In our highly connected business environment, it’s increasingly vital for businesses to embrace digital transformation and increase their efficiency if they want to remain competitive.
This may seem like an insurmountable challenge for organizations that are still bogged down in legacy systems and paper-heavy processes. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is that digitizing and automating your business processes can save you a significant amount of time and money while freeing employees from repetitive, mindless administrative tasks, so they can focus on doing the work they were hired to do.
Everyday business processes are the lifeblood of all organizations. From approving purchase orders to authorizing travel to on-boarding new hires to processing student applications, these processes define what employees do every day. They might be three simple steps or may be a complicated 10-step workflow with conditional routing but the general principle is the same: deliver information from Point A to Point B with all the required signatures, approvals and authorizations in place.
According to Forrester, business process automation has the potential to reduce operating costs by up to 90 percent.
What is Business Process Automation?
In a nutshell, business process automation (BPA) refers to the activity of applying technology to automate the routine manual processes that take place in businesses every day. Sometimes referred to as robotic process automation (RPA), it could be as simple as creating an automated email response or follow-up, or it could involve automating more complex processes such as multi-level approval workflows.
Essentially, most everyday tasks that are repeated frequently and typically follow the same sequence of steps can be automated to increase the speed, accuracy, and consistency with which these processes are performed, improving operational efficiency. For instance, routine tasks like time tracking, as well as core operational processes such as purchase orders and travel requests can be streamlined considerably with the help of automation.
What Are the Benefits of Business Process Automation?
Ever painstakingly filled out a form only to be informed that it was the wrong form, or worse, out of date? Or perhaps you made an error and had to start over on a new form because there wasn’t enough space to add the correct information?
BPA reduces paperwork – and paper usage – by adopting digital forms instead of outdated PDFs or paper-based documents. These forms can be easily edited and updated online, and if they’re dynamic, they can even pull known information from a database, so you don’t have to input information you’ve already provided. Digital forms can also include helpful contextual messages to clarify what information each field requires.
With business process automation software, you can build workflows that map out your processes into various steps and apply rules or conditions to be met at each step in order to proceed to the next step. For instance, you can build a rule that specific fields of a form need to be completed before it can be submitted, or that purchase requisitions or travel requests exceeding a predetermined total cost automatically get routed to a senior manager for approval before being sent to the finance department.
Let’s look at some specific benefits of process automation.
Accelerate Your Business
Automation makes everything go faster. Documents get routed to the right person at the right time, notifications and reminders speed up approvals, and integration and validation reduces data entry – and the need to correct resulting errors. The speed of modern business is ever-increasing; automation ensures that your business keeps pace.
Build Better Relationships
BPA also allows for better relationships with coworkers and customers alike by ensuring that admin tasks don’t get buried and forgotten, resulting in unnecessary delays and follow-ups. For instance, with automated reminders and mobile-friendly forms, there’s no reason for admin bottlenecks to keep customers or other staff waiting.
Offer Stellar Customer Service
Excellent customer service is no longer a differentiator – it’s the norm. Today’s customers, especially millennials, expect instant responses online and become frustrated if they have to wait. Process automation lets you bring your operations closer to the customer, gives them 24/7 access to information when they need it
Routing and commenting capabilities also make it easy for individuals or departments to collaborate. For instance, BPA software can streamline getting other faculty members’ input on syllabus proposals before revising and submitting them for approval from the department head.
Standardize Procedures and Reduce Errors
Using BPA to automate data entry (and re-entry) not only saves an enormous amount of time and effort but also significantly reduces the margin for error. It also makes it easy to ensure that best practices are followed, and approval hierarchies are universally enforced.
Thanks to greater data gathering, reporting and analytics capabilities, BPA promotes visibility, allowing you to further streamline processes and make more informed strategic decisions.
Boost Job Satisfaction
Talent is your most important asset. Freeing skilled staff from dreaded, time-wasting admin tasks allows them to focus their abilities on the high-level tasks you hired them for, boosting productivity and improving job satisfaction. Allow faculty to focus on teaching, doctors on patients, and HR on nurturing talent.
