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30 Actionable Tips for Business Process Automation

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In the past, when people thought of business process automation (BPA), they thought of robots carrying out human tasks. Today when it has become a reality, this process has become a way to ensure customer satisfaction and grow revenue. More than 40 percent of organizations are automating their processes and they are happy with the results. And that rate is on the rise.

Here in this post, you’ll find 30 actionable tips on how to automate your business process the right way.

So, let’s dive right in:

What is Business Process Automation?

Business process automation

Business process automation involves the use of technology to perform repetitive tasks in order to make them more efficient. It is much more than just managing data or records. It stretches to integrating advanced software that controls various applications within a business.

With business process automation you let technology handle tasks that are traditionally repeated by humans like customer relations, marketing, analytics, sales processes as well as employee management and so much more.

Sometimes it is confused with business process management which is a more complex process involving more methodologies to manage organizations.

BPA is a progressive process that begins with basic automation like centralizing information storage. It then progresses to involve processes managed by apps and software that ensure consistency and transparency in the way tasks are executed. The next stage involves integrating more complex technology. Humans define the rules that the technology will follow and the technology learns to perform tasks based on set procedures. The final process is artificial intelligence where technology can make decisions based on what it has learned, for example deciding what response to give to different customer inquiries and how to process orders.

Why Business Process Automation?

According to a survey conducted more than 40 percent of business managers would like to automate their processes. Here are the reasons why

Customer Satisfaction: Every business needs to strive to see to it that they meet and exceed customer expectations. Automating business processes ensures that there is a set standard that remains consistent regardless of who is overseeing the process. Customers will prefer your service because of the consistently excellent service.

Processes are Streamlined: BPA will enhance a clear understanding of the flow of work. As you plan for automation, you gain insights into how work is done, who does it, and at what stage. This presents better accountability, faster turnaround time. In the end, you can focus on activities that add value to the business and eliminate redundant and wasteful practices.

Compliance: You can ensure better compliance if you automate processes. Everything is recorded and that makes it easier to comply because no one can claim ignorance of stages of a particular process.

To Gain Clarity: Every business needs to have a clear understanding of how its processes carry on and how effective they are. As you plan the processes of your business, you can see what is missing and plan how to patch that gap. Automation can become a window for a business to see how efficient it is and come up with improvements.

Cartoon documents and clock

Benefits of Business Process Automation

Recognizing the benefits of BPA makes the considerable initial investment into this process worthwhile. You will experience both long and short-term benefits. Here are the benefits of business process automation.

Reduction in Time Wastage and Cost

Some processes within a business are essential, but when they are performed manually they become time wasters and errors caused by human involvement can cost the business a lot of money. By automating these processes, you ensure that less time is spent on these tasks and human error is eliminated which will save money.

Costs associated with human involvement extend beyond errors. Some of these tasks account for overtime that has to be paid for. With automation, this is a cost that doesn’t arise. According to Forbes, a single mortgage company can save $1 million a year by automating

Improved Productivity

With the amount of time saved carrying out repetitive tasks, productivity is improved. Those tasks are carried out faster by automation and the labor that is freed up can be more productive in other aspects of the business where they are best suited and will be more productive.

Cartoon document

Quality is Maintained

By automating processes of your business, you ensure uniformity in execution. This will guarantee that the quality remains the same. The level of consistency in service delivery and product manufacture, handling, and delivery cannot be compromised as the case would have been if there was human involvement.

Efficient Tracking of Tasks

The automated system is programmed to update status reports at every stage of the process so there is no need to call another department to find out what the progress is on a particular task. A visible dashboard will display progress reports automatically so there is no confusion about who is handling what and how far they have gone with it.

Efficient Communication

Automation of these processes streamlines communication. Communication is a major problem within businesses as some messages may not reach the intended recipient or they may be delivered using the wrong medium. Automation ensures streamlined communication with a dedicated means of communication and the status of a message is clearly displayed. You avoid situations where a person did not receive a message because it was sent by text or the response was delivered verbally and someone forgot to pass it on.

Deadlines can be Met Easier

Because of the ease in tracking and improved communication, it is simpler to see how realistic a deadline is and if a task will be finished within the allotted time. This can enable improvements to be made to ensure that tasks get completed by the deadline.

Cartoon printer

Easier Continuity and Replication

If for some reason an employee is unable to perform their job, the substitute will not find it hard to fill in for that employee. Processes and guidelines are already set so it is easy to work as if the same person is in charge. Also if a business chooses to expand operations to a different place, replicating the quality and standards will be easy. Standards remain the same regardless of how many brunches a business may have.

Customer Satisfaction

The ultimate benefit is customer satisfaction. Customers will get what they want faster and they are sure that what they received the last time will be the same thing they will receive this time. If the customers are happy, then they will return and probably encourage more to come to the business so that will translate into more profit for the business.

