I am frequently asked to explain business process automation (BPA) with client organizations – small, medium and large. Most haven’t heard of BPA. Instead, their questions focus on improving bottlenecks, efficiencies and costs.
Gartner defines business process automation as:
“ the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities using technology”
Companies are increasingly realizing that using technology for automating certain business processes is a solution worth exploring. People in businesses, small and large, realize that they must get more done with less. In 2014, Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) released a study indicating that 3 out of 4 small businesses in Canada, with fewer than 100 employees, saw a “significant” increase in using business process automation technology during the past two years. Three reasons for BPA’s success is the popularity and access to cloud computing, mobile technology and data analytics.
According to Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis at CompTIA, “technology is increasingly used to meet business objectives and drive differentiation. The most popular areas for BPA are expense reporting, invoicing, employment reviews and digitizing paper records.
Most business owners and senior management are moving forward as they diligently search for answers to the question, “There has to be an easier and better way to do this”. Most businesses have existing processes that are too complex. They feel like the airplane cockpit in the image below.
In fact, when BPA goals are met and processes are streamlined, things become much simpler and easier like the cockpit image below.
The simple goal of BPA is to increase efficiency and reduce costs. A 2014 article from Food Manufacturing quotes a study from Business Process Management Journal by Professor Mohsen Attaran. The study highlights savings and productivity gains by two large American companies.
R.J. Reynolds automation of the accounts payable function resulted in a:
- 53 percent reduction in invoice processing costs
- 25 percent decrease in clerical staffing requirements
- 16 percent increase in transactions volume
Frito Lay’s automation of their purchasing processes resulted in a:
- Savings of 30,000 to 50,000 work hours per year
- 10 percent reduction in distribution centers
By now, there are clear benefits for small and large organizations for introducing BPA. Brother USA, in a white paper cites the high cost of not automating business processes such as internal workplace disorganization.
“The annual cost for US job-related inefficiencies for full-time employees looking for misplaced items in the office is tops $89 billion annually — the ramifications may go far beyond lost money.” While companies are aware, many are executing on incorrect strategies that are unsupported and misunderstood. Inevitably, this exacerbates the problem
Which factors matter most for BPA Success?
1. Executive support:
All change management initiatives must receive support from executives in an organization. Hence, top-down support, beginning with one champion is necessary.
2. Management support
While change management comes from the top down, day-to-day managers are the ones who have relationships with employees. Managers enable employees to ease and accept new technology that drives change forward and through to completion. Without strong and supportive managers, employees rarely embrace change initiatives on time and on budget.
3. Set Clear Goals and Objectives
Beginning with the end in mind is very important for any project to succeed. Clear goals, objectives and measurements must be set to understand properly what a successful implementation looks like. Every stakeholder needs to be aware of what a “win” looks like. Common goals include saving time, saving money, improving quality of data and increasing efficiency.
4. Culture of Change
If employees are resistant to change, managers and executives must communicate and sell the vision in a simple, clear and authentic manner. Communication needs to simple and easy to understand about how each process will unfold and what is expected of each person in each department. It becomes important to build in process evolution. Processes ultimately evolve to optimize efficiencies.
Start with automating one process for one project
If your organization is new to automation, start with a small project. It will have an existing and robust yet simple paper process. An existing manual process is well understood and is a good fit for a win. By taking baby steps to automate a simple process, more dating initiatives will be supported across departments.
Business improvement automation is vital to the success of any type and size organization. Now, that we have a handle on BPA, the future looks bright as we approach the next big thing: Robotic Process Automation. I plan to cover this in a future article.