Enable Mobility & Scalability
Modern process automation tools like frevvo include drag-and-drop designers that create responsive user interfaces. Right out of the box, your forms and processes will automatically work on mobile devices, look natural, and provide a pleasing user experience. They’re available 24/7 and performance automatically scales to meet higher demand during peak periods.
Areas Where Process Automation Produces Great Results
Process automation can be used to streamline just about any repetitive manual process. It’s particularly useful for organizations such as retailers, K-12 schools, and institutions of higher education that have a high turnover of customers (students) and deal with massive amounts of documentation.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of processes that can benefit from automation:
- HR enrollment and new hire onboarding/offboarding
- Student enrollment and registration
- Financial aid and grant applications
- Document management
- Time or attendance tracking
- Contracts and consent forms
- Appointment scheduling and rescheduling
- Purchase orders and requisitions
- Accounting processes
- Order processing
- Inventory management
- Data analysis and risk assessment
- Time off requests
- Travel requests
- Performance management
- Event RSVPs
- Audits and compliance
- Email marketing and social media
- Patient intakes and referrals
The possibilities for process automation are virtually endless, particularly if you work with a partner that offers software seamless integrations via APIs.
Which Processes Shouldn’t You Automate?
Before you go into an automation frenzy, keep in mind that while implementing BPA can be highly advantageous, it’s better not to automate certain processes.
- Processes that involve complex decision-making and critical thinking capabilities. While you can automate certain approvals and rejections with basic conditions, more complex decisions that involve weighing various factors are better made by humans – although that’s not to say automation can’t assist in making these decisions, for instance by giving strategic oversight through detailed reporting.
- Processes that require a “human touch” also shouldn’t be (entirely) automated. These include processes that could potentially involve emotions, such as change management, giving difficult feedback, or certain parts of the offboarding process. While automating parts of these processes can make them far more efficient, it’s important to combine this with human interaction so as not to alienate employees or customers.
- Processes that lack structure or are subject to frequent change and fluctuation are difficult to automate. If you find it difficult to identify specific rules or conditions to apply to a process, it’s probably better not to automate it.
There are a number of ways to implement business process automation.
The first is through a custom solution. This is primarily of interest to organizations with complex legacy systems that aren’t currently capable of interfacing with other systems through APIs. Solutions like robotic process automation (RPA) can help, but they’re a short-term fix. While they’ll certainly extend the shelf-life of your legacy system, custom-built solutions will be more suited to your exact needs.
The downside is that custom solutions are prohibitively expensive to build and even more expensive to maintain. Talented developers are difficult to find and retain. The odds are, you have other, more important work for them to do anyway.
The second method is cheaper but more ramshackle. Scripting, hot-wiring, or point-to-point integrations allow you to automate pieces of your business processes. For instance, you might use Zapier to generate a Salesforce record from a spreadsheet, reducing data entry. This can be helpful if you only need automation in a few places. The downside is that your workflows can quickly turn into a disorganized, hodgepodge mess of integrations that are difficult to understand and maintain, particularly if the person responsible leaves and you don’t have a stellar handover process in place.
The third method is implementing visual, low-code automation software. Modern software like frevvo is easy to use, provides drag-and-drop tools to design forms and workflows, connectors to integrate with systems, and built-in mobility. This enables you to focus not just on individual tasks but the process as a whole. You can also use proprietary solutions for specific use cases and integrations, like use Zapier to connect online frevvo forms and workflows to Salesforce or Quickbooks.
Choosing the Right Process Automation Software
You may be tempted to jump right in and automate everything in sight, but it’s wise to consider your unique requirements before you pick any software. Here are some key considerations:
UX is crucial. Unless your online processes look amazing and provide snappy performance, no one will use them.
The system should support mobile use without specialized coding. Responsive design should include features such as slightly larger buttons, added padding between sections, and breaking up long forms into shorter pages.
Cloud-based deployment has major benefits and has become something of a default in recent years. Business processes are more useful if they can connect to your internal system data, which is not always possible from the cloud and you need to take that into consideration. Your business may need a connector to be deployed in your DMZ, or you may have to choose an on-premise, private cloud deployment.
