What is business process automation?
Business process automation, otherwise known as BPA, uses technology to streamline tasks that would typically require manual effort. BPA helps you hand off tasks that would be otherwise time-consuming or inefficient to manage on your own.
Some areas are a natural fit for full business process automation: Customer service workflows are a good example. An automated system, like a chatbot, can receive inquiries, analyze the issue, direct the customer to the right resource, and in many cases, help the customer find the solution without ever speaking to an employee. Artificial intelligence handles the entire process, start to finish.
You can imagine the resources that robotic process automation can save for a small business. But while some areas of your business can benefit from digital transformation, others still need a human touch.
In many cases, a company might use business process automation to start a task and bring in a knowledgeable human to finish the job. This is the case with Bench: our bookkeeping platform offers software that connects to your bank, credit card, and vendor accounts, to automatically track and categorize your income and expenses. You can create up-to-the-minute financial reports using our system, too. However, we’ve also got a team of expert human bookkeepers who can handle more complex bookkeeping situations, make sure everything is categorized correctly, and answer any questions you’ve got about your financials.
The hiring process is another example of this kind of hybrid workflow. An automation tool can screen applications using parameters set by the company. Once the applicant pool is narrowed down to the best candidates, the hiring manager takes over from the BPA software for interviews and reference checks.
What are the benefits of business process automation?
When you automate business processes, you are looking at tremendous resource savings in your business operations. But that isn’t the only benefit. Here are a few others.
When you automate repetitive tasks that otherwise require time, patience, and manual work, you move faster, reduce inefficiencies, and save time. Even if you automate just part of a business process, you create opportunities for your employees’ time and effort to be used in more valuable ways.
Using technology to generate a result creates uniformity and predictability in the areas where it matters. Remove the variables and guessing games from customer service interactions, and you can improve customer satisfaction.
Removing human error
One more thing you and your customers will appreciate is the lack of human error that happens when you remove humans from the equation. For the most part, business process management software will simply crank out correct, predictable results. And if you realize you don’t like the results? Just change the program.
Bringing in new systems creates opportunities for innovation and improvement across your entire business model. Streamlining one area of business frees up time and creativity to tackle other areas.
How do you choose what to automate?
As helpful as business automation is, it is not a good fit for every repeatable task. So what are the right things to automate?
The answer to that will vary by individual company, but you can start figuring that out by following these steps.
Map out your company processes
Each area of your business has its own existing processes. These might be carefully crafted, or they might have evolved haphazardly, out of necessity.
As you begin looking for areas to streamline processes, start by mapping the various tasks happening, formally or informally, across the business. Depending on the size of your operation, you may want to begin by focusing on a single department. If you have any employees, solicit their input on the tasks they complete regularly and note any opportunities for improvement.
One way to organize your process mapping is to divide your business’s processes by regularity: daily, weekly, and monthly, for example.
Create Standard Operating Procedures
Standard operating procedures (or SOPs) are written directions that lay out the standard practices for a particular task in your business. Creating SOPs will reduce the risk of human error and streamline a process, and it is also an essential step in the automation process.. You can’t automate a system if you can’t standardize it.
This is an area where employee assistance can be valuable and powerful. Instead of attempting to do it all yourself, ask your employees to create SOPs for the tasks they own. Be mindful that they will need specific time to do this—SOP creation can be time-consuming, especially for a multi-step process that involves more than one person or department.
SOPs are a powerful resource not only for BPA, but also for future new employee onboarding, job descriptions, identifying areas to outsource, and mitigating risk.
Identify the areas where humans are necessary
Of course, some use cases absolutely require a human touch. Your SOPs will help bring those to light.
For example, some clients may need a highly personalized customer experience, and your human resources team can’t completely outsource hiring to a computer.
But that doesn’t mean that parts of those processes aren’t ripe for automation initiatives. Do the invoices you send every month really need your personal touch? How about screening hundreds of initial applicants for basic job requirements?
Identify areas where the risk of human error is high
Pick out areas where human error is likely to occur. For example, any area where employees are asked to perform repetitive, mind-numbing tasks is likely to be higher-risk. are likely to be fodder for mistakes. Check your Standard Operating Procedures for potential trouble spots and work alongside employees to see any problematic processes in action. Working closely with your employees to learn and understand their role will validate their efforts and build a stronger business culture, in addition to helping you identify areas for potential streamlining or bottlenecks.
Even if you choose not to automate a particular area, you may still find tremendous improvement opportunities by taking a closer look at areas you don’t typically engage with on a day-to-day basis. .
