SOPs

The Ultimate Guide to Process Automation

More than half of business leaders are interested in process automation. Learn what process automation is, how it works and its benefits.

Introduction

If you’re thinking about business automation, you’re just in time. 

More than half of business leaders are interested in workforce automation. Not only does it improve productivity, it’s also a way to adapt to the accelerated digital transformation changes the pandemic brought.

According to Gartner, worldwide process automation spending is expected to increase to $3.4 billion in 2023 — a forecasted jump of 17.5 percent from 2022.

In this guide, you’ll learn what process automation is, its benefits, types and applications — and how Scribe can help streamline it.

Keep reading to find out:

  • What is process automation?
  • Benefits of process automation
  • Types & examples of process automation
  • How to automate a business process
  • Challenges of process automation
  • Final thoughts: What is process automation? A complete guide

What is process automation?

Process automation involves using technology to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, resulting in an optimized business process.

It removes human input from the process, so functions are performed quickly and results are unbiased and error-free. 

However, you should only use process automation for tasks that don't require strategy and creativity. These can range from simple tasks like data entry to more complex ones involving multiple functions or departments. 

There are many process automation tools to choose from — you can use software, scripts or robots.

Here’s how Kami Turky, CEO of Solar Energy Hackers, explains process automation.

Quote: “Process automation is using technology to control or monitor a process.

Process automation vs. business process management

Many people confuse process automation with business process management (BPM). Both are similar because they're used to manage processes efficiently and effectively. But BPM is broader and can cover tasks outside process automation.

Business process management refers to analyzing and optimizing business processes to meet your goals. It helps improve the outcome of process automation by eliminating flaws in manual tasks.

To sum up, process automation can contribute to BPM, but BPM may or may not involve process automation.=

Benefits of process automation

Process automation brings several benefits to organizations. These include saved time, improved productivity and reduced costs, among others. 

Reduces repetition & removes bottlenecks

Up to 78 percent of business leaders believe that automating tasks increases productivity — and they're not wrong.

Process automation reduces the need for employees to do repetitive manual work like data entry, resulting in increased efficiency and scalability. This enables employees to focus on strategic tasks and improve client relationships.

Saves time

Let’s face it: much of our workday involves low-value tasks.

Over half of business leaders believe that up to 30 percent of daily tasks can be automated. 

Imagine if you suddenly freed up nearly a third of your time at work — you’d have a lot more time for more valuable activities.

Process automation helps make that possible.

According to WorkMarket, more than half of employees expect to save nearly 240 hours a year by automating tasks. Business leaders save even more, with automation recovering up to 360 hours on their schedules.

Decreases errors

Avoidable problems often start with people slipping up— multiple studies estimate that human error causes the majority of accidents and issues in the workplace.

Automation removes the human aspect from the process, reducing errors and cutting the amount of rework.

Minimizes cost & increases revenue growth

Seventy-three percent of executives expect their revenue to grow from implementing automation solutions — and they're right to do so.

In 2016, IBM estimated bad data from human error cost businesses $3.1 trillion per year. That’s gone up to $12.9 trillion, according to Gartner estimates.

By standardizing their processes and digitizing their workflows using automation technology, more than half of IT leaders are able to save up to 50 percent on manual processing costs. Forrester data also shows that automation can cut business costs by up to 90 percent.

And as you know, lowered costs means your organization can take home more revenue.

Improves quality & capacity

More than half of automation initiatives are to improve business efficiency.

If you often get complaints about constant errors and slow service, automating repetitive tasks allows your organization to take on additional work while still receiving accurate results. 

Types & examples of process automation

There are several areas or functions in an organization that would benefit from automation. These include:

  • Sales and marketing activities like data entries and system queries.
  • Accounting functions like invoicing, budgeting and compliance.
  • HR functions like payroll, employee onboarding or termination.

Let’s look at the different types of process automation and where these examples fall under.

Business process automation

Business process automation (BPA) automates recurring tasks that require decision-making. 

