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Business Process Automation - 5 Best Practices

Business process automation in manufacturing

Business process automation (BPA) gives organizations an opportunity to streamline repeatable operations and eliminate error-prone manual tasks. With the rise of artificial intelligence and the growing movement to embrace digital transformation in sectors like manufacturing, BPA is becoming more valuable. As companies consider ways to take full advantage of process automation, they need to not only deploy powerful software systems, but also embrace the backend technology systems that allow automation solutions to function.

BPA success isn't just a matter of deploying software that lets you automate a few workflows. Instead, modern systems are becoming intelligent, gathering data from across lines of business to handle more complex processes. Following these five best practices can help you take advantage of the opportunity:

1. Know Business Process Automation Terminology

BPA technology is delivered in a variety of forms, and understanding primary terms used in the industry is critical to aligning the solution you employ to the problems you are having. BPA is a broad term used to encapsulate specific automation solutions businesses can use to streamline their processes. The two most prominent terms organizations need to understand are:

Robotic process automation (RPA) 

RPA solutions are built to automate highly repeatable, standardized workflows. Think about your business. What tasks are completed in the same way every time, with users either following a script or responding in clearly definable ways based on specific data points? These are the places where RPA pays off.

For example, RPA technology is used for customer service chatbots. Most businesses give their support teams a script that they must follow. First, they collect certain data points and account information from the customer. They then run through a variety of pre-determined troubleshooting measures that solve common problems. From there, they may search an internal resource center for key terms related to the user problem and advise steps to take to solve the issue. These are the tasks that RPA can handle. A bot can ask users scripted questions and record answers, list standard troubleshooting solutions and run searches and suggest potential options for users.

RPA isn't just for customer service, of course. It can be applied to any task that is always taken the same way. If a warehouse employee always submits a purchase request when inventories of an item drop below a certain point, an RPA solution can track the cycle counts and automatically make the order.

Employing RPA solutions is valuable in freeing your workers from the more tedious parts of their jobs by eliminating onerous manual processes so they can focus on value-oriented tasks.

Intelligent automation

Intelligent automation systems build on RPA, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to add a layer of analysis and flexibility to automation tools. BPA capabilities that incorporate intelligent automation allow software to gather data from across lines of business and make smart decisions to drive efficiency gains. In some cases, this takes the form of identifying related data from across lines of business to inform decision-making. In others, it involves allowing automated systems to align optimally with what human workers need, letting employees focus on complex decisions because intelligent automation solutions eliminate the need for back end analysis.

RPA and intelligent automation are components of BPA, and understanding the role of each is key to getting value from the technology.

2. Don't Neglect Business Process Management (BPM)

BPM technologies are designed to help businesses organize and optimize their processes. They create visibility into how your processes work, allowing you to map out how workflows move between user groups and lines of business. From there you can:

  • Identify process inefficiencies and develop strategies to deal with them.
  • Recognize processes that cross departmental boundaries in parts of your business that don't interact often.
  • Pin down visibility gaps where you lack data to inform decision-making and empower users to get the job done.

With these issues dealt with, BPM solutions let you rearrange your processes into an optimal configuration for your business. What's more, you can use BPM to inform your data workflows to ensure users get access to the apps and information they need to complete processes when they need it. Business process automation lays the groundwork for effective BPA. If you aren't managing your processes in an optimal fashion, then you limit your ability to use automation to its full potential.

3. Start Small, But Think Holistically

Business process automation solutions can be used to solve specific problems. For example, a metal fabrication shop may use the technology to automate order management and improve scheduling in the supply chain to optimize inventory levels and reduce costs. This can be a straightforward project of delivering relevant data from inventory management, purchasing and vendor management systems to the intelligent process automation solutions in use, letting the software determine when to order and who to order from based on historical data. At that point, the BPA system can create the purchase order and send users an approval request, minimizing the work your human employee needs to do.

Solving specific pain points is a great way to increase your organizational comfort with automation and determine ways to create value and cost savings in your specific setting. Over time, however, intelligent automation systems are most valuable when they can use both structured and unstructured data to automate a variety of workflows that cross between parts of your business. As you solve specific pain points, keep a long-term vision of holistic automation in mind. This helps you avoid automating yourself into a box, where highly specific process automation strategies limit your ability to expand the reach of your efforts to other areas. 

Automating a specific workflow can be simple, but connecting multiple automated processes to complete complex tasks takes initial value to another level.

4. Get Your Business Process Data in Order

Automation is heavily dependent on data. Whether using straightforward RPA systems or intelligent automation solutions, any form of BPA is only as good as the data that powers it. If you have gaps in information visibility in your business, then you won't be able to apply automation to those use cases. If you're depending on manual data entry in certain business units, then you're going to limit the efficiency with which you can automate processes. If you have errors or duplicate information in your database, you'll have to deal with errors within your automation setup.

One of the greatest benefits of business process automation solutions is the elimination of human error for repeatable tasks. If your data collection and management systems are error prone or limited, then you are undermining the gains available through automation.

Business process automation team

5. Leverage ERP Software

An enterprise resource planning system serves as a hub for data across lines of business. It can capture data from different teams, organize it in a cohesive way and empower businesses to communicate that data to relevant teams in near real time. This is valuable in its own right, but becomes extremely important when employing process automation solutions. These technologies need data from every phase of your business, and an ERP is often the best place to capture and organize that information so your BPA systems know where to look when seeking data. ERP systems:

  • Eliminate the need for duplicate data entry.
  • Integrate with internet of things systems and similar tools that automate data entry.
  • Use modular capabilities to gather data from various business units and coordinate it in a central database.

Looking for new a ERP system? Download the guide: Selecting an ERP System in 7 Easy Steps 

Download the guide to selecting ERP in 7 easy steps

All of this adds up to make ERP solutions a natural fit for business process automation efforts. The abas ERP system, which is designed with emerging technologies in mind, offers built-in BPM and BPA capabilities to equip brands to automate in the most efficient way possible. From empowering industrial companies to embrace digitization to giving manufacturers tools to streamline supply chain operations, our ERP solutions create a framework that drives digital innovation. Automation and ERP systems are a natural match, and abas can enable businesses to get as much value as possible from these technologies to drive digital progress.

Contact abas ERP today to learn more.

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