Create your prioritized list
You’ll likely come across many areas of your business where business process automation can be useful, but you’ll need to be able to prioritize. Some things to consider here might be:
- How long it will take to automate. Is there a program already available that can lead to full automation in a matter of days? Or will you need to create a new system to bring this area online?
- The time savings. Is this a task that is done frequently, taking up valuable time across many weeks of the year? Or is it something that is time-consuming one day of the month? Automating one day’s worth of work could free up eight hours per month, while automating something done two days per week frees up 64 hours of billable time.
- Customer impact. Will the automation make customers happier and more likely to continue interacting with your company? If so, that task might move to the top of the list!
12 processes you can automate now
The easier it is to automate a business process, the more desirable that transition is. There are many existing software programs and companies that offer automation solutions you can take advantage of immediately.
Here are a few processes to consider automating right now:
1. Payroll processing
All-in-one HR and payroll software like Gusto or Collage can help automate every aspect of your payroll, from keeping your tax documentation up to date, to making sure you’re compliant with both state-specific and federal regulations. Employees can make changes to their tax status and other important information on their own through the platform, streamlining the HR process. 2. Invoices
Business mileage can be tedious to track without help, but MileIQ can help. The app keeps a record of where you’ve been while running in the background of your phone. Set your work hours, grab your phone, and your miles are tracked.
4. Bookkeeping and accounting
Tedious and time-consuming, bookkeeping and accounting is one area where you certainly don’t want to risk human error. Bench makes it easy to keep your books up to date, automatically pulling expenses from your bank accounts and generating reliable books at the end of each month.
5. Receipt storage
If you’ve ever been audited and didn’t have receipts, you already know how important it is to keep track of all supporting documents. Rather than deal with an overflowing box of paperwork at the end of the business year, you can easily log and track receipts using Shoeboxed. If you’re already using Freshbooks for your invoicing, you don’t need another tool—the platform also offers a receipt scanner and expense tracking features.
6. Sales tax
If you do business across multiple states, you’re dealing with multiple sales tax rates and their respective filing forms and dates. Keep track of it all automatically using TaxJar. The system integrates with your online store to monitor your sales across state lines and produce the reports you need for tax filing.
7. Recruiting new hires
If you’re looking for talent, you’ll need to create the job description, but then ZipRecruiter can take care of the rest. The software sends your description to more than fifty sites, collects applications, and helps you sift through them in a single location.
8. Onboarding and training
Once you hire that new employee, you can get them trained and up to speed using Trainual. This platform provides automatic training manuals for employees to work through in the onboarding process. It tracks progress, tests to be sure they are up to speed, and gets them to work.
9. Social media marketing
Many companies rely on social media networks as an important marketing tool. You don’t need to sit and monitor your channels yourself, however. Social media scheduling tools like Buffer or Hootsuite allows you to schedule your posts in advance, so you can devote more time to planning and strategy. .
10. Email marketing
Hand over email marketing to an automated system. Many platforms can automatically follow up on abandoned carts, order updates, and other emails. You can find many solid options for this including MailChimp, Drip, and GetResponse.
11. Customer support
Automated chatbots make customer service a breeze. Website visitors interact with a pop-up bot that can answer common questions or direct visitors to certain pages of your site. Tawk is a free option that you can use immediately on your site, and you can even hire agents through the site to monitor your chats during your company’s off- hours.
Other options include Zendesk and Intercom, both of which offer comprehensive customer service solutions that support your human customer service teams with cutting-edge AI, freeing up your agents to give each customer more time and attention.
12. Your workday
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, especially if you’re starting a new business and trying to handle all the tasks yourself, you may not be ready to automate a single system, but instead, automate parts of your workday. Virtual assistants can help relieve the burden of your inbox, phone calls, customer requests, and more.
If you’re looking to automate your bookkeeping and simplify your financials, you’ve come to the right place: Bookkeeping just works better with Bench. Your Bench bookkeeper automatically pulls your expenses from your bank accounts and tracks your expenses so that you don’t have to. At the end of the month, you can count on a detailed expense report that allows you to monitor your own spending at a glance. Come tax time, Bench supplies a Year End financial package that makes filing your taxes a breeze (but if you’d rather let someone else handle your taxes, we can help with that too!).
Free your time with business process automation
When you automate a business process, the goal isn’t to totally remove the human element—it’s to give the humans in your business even more time to do what they best. Automation can help you maximize human creativity, innovation, and interpretation in the more critical areas of your business.