Automation can support the remote, collaborative processes that staff across all industries need, to work effectively.
According to Microsoft, Italy’s first cloud-native bank, illimity, transformed its slow application and approvals process with Microsoft Power Automate – saving 15 hours a month and reducing underwriting times from 1 hour, to 20 minutes3
There are many levels to business process automation.
Though it may form part of an automation deployment, BPA should not be confused with Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Sitting at the ‘starter level’ of automation maturity, RPA describes simple software bots, created to perform repetitive tasks, fast.
Yet BPA is more than that; it enables intelligent automation and process orchestration holistically across a business.
In mature deployments, BPA describes smarter processes driven by Artificial Intelligence, or Autonomous Intelligence (AI); to make intelligent choices such as collating and routing the right information to the right person, at the right time, or streamlining processes such as onboarding, contract management, customer service and much more.
Technologies such as Microsoft 365 are already enabling day-to-day business automation benefits worldwide.
Essentially, wherever a process:
…it is likely that Business Process Automation can offer advantages.
Note that BPA should also not be confused with Business Process Management (BPM). BPM outlines the analysis and management of large, complex and organisation-wide processes but with different methodology. Think of BPA here as a specific strategy for process improvement, enabled by automation technology, and BPM as a wider practice across the organisation. Each can work together, but may also stand alone.
Teleware365 research, carried out by Censuswide between 15.12.2020 and 16.12.2020 of 250 IT decision-makers in the UK https://www.teleware.com/shaping-new-technology-environment/
Understanding the opportunities that process automation creates, is the first step to enhancing productivity and efficiency across a business.
The use cases for Business Process Automation are diverse, and can be tailored uniquely to any organisation that chooses to automate processes.
Looking at the basic ‘whys’ behind Business Process Automation, core business advantages include:
Whatever your process challenge – whether it’s sourcing information, enabling collaboration across a team, streamlining reporting, or refining a process that requires multiple inputs such as auditing – there will be an automation use case that fits.
When we think of ‘automation’, it’s tempting to picture simple chatbots, virtual assistants or defined process automation tools. But automation is much more than that – technology has changed!
Today, automation technologies such as Microsoft 365, with the Microsoft Power Platform and Microsoft Teams, are holistic, sophisticated and can be integrated, custom developed and adapted to suit a specific organisation’s needs.
Looking at examples in action, Business Process Automation may improve:
Purchase order requests are a good example of a repeatable process that includes specific data, information routing to the right teams, and approvals.
From the initial request, sent to the purchasing team, through approvals, review, feedback – and communications to suppliers and inventory teams – there are many steps and departments to align.
Here, an automation solution could be tailored to source, complete or send requests to the appropriate departments, ensure accurate data records and recording, ensure timely action, and support a transparent, highly accountable process for all parties involved.
Whether you’re onboarding new staff, new partners, or clients, there are many steps to ensuring that the right information, training, and procedures are followed every time. And while an organisation may have onboarding checklists in place, automating the process ensures every task is completed every time, it enables faster, more efficient onboarding, and allows a digital process – reducing paperwork and manual work.
Processes that require a high degree of accountability, security, accuracy or substantial data from many sources, can also benefit from automation.
As an example, Business Process Automation in the banking industry can assist when compiling case data for an audit, fraud investigation, or providing evidence to a regulator. These tasks require substantial time and effort in data entry, reporting, management and more. In addition, an automation deployment could employ smart bots to action the manual task elements, ensuring accuracy and fast collation.
This saves time, creates efficiencies, and allows teams to access and trace the information needed to make quick decisions.
Natural human error is a leading cause of incidents across industries, and causes half (50%) of all data security incidents5
For some approvals processes, a shift to automated approval may increase speed, production and efficiency. For example, procurement, project management, document flow management, stock control processes, order fulfillment, quality control and more, could benefit from Business Process Automation.
And for processes that do require a manual human check, automating other areas can enable that approvals check to happen faster, and provide all the right information to the right people at the right time.
For many industries, the digital transformation shift has created highly competitive marketplaces, and raised customer expectations for 24/7 digital service.