Business Process Automation Examples

A large stack of paperwork

Document Automation

For just about every business, documents are a constant need. In some cases, it is much more than others. For this example, let us take the need for documents in the process of recruitment. Right from the beginning of recruitment where line managers and HR officials coordinate to come up with job specifications for job adverts, document automation saves hours of bone-breaking back and forth coordination because all this is automatically sourced from templates and then forwarded to be published.

The HR department can also use stored data to identify possible candidates who meet the criteria for recruitment. This is done with the click of a button and all eligible candidate’s information will appear on the screen.

After interviews, the onboarding process is also simplified using automated welcome emails to successful candidates. All the documents that need to be shared with the candidate can be retrieved from already authorized templates and automatically sent to the recruit.   This includes employment offer letter, job description, company policies and guidelines, medical insurance and so much more. This makes the onboarding process move much faster and ensures there are no errors.

Customer Service

Customers look to businesses for quick resolution of their problems. Automating the customer service process will ensure that the business can provide such quick resolutions. A common example of business automation in customer care is automated email responses.

Here, the customer does not need to wait for a human to read an email to respond. The email automated system is loaded with various responses to suit the different questions that customers may ask. For example, “how to order product X in my location” the automated system will analyze the question and then match it with the corresponding answer so that the response is almost immediate and accurate at the same time.

This reduces the amount of time customer care personnel spend responding to emails that can be addressed automatically. Other areas that utilize automation in customer service include:

Cartoon computer

Marketing

Many functions within marketing can be automated to help marketers manage leads better. One of the common examples of automation of the marketing process is auto-response for lead nurturing.

When a lead signs up for a particular service or product, they need to be educated about the service and the company that is providing it. An automated email can be sent to the subscriber explaining what they can expect, providing a profile of the company, benefits of the service as well as information about how to get started.

With automation, the marketer does not have to type out this information, neither do they have to get actively involved in this process which means they have more time to pursue other leads and close more deals.

Business Process Automation Steps

1. Analyze All Your Business Tasks

It should all begin with a careful analysis of all your business processes. Understand how each of them is carried out and by who. See how effective the current processes are and what contribution they make towards the business.

Analyzing tasks may even help you determine certain tasks that do not even need to be carried out since they are duplications of another task or they are no longer necessary. A deep analysis will help you understand how your business processes contribute to the objectives of the organization.

Cartoon sticky note with scribbles

2. Document Every Process

As you analyze, you need to document the processes involved. This may be a long process since that means going from one department to another carefully recording how everything is done and at what point.

This will help when you have to automate those same processes, but it also helps you see where the problems are and that is your next actionable tip.

3. Identify Workflow Problems

As you document each process, you should be able to identify every gap in the process that may be causing inefficiency. Some processes may delay tasks, others are more prone to error and other tasks hinder continuity.

Identify all the gaps in your processes and document them as well so that you can understand and come up with possible fixes during the automation process.

4. Identify Processes That Would Benefit Most from Automation

Do not automate for the sake of automation. Not every process needs to be automated. Identify those that seem to take up the most time and labor. Processes like document generation are important for the running of a business but they also take up a lot of time, which would make document automation more relevant than parcel delivery. It may be too expensive to automate all the processes within a business so start with the most important ones.

Programmer sitting in front of a laptop showing code

5. Measure Return on Investment

This probably goes hand in hand with identifying the benefits of automating a particular process. Consider what your business will gain by automating a particular process. You are going to have to invest in this process so make sure that it is an investment worth spending on. If it will enable you to serve your customers better, then it may be worth considering.

6. Help Employees Prepare for Change

Automating processes is not going to be met with open arms by everyone. It is a change that people may need to acclimatize themselves to and a business needs to help them do that. Start by educating them about the benefits of automation, show them how it will work, and assure them it is for their good.

Sometimes automation may mean some employees will be left redundant, which something they will need help with whether it's placing them in new roles or helping them transition to new companies.

7. Train Employees

As you help them accept change, employees need to learn how to incorporate automation into their tasks. An employee who may have been used to walking down the hall to the manager’s office for a signature will have to learn how to use a digital signature and a customer care representative who attended to every email sent to the business would need to learn how to let auto-responses do most of the work.

8. Set Timelines

The process of automating cannot go on indefinitely, timelines need to be set. This includes steps like studying and documenting processes, right up to the switch from running both manual and automatic processes to complete automation.

Timelines, however, need to be realistic and well advised. Seek the advice of professionals to give you an idea of how long it can take to implement particular strategies for a business of a particular size.

9. Have Goals

When you choose to automate a particular process, make sure you understand why you want to do this and what you need to achieve. For example, you might want to improve customer response time, processing of orders or minimize the amount of time spent on particular tasks. These goals should contribute to the improvement of the business.

10.  Define Success

Closely related to the goals is the measure of success. Every business needs to be able to measure success. For example, if the goal of automation is to improve customer response time, you need to define how long t should take to give a customer a response and how many customers you want to help within a particular period. Success needs to be about exact figures and not ambiguous goals.

