Common business processes are performed within both large and small companies each and every day. Many of these processes are manual, but they don’t have to be. They can be automated. Numerous companies use business process automation to initiate theses common processes and see them through from end to end. What exactly is business process automation? Business process automation is defined by Gartner as the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities, usually through the use of advanced technologies. It not only includes the automated execution, but also the composition and the integration of the processes within the company.
So, why automate? The simple answer is to save time and money. By replacing manually initiated processes with software, companies can realize a reduction in errors, an enhanced work and process flow, lower expenses and improved efficiency. Companies can basically do more with less which directly affects the bottom line.
What processes can be automated? Some of the most common business process candidates for automation are associated with the order to cash cycle which includes processes such as receiving orders, order fulfillment, order updates, ship notices and invoicing. Other candidates are part of the procurement to pay activities such as, identifying when to purchase, placing orders, tracking orders, receiving orders and paying. Other less common, but steadily growing processes include, internal ones, such as payroll, updating employee information, or even setting budgets.
How can these processes be automated? One of the most important steps of automation is to first identify the key processes that can be automated and develop a plan. The plan should include some of the following steps:
- Obtain stakeholder and executive buy-in and commitment
- Identify the incoming or outgoing channels or events. Basically find what triggers the execution of the process. This includes:
- communications: paper mail, fax, email attachments, FTP, AS2, web service
- application changes: a change to a specific field, or a new record
- trading partner service level agreements (SLAs)
- Identify the data format, such as:
- Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): which standard, versions, etc.
- spreadsheet: which type
- flat file: fixed or delimited length, single or multi format
- Extensible Markup Language (XML): xsd or dtd defined, etc.
- database: which application is driving the process
- Identify what types of activities have to be performed during the process. This can include:
- communications activity
- data routing
- data transformations/modifications
- data look-ups
- process routing
- event notification
- error handling, and many others
- Identify a solution. Since each business environment is unique, research and careful consideration should go into determining which solution makes the most sense. This includes:
- custom coded solutions
- business process automation software: can be industry specific and part of a business process management suite
- integration platform middleware: performs the tasks to handle all of the automation requirements including the automated execution, data transformation/routing, script composition and integration requirements to complete the end to end processes
- hybrid solutions containing the right amount of custom coding, automation software and integration middleware
- Based on the solution selected, pick the best people suited for the project and assemble a team
- Implement the solution
With a good strategic plan and the right tools, business process automation is an attainable goal any company can strive to achieve.