Guide to Business Process Automation: Types, Use Cases & Best Practices

Business process automation benefit - efficiency

Business process automation (BPA) is transforming how companies operate by streamlining workflows and freeing up employees‘ time from repetitive tasks. However, implementing automation requires careful planning and consideration. In this comprehensive 4,300 word guide, we will explore what business process automation is, delve into the different types and real-world use cases, and outline best practices for successful implementation.

What is Business Process Automation?

Business process automation (BPA) refers to the use of technology to automate repetitive, routine tasks that are part of an organization‘s workflows and processes. The goal is to improve operational efficiency by reducing human error and freeing up employees to focus on more value-added work that requires judgment and creativity.

Some examples of business processes that can be automated include:

  • Data entry and processing
  • Generating reports and documents
  • Transaction processing
  • Workflow approvals and notifications
  • Customer service tasks like email responses

Ultimately, BPA aims to streamline operations, cut costs, and improve productivity by leveraging software robotics and AI. Research shows the market for business process automation is growing rapidly as companies realize the benefits:

Business process automation market size

The business process automation market is projected to grow from $12.2 billion in 2020 to $31.1 billion by 2025, according to MarketsandMarkets.

Beyond these high-level benefits, different types of business process automation offer their own unique value propositions and use cases. Let‘s explore some of the main categories of BPA:

Types of Business Process Automation

There are a few core types of business process automation companies should be aware of:

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic process automation (RPA) tools perform repetitive, rules-based digital tasks traditionally done by humans. For example, transferring data between systems, filling out forms, or extracting information from documents.

RPA bots automate processes at the user interface level by mimicking human actions. They interact with software applications just as human workers do – clicking buttons, entering data, navigating between screens, and more. But they do it much faster and without human limitations like fatigue or boredom.

According to Deloitte, some of the most common processes automated with RPA include:

  • Data migration
  • Automated reporting
  • Interface automation
  • Data extraction and cleaning

For example, an insurance company could use RPA bots to log into multiple systems, extract underwriting data, and populate forms to process claims automatically. This saves on manual effort while improving accuracy.

RPA automation example

RPA bots can replicate many administrative tasks done by humans

RPA is best suited for repetitive, rules-based workflows that don‘t require much decision-making. It‘s ideal for high-volume, mundane tasks prone to human error.

Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)

Intelligent process automation (IPA) combines RPA with more advanced AI technologies like machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision.

This allows for automating more complex processes that deal with unstructured data and require capabilities like sensing environmental changes, understanding language, and making judgments.

IPA tools can, for example:

  • Classify emails based on content and route them appropriately
  • Interpret scanned documents and extract relevant information
  • Transcribe phone calls and add details to CRM systems
  • Monitor agent conversations and provide real-time guidance

Essentially, the AI component allows IPA bots to handle dynamic environments, learn on the job, and take actions more like humans. Deloitte found using both RPA and AI together creates up to 8-10x ROI over just RPA alone.

Process Mining

While RPA and IPA focus on automation itself, process mining provides the visibility needed to identify automation opportunities in the first place.

Process mining analyzes digital footprint logs from existing systems to understand how business processes really operate end-to-end. This data-driven approach uncovers process bottlenecks, deviations, and weaknesses that could benefit from automation.

Some key insights process mining can reveal include:

  • Steps where work gets stuck
  • Variations from the ideal process
  • Automation ROI potential
  • Improvements beyond just automation

Essentially, process mining ensures you automate the right processes, right activities for maximum impact. It also helps monitor automated processes for continuous improvement.

For example, a process mining analysis may reveal that a 5-step procurement process usually takes 15 days to complete when it should only take 5 days. RPA bots could then automate certain manual steps like data entry to improve the throughput.

Key Benefits of Business Process Automation

There are several compelling reasons companies across industries are adopting business process automation:

1. Improved Efficiency

By automating time-consuming, repetitive manual work, BPA substantially improves operational efficiency. Mundane tasks like data entry, report generation, and even email processing can be done 10x or 20x faster using software robots.

This frees up employee time from boring, repetitive work so they can focus on more strategic, value-added activities. In a study by UiPath, employees estimated automating transactional processes gave them 25-30% more time for higher impact work.

