Business Process Automation

Business Process Automation (BPA) is defined 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 focuses on “run the business” as opposed to “count the business” types of automation efforts and often deals with event-driven, mission-critical, core processes. BPA usually supports an enterprise’s knowledge workers in satisfying the needs of its many constituencies.[1]

An area of discussion exists as to whether BPA is a distinct field of activity in its own right or merely a subset of a wider activity. Given the similarity in terminology it is not surprising most casual observers would believe them to be closely related if not identical. However, to experts in these areas they carry very distinct meanings, even if they are ultimately complementary concepts. To explain this further it is necessary to define the scope of each activity: The BPE rationale is that before any process can be automated, it is necessary to define (often at a very strategic level or enterprise-wide) all of the business processes running inside an organisation. From this the processes can be re-defined and where necessary optimized, including automation. BPM practice asserts that before any process can be automated, it is necessary to define all of the business processes running inside the domain of endeavor. From this the processes can be re-defined and where necessary optimized, including automation. The BPA approach states that until a process is automated, there is no real value in analyzing and defining it, and that the cycle of business change is so rapid there simply isn’t time to define every process before choosing which ones to address with automation, and that delivering immediate benefits creates more value. BPE is an approach which has ceased to be of value due to the utopian nature of the practice. Process improvement methodologies such as Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma appear to align well with the BPM and BPA view of the world, as they constantly look for incremental opportunities to make processes more efficient and reduce defects, however these methodologies can also be used downstream of a BPM deployment.[2]

Why Automate Business Processes[3]
1. Streamline communication in your business process: Emails, sticky notes, and water cooler comments are impossible to organize around a single repeated process. An automated workflow means a simple, streamlined communication process with one dashboard to see all of your requests. Each initiated workflow has its own line of communication to account for any irregularities and discussion in the business process. The work just flows – no email addresses required.
2. Enforce accountability: When you automate your workflow, you create an owner for each step of the process. Initiations, approvals, rejections, and input are all bound to an individual who performed the action. By enabling that level of information transparency in your business process, you enforce accountability on yourself and your colleagues. A great workflow management system will also give you insight into who gets their job done quickly and who needs help to handle the load.
3. Minimize costs due to manual errors and inefficiency: With an automated workflow, you bypass the expensive costs associated with errors and inefficiencies when a person is expected to own a business process. Late payments, slow sales approvals, and payments for goods never received all become very expensive errors. Your automated business process can show you the current state of any item and make sure these careless mistakes don’t take place.
4. Develop an insight into the evolution and repercussions of your business process: Imagine you have automated your business processes, streamlined your employee base to use this new system, and things have been flowing smoothly for the last 2 months. Now think of what you could do with all the data that has been accumulating? You could know how many requests came in, how many were approved, how many rejected, how long each one took, and which step in the process takes the longest. Since the mode of communication is streamlined and accumulation of data is centralized in an automated workflow tool, you get insights that tell you if your current business process is bottling up at some point – if it’s actually making life easy for your employees or if it’s making things more complicated. This is probably the best input you can have for all your business process management needs.
5. Establish a clear approval hierarchy: Organization hierarchy is seldom the same as the approval hierarchy for a business process. A well-implemented business process workflow tool, will not only have these approval hierarchies codified into itself, but will also ensure that each process has its own specific hierarchy as deemed by it.

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