The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on how and where businesses operate. Organizations of all sizes had to quickly enable their employees to work from home effectively.
For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), this change in workforce dynamics has been particularly challenging. SMBs needed to rapidly pivot their business models to sustain business operations. Many are adopting business process automation solutions to solve some of the business continuity challenges they face.
What is Business Process Automation?
Business Process Automation (BPA) is the use of technology to automate repeatable, complex business transactions. BPA streamlines and transforms the way companies manage internal workflows in order to save money, create efficiencies and optimize resources.
Many businesses only automate parts of a particular business process. Other forward-thinking businesses have completely automated certain tasks from start to finish.
Why is business process automation important?
Customer expectations are changing to meet the always-on existence. Customers expect immediacy and simplicity. Regardless of the touchpoint, they want consistent, personalized, convenient, and secure experiences.
Customers don’t have empathy for the myriad complexities a business faces when trying to meet their expectations. Complexities such as industry regulations, ever-changing requirements, operational siloes, technological infrastructure, competitive threats, economic realities, and emerging channels.
However, customers expect brands to have empathy for them and they have a low tolerance for poor experiences. Customers want to be treated as individuals rather than as just another business transaction.
So, how do businesses cope with these rapidly evolving demands and deliver a positive customer experience?
With having to find new ways to communicate and keep customers engaged, comes the need to truly leverage the power of technology and view it as the engine behind this digital revolution.
Technological innovation encompasses nearly every facet of human life these days and businesses need to know their customer base. Businesses need to understand their customers’ needs. Businesses need to find opportunities to incorporate technology to connect with their customers on a deeper, and more meaningful level.
Whether you are in the banking industry and want to offer easy payment options or in healthcare where you have access to medical records - each of these scenarios requires some sort of technological insertion into your daily life.
With the untapped potential of technological innovation comes the need to migrate to a more digitized mindset. But how do you become more digital-focused? How do you get your employees to think digital? How do you make the transition to digital when things work currently for your existing business objectives, and there is no perceived need to disrupt existing processes?
It’s simple – ask your customers what it is that they really want and how they want it. Even taking a few simple steps to automate a workflow, digitize a manual process or optimize your resources more efficiently on meaningful tasks can achieve great results and produce even more ambitious long-term business objectives.
At the very least - a business could first examine how they communicate with their customers. Are your communications easily accessible? Are they delivered via the channel(s) your customer prefers?
Embracing a digital-first mindset has another less obvious—but equally important—benefit. Adopting new technologies and embracing change provides an enormous competitive advantage. For example, small businesses can be much more adaptable to business changes than large corporations if they go digital and can rapidly respond to shifts.
According to Gartner, 87 percent of senior business leaders say digitalization is a company priority and 79 percent of corporate strategists say it is reinventing their business — creating new revenue streams.
Through the power of business process automation, small and medium-sized enterprises can focus on connecting with their customers.
According to Forrester predictions, automation has been one of the most profound and disruptive forces in human history. Increasingly the topic has been foremost on decision makers’ minds, and many organizations are considering what tasks are worth automating.
As Forbes insights stated in their report conducted in partnership with IBM, there is momentum across nearly every industry as organizations embrace intelligent automation. KPMG predicts an acceleration of investment in intelligent automation, with overall spending expected to reach $232 billion by 2025 compared with an estimated $12.4 billion today.
But even that massive growth does not tell the whole story. Business process automation is not a simple technology deployment; it is a complete transformation in how businesses operate.
What business processes should you automate?
Here are a few things to consider when evaluating processes to automate:
- What business processes result in a large volume of tasks?
- What business processes require multiple people to complete?
- What business processes are time-sensitive in nature?
- What business processes have a significant impact on other systems and processes?
- What business processes require compliance and an audit trail?
Processes that meet these criteria are good candidates for business process automation management.
SMB Use Cases for Business Process Automation
Process automation is about using technology to eliminate manual tasks to drive operational improvements. A simple review of existing methodologies used to prepare and send critical customer communications can help businesses determine the potential benefit of replacing inefficient manual processes with automated outbound document workflows.
The following areas are specific use cases and prime candidates for process automation.
Managing Outbound Customer Communications
Many businesses experience delays in sending customer communications and are often forced to rely on employees from other parts of the company to help prepare mail during peak periods. Employees are often involved in manually sorting documents and double or triple-checking to ensure that envelopes contain the right materials.
By automating outbound document processes, SMBs can reduce the time and effort spent on a large disruptive mailing from a few hours to a few clicks.
Automating Invoice Delivery
Accounts receivable (AR) workflows (order-to-cash processes) are critical to all organizations. Businesses must receive payment and pay their suppliers and employees.
Many SMBs wait too long to send invoices because of either process or operational capacity issues surrounding the invoice workflow. The activities required to generate, prepare, process, and send invoices require significant effort and may be inefficient. Invoice automation can streamline this process.
Optimizing Cash Collection Processes
Strong cash flow is required to literally keep the lights on. Many finance teams struggle to accurately report on cash position and collections metrics such as aging reports and days sales outstanding.
Data is pulled from a multitude of sources and stored in Excel spreadsheets that must be constantly updated and distributed to internal stakeholders. Precious time and resources are wasted on the day-to-day cash collection process including emailing, calling, resending invoices, and reconciling disputes.
Modern output management and AR software solutions can help SMBs better predict cash flow by identifying customers that may need additional attention to get invoices paid and provide alternative methods of payment to accelerate receivables.
Best practices for BPA
Simply implementing BPA software may not guarantee success. A pragmatic approach to automation is recommended.
Here are a few best practices to get the most out of BPA:
- Begin with a clear understanding of the processes you want to automate - what tasks are involved, who is responsible for each task, and when each task needs to be executed.
- Clearly define your goals relating to automating a business process.
- Measure results over time. The expected results may not materialize immediately.
- Provide comprehensive training to employees and expect that it will take some time for them to adjust.
- Understand that BPA is an iterative process that requires a long-term vision.
By optimizing document workflows, SMBs can meet important business needs, lower operational costs, enhance customer experience, ensure compliance and security, and redeploy internal resources to other, more strategic areas within the organization. Whether your goal is to support a hybrid workforce, improve customer experience, or improve the financial health of your business - all of the above can be achieved through business process automation.