Manual vs. Automation Process: Which One Is Better?

Arsh Manzer
November 30, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
Photo credit
Manual vs. automation process is a never-ending argument. Read on as we settle this debate once and for all.
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Do you find yourself chasing down errors, reconciling data, and shuffling papers around the office? If yes, it's time to automate your business processes. 

Just because you've been working with the same manual version over time doesn't necessarily make it the best way. Businesses can now significantly improve work with automation instead of sticking to arduous manual labor. 

Today, organizations are continually modifying business operations by implementing various software applications across different departments. When done right, not only do these tools help streamline business processes and ensure accuracy at all data touchpoints but also outperform competitors.

But you don't have to take our word for it. If you're torn between automation vs. manual processes, you're at the right place.

Manual processes vs. automated processes

Let's assume you want to create an order for a repair job. 

First, you need to find the paper version of the purchase order request form, fill out every detail, and attach it as an email to your manager. The manager then approves and sends it to procurement to create the order. 

Handling a manual task like this poses a lot of challenges, such as:

  • The form may have many fields, giving room for data transfer errors.
  • No way to check how far along the process is
  • You need to send additional emails to determine if the manager has approved.
  • The manager may be out sick, on vacation, or traveling for business, meaning you can only complete the process once they return.
  • There could be data security risk and litigation exposure for your company if the information needs to be secured properly.

On the other hand, an automated process eliminates these issues and streamlines your business processes to improve efficiency and productivity in your organization. It gives you confidence that the task is completed and data remains accurate and not subject to exposure.

Want to find out how a manual process compares to an automated one?

Here's a table showing a head-to-head comparison of a manual vs. automated process:

% Please add the following required packages to your document preamble:
% \usepackage[table,xcdraw]{xcolor}
% If you use beamer only pass "xcolor=table" option, i.e. \documentclass[xcolor=table]{beamer}
                                                   & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Manual Process}}                                                                           & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Automated Process}}                                                                     \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Management}}          & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} Requires human effort to push through every step of a task process}                                & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} System automatically carries out task processes with minimal human intervention}                \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Reminders}}           & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} Requires human effort to send reminders or notifications to people responsible for task processes} & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} System automatically reminds or notifies the right people to carry out task processes}          \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Document Tracking}}   & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} Must send messages to find out where documents are}                                                & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} The software keeps a status log of every item}                                                  \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Communication}}       & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} It happens outside of the process via emails, calls, etc}                                          & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} Remains within the workflow software for easy tracking}                                         \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Data Accuracy}}       & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} The possibility of human error is high due to the amount and complexity of data.}                  & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} The scope of error is minimal because the system collects and stores information in real time.} \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Security}}            & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} Less secure as paperwork and documents can be accessed by anyone}                                  & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} More secure as data is hosted in the cloud and password-protected}                              \\
{\color[HTML]{0E101A} \textbf{Completion of forms}} & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} All fields must be input manually}                                                                 & {\color[HTML]{0E101A} System auto-fills some fields with regular details}                                            

What are the challenges of manual documentation?

When we talk about manual documentation processes, we refer to any tasks done by humans, like entering data, sending emails, keeping track of paperwork, requesting approvals, and more.

While they are essential for business success, these manual processes also come with operational inefficiencies, leading to errors and affecting your bottom line. 

Below are some challenges associated with manual operations:

1. Time-consuming

Manual processes make employees spend many hours on basic and repetitive tasks. This reduces their overall productivity, giving them less time to bring value to the company. 

In fact, a survey revealed that seven out of ten finance teams spend up to tenworking hours per week on tasks that could be automated — time that could be better spent on innovating and helping the company reach new heights. 

2. Increased risk

Relying on humans for tasks that should be automated leaves your business vulnerable to risks. 

Humans are prone to errors that could be as simple as a number being off on inventory counts or something much more drastic. The increased manual process can open you up to litigation, financial penalties, and the costs of fixing errors like dealing with angry customers or spending time on inventory adjustments.

3. Lack of visibility

Manual processes are much harder to track than automated processes. You may struggle with recordkeeping if you complete your tasks on paper or in other disconnected locations. 

The lack of visibility also leads to inaccurate data resulting in flawed insights. For instance, one person may input N/A if a form field doesn't apply, while another may input zero — or leave it blank completely. These inconsistencies can create problems, especially if the data is being used for analysis.

4. Limited scalability

Manual processes aren't flexible and scalable. If you're in a busy season and need to increase output or respond to a demand spike, you need to hire more hands and train them. This takes a significant amount of time and increases labor costs. 

5. TONS of bottlenecks

Bottlenecks resulting from errors, inefficiency, and increased demand may cause work to pile up when you operate with a manual process. This can slow down other aspects of the task process. 

Benefits of automation

Automation reduces the time spent on repetitive and boring tasks, so the hours are focused on work that drives profits. It reduces project management risks, automatically moving information from one point to another. 

As a result, bottlenecks are minimized, and there are fewer touchpoints and opportunities for errors. 

Other benefits of business automation include the following:

  • Scalability: Technology is easily scalable. In seasons of growing business and high demand, automation allows you to meet demand effortlessly and often at no additional costs. 
  • Insights: Automation aids decision-making by giving accurate data to draw analysis from. You can gain deep insights into analytics and reports from automation software.
  • Reduced time and costs: Automation facilitates time-saving by eliminating wasteful and repetitive practices, giving a faster turnaround on tasks that typically take hours. You end up saving costs alongside.
  • Collaborative working: By integrating systems of different departments in an organization, automated processes make it easier for other teams to work together on a project or deal.
  • Higher operational efficiency: With automation, businesses get work done faster. Mundane and tedious tasks are taken care of, saving time for high-value work and resulting in higher efficiency.
  • Minimized errors: Humans are prone to make mistakes. Absent-mindedness, distractions, and forgetfulness can affect a worker's performance, especially when dealing with routine work. But computers don't get distracted. So automating processes minimizes human errors drastically.
  • Better standardization: Automated processes follow the same steps to perform tasks and never stray from defined rules. This improves the organizational standard and allows you to achieve consistent results.
  • Improved audit trail: Automation helps you track each step of an audit trail so you can see who did what and when. This not only promotes accountability and data security but enables you to demonstrate compliance with regulatory bodies.