Business process automation benefit - efficiency

BPA improves workplace efficiency by reducing repetitive manual work

Lower turnover rates are another benefit, as employees are less prone to boredom and burnout when relieved of mundane tasks.

2. Cost Savings

By reducing manual labor and automating entire workflows end-to-end, BPA provides tangible cost savings.

According to Deloitte, adopting RPA alone can lower the cost of processes by 25-50% by eliminating human labor. The costs of errors are also reduced given automated processes have much lower defect rates.

McKinsey estimates that across knowledge work activities, up to 30% of tasks could be automated using current technology, saving companies hundreds of billions in global payroll costs.

3. Enhanced Compliance & Auditability

Automated processes are standardized, measurable, and fully auditable. Software bots consistently follow the same programmed steps, ensuring compliance with protocols and regulations.

All actions are digitally logged, enabling detailed process monitoring and auditing. Automating processes like financial audits, fraud checks in claims processing, or identity checks improves compliance.

4. Better Customer Experiences

Streamlining business operations leads to faster internal workflows and improved customer interactions. Customers ultimately experience quicker issue resolution, more consistent service via automation, and real-time personalized experiences.

Bots don‘t experience human limitations like fatigue, emotion, and inconsistency. They can deliver standardized processes 24/7. Chatbots and virtual agents specifically enhance customer engagements.

5. Scalability

Once processes are automated, it‘s easy to scale them up as needed by adding more bots. This level of built-in scalability is hard to achieve through human workforces constrained by hours in a day.

Being digital, software robots can work around the clock without any drop in performance. This makes it easy to scale automation to handle increasing workloads driven by business growth or seasonal peaks.

6. Enhanced Data Quality

Bots perform data capture, processing, and entry with much higher accuracy than error-prone manual work. Automated reports, dashboards, and analytics are more reliable given clean underlying data.

Higher data quality propagates across connected systems once automated at the source. This amplifies downstream analytics and decision making capabilities.

Business Process Automation Use Cases

BPA is transforming workflows across all major industries and functions. Here are some of the most popular use cases and examples:

1. Human Resources Automation

HR teams manage a range of repetitive administrative tasks that can be automated to boost productivity:

  • New employee onboarding – Automating the steps for providing access, ordering equipment, scheduling training, etc. accelerates onboarding.

  • Employee record management – Bots can seamlessly update employee records and directories when changes occur.

  • Payroll and benefits processing – Automating data entry and transfers between payroll and HR systems saves significant effort.

  • Employee inquiries – Chatbots handle common employee questions about pay, time-off requests, policies etc.

  • Reporting and analytics – Automated dashboards provide real-time HR metrics and insights.

Leading hotel chain Hilton automated over a dozen onboarding workflows using RPA and cut onboarding times from weeks to days in some cases.

2. Finance and Accounting Automation

Many accounting and financial processes involve high-volume, repetitive data tasks that are ripe for automation:

  • Transaction processing – Bots excel at taking data from documents and forms and transferring it accurately across systems.

  • Report and statement generation – Automating monthly, quarterly, and annual reporting provides major productivity gains.

  • Revenue recognition – Automatically matching invoices to purchase orders speeds up the recognition process.

  • Bank reconciliations – Software bots can reconcile accounts and ledgers much faster with 100% accuracy.

Accounting firm PwC automated cash applications work using RPA, reducing the time from over 60 minutes per application to under 10 minutes.

3. Supply Chain Automation

Supply chain management involves data-intensive processes like orders, logistics, and inventory that can be optimized with BPA:

  • Purchase order handling – Automating PO creation, sending, and confirmation accelerates order fulfillment.

  • Shipping notifications – Automatically generating and sending shipping and delivery notices based on logistics data.

  • Inventory management – Bots can seamlessly update inventory quantities and product info when orders are placed and shipments occur.

  • Metrics and reporting – Automated dashboards track logistics KPIs like cycle time and on-time delivery in real-time.

Maersk automated over 160 processes with RPA, including customer re-bookings, cost distribution, and invoice generation resulting in thousands of saved hours per week.