An example of a BPA use case would be purchasing orders. They’re a key part of the procurement process but are often mired by manual data entry and filling out the same forms. 

BPA empowers you to store the information in a database to easily pull from later.

Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) mimics human behavior at the user interface layer, using robotic software and machine learning to carry out a set of rule-based tasks for a process. 

It doesn’t look at or change the process logic, which makes it ideal when you want to get repetitive tasks done quickly. 

A great example of an RPA use case would be for appointment scheduling systems. RPA bots can automate data collection, making appointment scheduling hassle-free and more efficient.

For example, here's a Scribe that shows you how to schedule and modify events on Google Calendar.

Digital process automation

Digital process automation (DPA) is a newer type of BPM that needs less coding and uses one or more types of automation technology, such as RPA or BPA.

Compared to RPA, which involves hardware, DPA only uses software and focuses on a single task.

An excellent example of a DPA use case is employee onboarding, which often requires tedious and time-consuming paperwork. You can use DPA to program the following:

  • Filling out personal information forms.
  • Setting up payroll and benefits.
  • Assigning office equipment.

This Scribe Page provides a step-by-step guide to customer onboarding on LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

How to automate a business process

  1. Align tasks with your business goals.
  2. Create a process map.
  3. Prioritize tasks and processes that benefit most from automation.
  4. Use tools.
  5. Create a set of KPIs.
  6. Get buy-in from management and staff.
  7. Measure and monitor.

1. Align tasks with your business goals

Before automating your business process, determine how and where process automation fits into your business goals. 

Having a clear plan helps you decide which processes or parts of the process you want to automate — letting you focus your efforts on a project that brings the most impact to the organization.

To start, identify opportunities or areas within your business that’ll be enhanced by process automation. The processes that require the most effort often have the best chance for improvement.

Here are some questions to guide you.

  • Why do you want to implement process automation?
  • What are you looking to achieve?
  • What is your specific timeline to achieve results?
  • Has it been allotted in your budget? How much?
  • What does successful implementation look like?

For example, Mark Pierce, CEO of Cloud Peak Law Group, shares that his firm’s primary motivation for applying process automation was to increase efficiency and reduce errors when scheduling client meetings.

Before automating their processes, they used email and phone calls and it typically took 72 hours to lock down a schedule. The process was drawn out, took valuable time away from the firm’s associates and was prone to mistakes.

But because they were clear on their goals and the results they wanted to achieve, they could choose the right solution.

2. Create a process map

A process map (also known as a process flowchart or workflow diagram,) illustrates your workflow. It depicts a series of events that produce a result and shows who and what is involved in a process.

Process maps document your workflow, empowering you to create repeatable processes. They also provide insight into your procedures and reveal areas that need improvement.

The team at Infinity Web Solutions, a full-service digital agency, shares:

“We tried to automate a very complex process which involved many steps and was data-heavy. To solve this problem, we broke down the process into smaller parts and identified what we could automate.”

To create a process map, look through your standard operating procedures (SOPs). Identify the activities, write out the sequence of events and create a flowchart.

You can draw the flowchart manually or use a flowchart creation tool.

Lastly, document flowchart creation with tools like Scribe. It captures your process while you work, generating a step-by-step guide ready to share at a click of a button.

Learn how to use Scribe to automate process documentation.

3. Prioritize tasks & processes that benefit most from automation

You can’t automate all tasks. So after aligning your goals and creating a process map, sort and determine which tasks you can automate.

For example, in account management, you can automate the standard onboarding email welcoming a new client, but the email reply when the client asks for specific information isn’t.

In a nutshell, these types of tasks benefit most from automation:

  • Standardized or rule-based. Standardized or rule-based tasks that don’t require additional strategy or input are the easiest to automate.
  • Repetitive. These tasks waste time and brainpower employees could spend doing more valuable work.
  • Time-sensitive. Automating time-sensitive tasks makes more sense because programs run 24/7, while humans don’t.
  • Impact other tasks within the business. Cloud Peak’s automated meeting scheduling is a prime example. The business couldn’t move forward without a scheduled meeting, so automating the task brought many returns to the firm.