11.  Start Small

Business Process Automation cannot be rushed, it is best implemented as a gradual process. Find small areas where you can automate and then expand further. It is advisable to start with the easiest processes first. This will take up fewer finances and will boost confidence as you begin to expand the process.

12.  Create Implementation Teams

Within the organization, there are likely to be some people more enthusiastic than others about automation, such people learn faster and can be of great help during the transition. Add such people to a team and if possible, create a department in charge of automation that will help in the process of automation as well as training other employees. Make sure you include an expert to head the team.

13.  Automate Decision Making

Certain decisions within the workflow can be automated. This will reduce the number of people that have to be involved in a single process. Machines can analyze a process to see if certain criteria have been met so that they can make a particular decision. For example, deciding if a customer inquiry should be forwarded to the technical support team or to the marketing team. Implementation teams can help with creating different common scenarios and what category they fall in.

14.  Document Progress

Every step that you take towards automation needs to be documented. Some workflows might be easy to forget so it is important that you have a record of what has been implemented and you can compare it with what is in the plan to ensure that you have included all the necessary procedures. If you miss out a workflow process, it could affect the entire automation system.

Cartoon CD

15.  Choose the Right Software

If you know what you want to achieve, then you should find software that can deliver what you need. Just because the next business is using a particular automation software does not mean it will be appropriate for your business. Seek out software that is intended for the processes you want to automate.

16.  Plan for Years to Come

What is your business plan for the next 5 years? Do you intend to expand, is it realistic to predict 100 percent growth? Such considerations are important because the software you choose will need to be scalable. Can the processes you are automated be replicated in 5 years when your business has grown?

17.  Schedule Tasks

The initial process of automation is going to be labor-intensive, you however cannot put your entire business operations on hold as you create templates, document processes, try out software, and so on. It will require that tasks are scheduled so that you have a balance between the daily operations of the business and the activities geared towards automation.

18.  Involve Employees

Despite the presence of a team dedicated to the automation process, you will still need to involve other employees especially those that will be affected by the automation process. These people can provide the information needed to make certain processes error-free. They can also help when it comes to documenting processes.

19.  Set up Effective Communication Processes

In the process of implementation, there will be a lot of back and forth communication between the different people involved. There needs to be a centralized communication system. This will also provide transparency and help everyone see the progress made. Effective communication is essential to get the project completed according to the timelines.

20.  Prioritize

Setting priorities will help determine what has to be done next. The priorities should be agreed upon by everyone so that all the teams are on the same page. Sometimes priorities may change so be ready to revisit set plans and make changes depending on what is important at the time.

Cartoon money

21.  Budget

The budget is something you may have to revisit often. You need to budget in the beginning as well as after starting the process. Budgeting will determine how much you can achieve within a given period. For example, if you realize it will take up more money to automate an entire process within 3 months, you may need to adjust your expectations and set a new timeline that fits into the budget, alternatively you will need to allocate more finances towards meeting the timelines.

22.  Test

Since you will be starting small, you are likely to have certain easy processes automated faster than the rest. That is an opportunity to see how well it works. Try having that process run completely automated and see if it improves efficiency within the business. Something like automated email responses can be set up quickly and then tested. It will also help to get employees excited about automation.

23.  Gradually Phase-out Manual Operation

You will need to give employees time to warm up to the new technology. This may require that for a set period, you run both automated and manual workflows. Inform the staff that they will need to get used to the new system and then gradually phase it out. Sometimes no one may notice by the time it is gone.

Woman standing with a laptop near an IT room

24.  Integrate with Existing Tools

To make the process of automation easier and less expensive, find ways to integrate new software with the old. For example, if you are automating document generation, it would be easier if the software integrates with Microsoft programs that are already in use.

25.  Evaluate Performance

When the system is in place, you need to constantly evaluate what it is adding to the business. Is it achieving the goals you set up? is it worth the investment? Is there room for improvement? And are the customers happier?

26.  Teach the Customers

If for example, you automate customer care, it would be prudent to have a tutorial to help customers learn how to use the system. Self-service portals are not friendly to everyone so introduce them to it and show them how it works.

27.  Assess Customer Satisfaction

Part of evaluating performance depends on the reaction of the customers to your new process. From the time you begin automation, have regular surveys to find out if customers are happier or if there is no difference. There could be a possibility that the wrong process was automated.

28.  Setup Dedicated Technical Support

Dealing with technology is not 100% perfect, things may still go wrong. It is wise to set up contingency plans for such scenarios. Having a support team to deal with any software problems is a wise idea. In a manufacturing business, software malfunction can cause huge losses every minute the plant is not working.

29.  Replicate Success

If the rollout of automation is successful in one process of the business, it is then time to look at other processes that can benefit from the process. Learn from the experience and use that experience to improve other processes within your business.

30.  Update

Carry out periodic updates based on audits that prove there is a need to improve particular aspects of the automation system. Optimize the tools you are using so that the processes get better.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

Genesis Abel

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Genesis Abel
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