4. IT Automation

IT teams have many repetitive tasks that bots can take off their plates:

  • User access provisioning – Automate the workflows for granting or revoking access when employees join or leave.

  • Password resets – Bots can seamlessly handle the simple but common task of resetting user passwords.

  • App deployment – Automating software and hardware provisioning accelerates deployment and spin up of new machines.

  • Incident resolution – Quickly parse service desk tickets and automatically remediate known issues.

Leading IT services firm Infosys sped up incident management by developing over 130 software bots trained on ITSM processes. Resolution times improved by nearly 50%.

5. Customer Service Automation

Customer service involves many repetitive tasks that detract from higher-touch engagement:

  • Incoming requests – Automated triage of customer emails and chats routes them appropriately.

  • FAQ responses – Bots instantly pull answers from knowledge bases to resolve common queries.

  • Document processing – Automating data extraction from customer forms/docs accelerates service requests.

  • Appointment scheduling – Bots can automatically schedule and confirm appointments and meetings per customer requests.

  • Payment processing – Automating data entry and confirmation steps in processing customer payments.

Microsoft cut time-to-resolve customer billing issues by 80% using RPA bots to gather info from multiple systems and create customer-ready responses.

6. Sales Process Automation

Sales teams bogged down in administrative work can hugely benefit from automation:

  • Data capture & entry – Bots can ingest data from forms and documents and update CRM and sales databases with speed and accuracy. This keeps records current.

  • Lead qualification – Automated lead scoring rules consistently classify and prioritize new leads for follow up.

  • Contract processing – Automating contract data extraction, creating drafts, and handling approvals accelerates deal completion.

  • Account management – Bots handle customer account updates like adding new contacts, verifying info, and sending welcome packs.

  • Reporting – Automated sales reports, leaderboards, and forecasts provide real-time visibility into performance.

Software firm Salesforce automated lead and account data transfers between systems, reducing manually intensive work for sales reps by 95%.

Best Practices for Process Automation Success

If you‘re looking to build a business case for automation and implement it across your organization, keep these proven best practices in mind:

1. Identify and Prioritize Processes

Conduct workshops and process mining analyses to identify top automation opportunities – high volume, repetitive processes prone to errors and delays. Start with pain points that align to business goals.

2. Build the Business Case

Analyze expected costs, ROI, and intangible benefits. Calculate ROI taking into account reduced labor and errors. Demonstrate how automation aligns to business objectives like improved efficiency, cost reduction, or scalability.

3. Design Flawless Automations

Document processes thoroughly, identify exceptions, and design automation workflows accordingly. Incorporate compliance and security controls. Partner with IT security and infrastructure teams.

4. Start Small, Demonstrate Value

Prove out value through small contained pilots first. Refine based on lessons learned before scaling further. Quick wins build confidence in automation.

5. Choose the Right Technology

Evaluate leading tools like UiPath, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, Microsoft, and more. Select the tool(s) best suited to your stack and use cases. Leverage both RPA and AI where possible.

6. Develop Governance

Define policies and procedures aligned to business goals for standardization. Address security, audits, compliance, maintenance, and continuous improvement as part of governance.

7. Monitor Closely

Monitor automated processes in real-time through central control rooms. Monitor SLAs, transaction volumes, system connections, errors etc. to identify improvements.

8. Manage Organizational Change

Get executive alignment and support employees through the transition. Reskill employees to oversee bots or focus on higher cognitive work. Celebrate automation successes.

Following these best practices will help you build a foundation for long-term automation success and continuous improvement.

Conclusion

Business process automation enables companies to achieve new levels of productivity, efficiency, and cost savings. By thoughtfully automating repetitive back-office tasks, employees can focus on more rewarding work while customer experiences improve through streamlined operations.

However, careful planning and change management are critical for automation success. First understand your business objectives, processes, and pain points. Start small with contained pilots to demonstrate value. Choose the right tools and develop governance for standards.

With the right strategy, business process automation can transform how your company operates and deliver significant competitive advantage. The examples and best practices provided in this 4,300 word guide should help you pursue automation in a methodical way and maximize benefits over the long-term.