What business processes can I automate? (+ recommended automation tools)

Any process within your organization can be automated. The main question is, to what extent can a process be automated, and what's the best solution for automating a process?

In general, some factors indicate the need for office automation, such as time-sensitive needs, significant impact on other processes and systems, high-volume and recurring tasks involving multiple people, and audit trails and compliance. 

The following lists a couple of commonly automated processes in organizations:

1. Employee onboarding

Hiring employees may appear to be a simple process, but in reality, it involves multiple tasks. The entire process can become chaotic, from filling out employee information forms and scheduling training sessions to collecting relevant documents and opening bank accounts. 

Automating the onboarding process allows for a smooth transition from one task to the next, making employees more productive and instilling greater trust in your organization. With an automation tool, you can set up an automated email cadence for new employees to send info and welcome emails, reducing inconsistencies in the onboarding process.

Recommended Tools: Frevvo, Comindware Tracker, Kissflow

2. Customer support

If there's a solution for your team to spend less time on the phone with irate clients while improving customer satisfaction, wouldn't you want to try it? Automating manual steps with artificial intelligence improves customer satisfaction as processes become much faster. 

There's value in solving customer issues with automation through chatbots, help centers, and other artificial intelligence systems. Customer service automation platforms also improve the overall customer support process, giving you opportunities for operational excellence.

Recommended Tools: Zendesk

3. Purchase orders

When we talk about recurring organizational tasks, a purchase order request is one of them.

Filling out forms and requesting approvals is tedious and rife with constraints such as delayed approvals, purchase order forms, and mistakes in delivering the supplies.

An automation tool eliminates these errors and retains all process-related information within the workflow to make purchase order executions faster and easier.

Recommended Tools: Samsonite, Kissflow

4. Social media management

Many tasks are involved in managing a social media account daily. You must create and schedule posts, monitor comments and messages, research content ideas, and more. Completing these processes manually can be very time-consuming, which is why some form of workflow automation is necessary to keep up with the tasks. 

Automation software like Sprout Social and Hootsuite can allow you to map and send out your content at specific times. These tools can also manage communication—like moderating comments and giving responses to inquiries—from different platforms all in one place. 

Recommended Tools: Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Hubspot, Buffer

5. Sales processes

Salespeople love closing deals but hate the paperwork or CRM updates that come with it. An automation tool can automate some time-consuming, repetitive tasks in the sales process, such as call logging, filing, handovers to the implementation team, and email sequence. 

Automation software can also integrate with existing CRMs to create sales automation, break down data silos and fill gaps in the sales process. So rather than spending time on manual data entry, the sales team can focus on valuable tasks like lead generation and sales strategy. 

You can also use process documentation tools to create step-by-step guides for your sales reps without any effort on your part. 

For instance, Scribe can automate process documentation, including detailed SOPs showing sales reps how to look for prospects on LinkedIn and step-by-step guide templates demonstrating the right way to use sales tools. 

Scribe also captures images and screenshots to make the documents more visual — kind of like this one:

Recommended Tools: Scribe, Pipefy, Hubspot Sales Hub, Calendly

6. Marketing

Just like the sales process, you can simplify marketing activities with automation. A marketing automation tool can track and measure a prospect's activity, identify buyer-readiness conditions and deliver leads to sales as soon as they meet the criteria.

With automation software, you can also set your email marketing processes and align marketing campaigns with the sales team's efforts.

For example, you can generate monthly emails to convey relevant content or offers to a client distribution list. This significantly reduces the hours spent manually reaching out to customers.

Recommended Tools: Netsuite, Quu

7. Financial processes

Automating some financial processes frees up time for more complex tasks. Some of these processes include gathering invoices, creating reports, and calculating allocations. 

A document automation tool, for instance, can create standardized invoices, while a reporting tool can automate the creation of financial statements. Financial reporting software helps simplify the entire process by reducing errors and time cycles compared to handling the process manually.

Recommended Tools: Laserfiche, Kissflow

8. IT services

There are instances where the volume of incoming IT tickets can exceed the capacity of the available IT staff to handle them. In these high-demand situations, automation software can analyze, classify and move incoming tickets to the appropriate personnel to manage. It can also alert the IT staff on issues requiring immediate attention and provide service updates to customers. 

Recommended Tools: ServiceNow

9. Project management

Several project management risks can be mitigated with workflow automation. 

In fact, you can automate the entire logistical part of a project. For instance, you can see who's doing what or when the task is due with a project management tool, who will then automatically send notifications to the next person within the workflow when one task is complete. 

Managers can also track progress on the dashboards to find out what the employees are working on, rather than wasting time going around and asking questions.

Recommended Tools: Asana, Trello

Automation is the future of business

Automation has now become critical for businesses that want to manage their operations and grow efficiently. Transitioning from a manual to an automated process means less time spent on mundane tasks and more time focused on profit-yielding activities. 

It's also important to note that automation does not remove the human element in your business operations. Rather, it enhances it. By automating your work processes, you'll be on track to improve operational efficiency, reduce business risks, and positively impact your bottom line.

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