Data processing is a prime example of an automatable task. According to the WorkMarket survey, more than half of business leaders believe it’s the easiest task to automate.

More than half of leaders and employees agree data processing is the easiest task to automate.

For example, here’s a Scribe that shows you how to mass update Salesforce records.

4. Use tools

Now that you’ve identified the tasks you want to automate, choose the right tools for the job. 

Different tools are available for nearly every budget, function or user level. 

Eric Doty, content lead at Dock, explains how useful these tools are.

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Test tools or read reviews to compare and determine which is best for you.

Here are some of our suggestions for the following functions:

  • Social media scheduling: Buffer, Hootsuite, Tailwind.
  • Project management: Asana, Process Street, Basecamp.
  • Email marketing: Mailchimp, ConvertKit, AWeber.

For process documentation, check out Scribe Pages. It lets you combine multiple Scribes on one page and add documents, hyperlinks and YouTube videos.

‎5. Create a set of KPIs

Choose the key performance indicators (KPIs) you want to track. These can be:

  • Time saved.
  • Costs saved.
  • Improved worker productivity.

You can also check out some examples of training and sales operations KPIs.

Identify what success looks like to you and set a timeframe for the project. You’ll need these details when you present your proposal to management and staff.

6. Get buy-in from management and staff

Process automation can be one of the most challenging undertakings for a company. It means getting employees to learn a new way of working while unlearning something they’re used to.

If you’re leading a process automation initiative, remember that people have different levels of tolerance to change. If you want to get buy-in from both management and staff, they need to understand the reason for the change. 

That’s why you should have a change management plan in place.

Logan Mallory, vice president of marketing at Motivosity, advises using data as your strongest selling point. 

Quote

James De Roche, managing partner at B2B search engine optimization (SEO) agency Lead Comet adds:

“We implemented a new system which required a few extra steps on our team's end after completing the tasks. But employees later saw the value of taking the additional five minutes versus trying to track down all their work through emails and client folders.”

7. Measure & monitor

Process automation isn't a set-and-forget solution because as the business changes, so does the solution.

Abe Breuer, CEO of VIPTOGO, shares the importance of monitoring data.

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Challenges of process automation

Like anything else worth doing, implementing process automation has its drawbacks. Here are some common challenges and how to overcome them.

Scalability

Depending on the scope, process automation projects can be difficult to scale due to several factors. Those include resistance to adoption, lack of management direction and foresight and software and tool limitations.

Proper planning can address most of these mistakes, along with having a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Regularly monitor automation software to ensure it’s running properly.

Wanting to do everything at once

One mistake many businesses make when undertaking a process automation project is trying to do everything at once. 

We get it. It’s exciting when you know that change is coming, but trying to do everything at once takes your focus in different directions and can cause confusion.

Implementing a process automation project will require:

  • Employee training.
  • Software and hardware configuration.
  • Logistics and budget management.

All of these are hard to manage on their own. On top of that, you may also encounter problems like delays and employee pushback.

Avoid overwhelming yourself and your team by automating tasks one at a time. Small, incremental changes and investing time in proper training give more chances for success. 

When you do small tasks successfully, complex business processes and dynamic solutions are more likely to succeed.

Implementation errors

You can plan everything down to the last detail but still fail at the implementation phase. Process automation is based on procedure, so missing steps can cause failures.

Prevent implementation errors by breaking down each step in detail, so you don’t miss anything. Process documentation software like Scribe helps you create a step-by-step guide to list and record each process step.

Lastly, test the software before running it.

Final thoughts: What is process automation? A complete guide

Process automation is a technological advancement changing how we do business. 

Organizations are starting to see the benefit and implement it — though it’s sometimes met with challenges and pushback.

To successfully implement process automation, acknowledge that change is necessary, create a detailed action plan and choose the right tools. You should also have process documentation lined up.

If you don't already have a process map in place, Scribe can help.

Our process documentation tool captures processes while you work and documents them up to 15x faster. Check out Scribe today to see how we can make your life easier.