Creating intelligent, automated, customer service experiences can allow for much faster and more accurate customer service – and happier, loyal customers.
For example, customer technical support, chatbots, billing services, renewals, order management and more, can all be supported by automated processes – and can be designed as a hybrid approach to direct to human customer service support when needed.
Ultimately, introducing Business Process Automation supports faster time-to-value wherever you choose to use it, and across all business processes.
Not all business processes or automation deployments are the same! There are a number of terms related to process automation or process management that differ from Business Process Automation (BPA), notably:
Before we outline the differences, remember: Business Process Automation (BPA) describes the process or strategy of using technologies to automate repetitive manual processes, to unlock time, value and opportunity.
Business Process Management (BPM) describes the analysis and optimisation of complex, end-to-end processes across an organisation. Typically involving collaboration between business teams and IT teams, BPM is a continuous process that drives improvement over time.
Essentially, BPM works to optimise business operations and workflows, and can be considered as a wider practice for improvement across a business.
Both Business Process Automation (BPA) and Business Process Management work to streamline repetitive tasks, increase efficiency and reduce cost. However, it may help to consider BMP as a wider, mapped strategy of all processes for improvement, where BPA provides the strategic, automation element of that wider BPM approach.
Both BPM and BPA can work together, but may also be stand-alone initiatives within a business.
Nearly 50% of businesses around the world will increase Robotic Process Automation adoption due to COVID-196
Often considered as a ‘foundation’ to automation, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) describes automated processes that use software to mimic tasks such as data entry or copy/paste activities.
RPA solutions are often pre-built (rather than custom) software tools that integrate with existing systems – but don’t provide the added level of intelligence or AI that BPA would include to pull data or create a holistic process automation.
For this reason, BPA solutions can be considered the more advanced level of process automation; often custom-built and customised, they handle more complex tasks and are adept at more intelligent, integrated use cases. Some BPA solutions will include a degree of RPA, but RPA alone does not equal a BPA solution.
Whether an organisation is part-way there with Business Process Automation and looking to optimise, or just beginning to understand the opportunities, there are many benefits to unlock.
Specific, practical use cases may well be unique, as many BPA solutions are custom-built to business’ requirements. However with the right support, it’s possible to achieve the following – and beyond.
78% of IT decision-makers say technology is very important in increasing productivity7
Improve processes, and you’ll increase productivity, save costs and enable efficiency at scale.
When you streamline process efficiency with automation, you create clear processes that not only save time and mitigate risk of error, but allow teams to focus on higher-value work, for greater return.
As an example, a recent Microsoft Power Automate study saw that by increasing overall efficiency with Power Automate, organisations achieved a 199% increase in ROI over 3 years8.
While RPA (such as basic data compilation, reporting etc) is commonplace in many industries and softwares, many organisations are yet to make the shift toward more advanced, AI supported BPA.
According to Teleware365 research, carried out by Censuswide, just 30% of IT decision makers say their approach to automation and AI is very advanced. 51% say their approach is somewhat advanced9.
Yet the benefits to transparency, accountability and accuracy that advanced automation provides are substantial.
For example, automation opens opportunities for innovation and speed across any number of use cases – internal and customer facing.
Increased automation enabled a 27.4% reduction in error in a recent Microsoft Power Automate study of 57 companies, including financial services10
Having the right, robust BPA technology and processes in place can protect against cyber-attacks (secure, tested automation solutions such as Microsoft 365 ensure dedicated security).
Yet, according to GOV.UK, 32% of UK businesses suffered a cyber-attack or data breach in the last 12 months11. That number can be even greater for more sensitive industries such as financial services; this can be devastating and costly, not only in terms of regulator fines, but also in damage to reputation and trust.
Maintaining secure, accountable and up-to-date digital processes is key to maintaining trust with partners, suppliers and customers.
As remote working increased in 2020, and as flexible, hybrid working becomes the ‘new normal’, companies need a digital transformation plan that allows secure, seamless work from anywhere.
Modern employees hold high expectations. Today’s workforce expects modern (rather than legacy) working technology, tools that enable collaboration anywhere – and the option for flexible working locations.