As mentioned above, processes need to access data in your internal systems and databases. Make sure that the system has hooks into SQL databases, Active Directory and other core software deployed in your organization.
Your IT department is probably treading water. Make sure that the software you choose includes a visual, low-code platform that allows “citizen developers” – not just coders-by-trade – to create forms and workflows using the drag-and-drop function. Even if IT will create most of your workflows, you should still look for visual tools. The earlier you involve business users in the process, the more likely you are to create an automation that meets needs and gets adopted.
Business Process Automation Use Cases
New Employee Onboarding
Onboarding new employees is an important part of the hiring process, but it can be time-consuming and tedious. The sooner you get your new hires onboarded, the sooner they can get to work. With BPA, you can streamline the process considerably.
Let’s take a look at an example onboarding workflow using frevvo’s process automation software.
Let’s take a closer look at the steps involved.
Step 1: New Hire Completes Employee Information Form
This step is fairly straightforward, but many companies fail to collect this information efficiently. This simple form can also be used to periodically update existing employee information by linking it to your database using frevvo’s handy connectors.
Step 2: New Hire Completes Employee Allowances/ W-4 Form
This step is essential to ensure that your business meets its tax obligations and allows you to make the process easy for your employees by including informative instructions that help them understand what is required of them. Notice that this form doesn’t ask for information that was already provided earlier. For example, while the IRS W-4 requires First Name, Last Name, Social Security Number, and even the signature, the new hire doesn’t have to re-enter this data. We’ll automatically copy it over to the final W-4. The form also performs calculations automatically to reduce errors.
Step 3: New Hire Completes I-9 Form
In order for your business to comply with federal regulations, it’s vital that you include these forms in your onboarding workflows. Automating the management of these documents ensures that these important forms don’t slip between the cracks and get you in trouble with the authorities further down the line.
This form also uses conditional behavior. The IRS I-9 form requires additional information if the new hire’s eligibility status is “Authorized Alien.” The frevvo form will automatically display this conditional section only if the user selects that option. It’s hidden otherwise to reduce clutter and confusion.
Step 4: New Hire Confirms Information Provided Is Correct
Before the new employee submits the onboarding forms, they can preview the exact Federal W-4 and I-9 forms that have been generated for them. After all, these are important documents and most employees would like to view them to confirm that the correct information, signature, and other details are being provided to the government.
Step 5: Documents Are Routed to HR for Approval
Just like that, HR has all the documents it needs. Instead of wasting time ensuring that all the paperwork is correct, they can focus on introducing the new employee to the team and initiating training so they can hit the ground running.
You can, of course, make this workflow more elaborate, adding any other forms your business uses in its onboarding process, such as non-disclosure agreements, service level agreements, benefits registration, and so on.
School Time Off Request
Automating time off requests can save a considerable amount of time,
particularly in large organizations like schools and higher education institutions that have numerous moving parts.
In these types of business, it’s vital to have clear oversight of planned staff absences to make provision for students, and automation can help to make this process simpler.
Let’s take a closer look at how a school time off request workflow can be automated using frevvo.
Step 1: Employee Completes Time Off Request Form
The employee (in this case a teacher) fills out the time off request form. With dynamic forms and the right integrations, this form can auto-complete known fields such as PTO Available, making this step much easier. The form rules can also make certain fields such as Reason for Absence mandatory.
Step 2: Manager Approves or Rejects Request
Once the employee clicks Submit, the form is automatically routed to their manager, who simply checks the relevant box and adds their digital signature. They also have the option to comment. With mobile-friendly forms, the manager can approve or reject this request regardless of their location, reducing bottlenecks.
Step 3: HR Department Updates Employee Record
Next, the form is routed to the HR department to confirm that the employee’s record was automatically updated to reflect new time off balances. Once HR has verified and signed off, the time off is approved. You may also configure your forms to automatically send the applicant an update notification at each stage of the process. Additional steps may also be added to the workflow to streamline arranging a substitute teacher or stand-in sports coach, as needed.
Try frevvo’s no-code drag-and-drop form builder and visual workflow designer for all your business process automation needs.