According to a 2021 Microsoft study, 46% of remote workers surveyed plan to move to a new location this year because they can now work remotely12.
Employers who want to remain competitive and attractive to talent, will need to recognise and consider this shift – and particularly how investing in solutions such as BPA, that bridge the physical and digital world, can support increased efficiency and meet expectations.
It’s not only staff expectations that businesses must meet.
Today, customers expect increasingly digital, intelligent interactions with the brands they choose. Adopting a level of BPA within your business can support that expectation – and mark brands who do it well, as differentiators.
From streamlining internal operations and processes to supporting intelligent customer support and engagement, BPA solutions can help you meet high standards, and exceed digital expectations.
Teleware365 research, carried out by Censuswide –
What considerations should businesses think about when deciding which processes to automate?
As BPA can fit a diverse number of use cases and many functions, this may be a daunting question! However automation is likely to be a fit wherever processes:
Here, automation can streamline and accelerate processes. And where a process requires in-person hand-off, automation ensures that action happens efficiently.
Identifying the best use cases and automation solutions can be a unique fit for each business. Many automated processes typically combine intelligently, for a holistic, seamless workplace. And while we have explored wider use cases further up the page, other common processes that BPA improves include:
While Business Process Automation enables efficient and productive working, it’s important to recognise that it may not be a fit for all processes. Sometimes we still need manual human action, for example:
Typically, automation can support these often more complex situations and provide the context, information and support needed for hybrid processes – where human action blends with automation.
Business processes containing automated processes should also have the option for human intervention at any step, to ensure that tasks can function should automation be disrupted.
Wherever a business is on their BPA journey, working with an experienced automation partner can help to support and identify the automation gaps, and show teams how to leverage automation and drive business value.
So whether you’re just starting out – or are looking to optimise, enhance, or scale existing initiatives – there are basic Business Process Automation steps required.
Automation is integrated into many platforms and software applications, so even if we’re not aware of it, many organisations benefit from automation already.
For those looking to take a more strategic approach to process automation, and create a step change in business performance, a planned approach is key to realise benefits quickly.
Firstly, this means an evaluation of any existing process automation and technology.
Security, budget and migration are common concerns for organisations starting out with BPA, and this is where an automation partner can advise on the best Business Process Automation tools and technology for your use case.
The next step on the journey to automation is the move to the cloud.
While many organisations have already taken this step, sectors who have been slower to migrate should prioritise security.
As 32% of UK businesses suffered a cyber-attack or data breach in 202013, it is crucial to ensure cloud migration plans are robust and that you have expert technical partner support to ensure accurate execution, security and management.
A common challenge for organisations looking to gain the benefits of Business Process Automation, lies in getting employees to be aware of, and use, the technology available to them.
Working with a BPA partner who offers training and development is a sure way to drive best value, and genuine, long-term user adoption.
After all, while many employees will be aware of some automation tools, regular training and support can truly empower employees and provide insight into use cases that can be achieved.
Every business has different goals when it comes to implementing automated processes.
Implementing a pilot programme at this stage can be a quick way to deliver an automation Proof of Concept into the wider business. Modern cloud technology today, means that a partner can quickly (1-2 week initial setup) and cost-effectively, allow testing in a secure, safe environment ahead of a larger scale deployment.
A partner will provide support in defining and delivering the best use cases for a unique instance – and at any maturity level, should there already be an existing level of automation in place.
A partner will work with you to:
Continuous optimisation and improvement adds additional value and efficiency into a business.
Partnering with an experienced BPA expert who can support you at every step of your automation journey, is a sure way to drive best value, scale automation, and create the modern workplace needed for growth.
Providing clarity on the state of the UK’s business technology, recent Teleware research outlined the opportunities IT decision makers have to shape a new technology environment.
Poised to accelerate next generation innovation, now is the time to adopt, advance and accelerate with automation. Success promises improved customer outcomes, enhanced employee experiences and boosts to productivity and profitability.
But to achieve it, IT teams must influence their companies at a strategic level, optimise existing technologies and maintain momentum to accelerate the next wave of innovation.