How Business Process Automation Can Give You a Competitive Advantage
There’s no doubt about it – business process automation is on the up.
Like many pressing new techs, business process automation has languished on yearly ‘techs to watch out for’ roundups since the 2010s and earlier. Now, however, with advances in AI, machine learning and data processing technology, the efficiency gains it offers are very, very real.
Perhaps that’s why 66% of business leaders were piloting automated solutions for at least one business process in 2020, according to a study by global consultancy McKinsey & Co. This is up from 57% in 2018.
The study also found that 31% of businesses have automated at least one whole function already. This suggests business process automation is very much a current technology, rather than an on-the-horizon one.
So, what’s the appeal of business process automation – and why is it so high on the priority list for businesses at the moment?
And, more ore importantly – how can you use it to get ahead of your competitors?
What Is Business Process Automation?
‘Business process transformation’, ‘business process automation’ and ‘digital transformation’ all get thrown around interchangeably, so it’s easy to lose track of what the term actually means.
A business process is any linked series of tasks that accomplishes some sort of organizational goal once they have all been completed.
Business process automation (which is often abbreviated to BPA) allows businesses to replace some or all of the human effort needed for business processes with input from software or AI.
You’re likely using some form of BPA for basic tasks already. This could be customer-facing (for example client onboarding, email marketing or customer service chatbots) or internal (for example, payroll, data migration or employee leave management).
Business process automation is a subset of both business process transformation (which isn’t necessarily automation-based) and digital business transformation (a more general, umbrella term for digital transformation across wider areas of the business).
So, when we’re talking about business process automation, we’re talking specifically about:
- Process-based transformation
- …that is based around automation technology specifically, rather than any broader digital technological change
How Can Your Business Benefit From Business Process Automation?
It’s a simple case of efficiency – and all the savings that come with it.
A machine can perform automated tasks quicker and more accurately than a human equivalent. So, for example, a manufacturer could make more products in the same timespan with fewer employees. The products are made 100% uniformly with no errors that cost time, money and materials.
You can use BPA for efficiency gains across every function of your business. These efficiency gains give you various options:
- You can reduce headcount and save money in the short term.
- You can pass these savings onto customers by getting new products to market quicker, and at a cheaper price.
- You can reinvest employee time and resources in more strategic activities that really add value to your business.
Many businesses stop at option one. But, whilst time and cost savings are very enticing, they’re not the be-all and end-all of your ability to compete.
Market competitors simply reduce headcount. Market leaders look beyond that and use BPA to reposition their workforce as a strategic powerhouse whilst passing cost savings onto their customer base. Whilst fewer employees might be required to do this, saving the cost of salaries isn’t necessarily the end goal.
Below, we explain how you can use business process automation to give you a competitive edge.
Business Process Automation Allows You to be More Adaptable
If there’s one thing that the COVID pandemic has taught us, it’s that the future is far from certain. Plenty of businesses were caught off-guard by the events that have unfolded since early 2020 – the businesses that survived are the ones that were ready to adapt.
Automation provides the adaptability to adapt by making sure key business processes keep running regardless of where your employees are.
This doesn’t just help you prepare for worldwide pandemics. There are plenty of more mundane instances which might leave you short staffed on occasion. For example, the summer holidays, localized bad weather or seasonal viruses. All of these drain productivity, whilst piling up work and stress for employees who are left to man the ship.
You might also have naturally busy peaks in your workplace calendar – think retail in the months leading up to Christmas or financial services in January.
Where you might otherwise have to take on temporary staff, ban employees from taking leave or pay overtime, automation can keep workloads balanced whilst maintaining productivity.
And, because automation means employees don’t need to be at a specific location to carry out their jobs, you’ll also have more flexibility in who you can hire. Automation therefore unlocks access to a global talent pool that your competitors can’t reach.
Real World Examples
Thanks to the pandemic, there’s a host of examples of how BPA has eased workloads and allowed workforces to retain flexibility and productivity in difficult circumstances.
One prominent example has been governments across the world automating their unemployment claims processes. This has been essential in dealing with a significantly increased workload due to the impact of COVID, whilst removing time pressure from government workforces. Employees have used these time savings to focus on coordinating strategic responses to the pandemic.
Ireland’s national government implemented optical character recognition technology to translate handwritten forms into structured data. This meant they could be passed to other systems for processing without using valuable employee time, and reduced the time needed to process a claim from 45 minutes to five minutes.
You’re Still Ahead of the Curve If You Automate Now
Organizations across a range of industries are waking up to the opportunities that business process automation offers. According to a report by the Financial Times, automation-related international trade increased across the world over the past year. This bucks an overall downward trend in international trade in the face of COVID.
That said, BPA is far from a universally implemented technology. That’s why it’s on so many CTOs’ ‘to do’ lists for the next few years.
If you start to automate key business processes now, you’ll soon realize these adaptability benefits whilst others are stalling. You’ll be reaping the benefits whilst your competitors are only just waking up to the possibilities business process automation offers.
It’s All About Being Proactive
You’ll gain the most significant competitive advantage if you proactively pursue business process automation now, rather than waiting until you are pushed.
Typically, companies grow to the extent their technology and existing processes allow before plateauing for a little while. This is because large IT projects like systems upgrades or software purchases contain a degree of risk, and often take a while to coordinate.
But what if you were always looking for that next step? Whilst everyone else was plateauing, you’d be making ever more impressive productivity gains and making even more cost savings. You could then pass onto your customers whilst your competitors fell further behind.
A proactive, long-term strategy for BPA helps you do this.
Global retail giant Walmart realized this too, back in 2017. Concerned at the long-term viability of their business given threats from digital competitors, they embarked on an ambitious digital transformation project that’s still ongoing.
In other words, they created a strategy that committed to constant, digital transformation – of which BPA was just one part. So far, it seems to be paying off.
Digitalization across all aspects of the business has been instrumental in realizing major cost and efficiency benefits. Automating key supply chain processes in particular has helped Walmart consolidate its position as the USA’s leading physical retailer and start to compete with digital-only competitors like Amazon.
Business Process Automation Helps Deliver a Great CX
As more businesses digitalize, customer experience (CX) is set to become ever more important in how potential customers make major purchase decisions.
Figures from before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic indicate that:
- 86% of shoppers are willing to pay more for a good CX
- 65% of buyers find that a positive brand experience influences their decisions more than advertising
- US companies lose approximately $1.6 trillion annually due to poor CX that causes customers to switch to competitors
As online trends accelerate, your ability to maintain the level of service customers would expect in a brick-and-mortar store in a digital will set you apart from your competitors.
Business process automation helps you achieve this level of CX because:
- You can automate basic processes like warehouse picking, returns processing and basic customer service enquiries with RPA and AI chatbots. This provides a speedy, seamless service to customers and enhances the experience they have with your brand.
- Automation frees up your retail and customer service workforce to provide the ‘human’ element of CX that customers still crave. This could involve acting as personal online shoppers or dealing with complex customer service complaints.
If you use BPA to get customer service basics running seamlessly – and redeploy your workforce to value-added services whilst doing so – you’ll stand out in a crowded, post-COVID digital market.
What’s Holding You Back?
Are there areas of your business that could work more efficiently with BPA? The answer is almost undoubtedly ‘yes’.
(If the answer is ‘no’ and you’ve made all the process improvements you possibly can, get in touch – we want to know your secret!).
So, what holds businesses back from realizing these improvements?
All too often, it’s a case of not having the expertise on-hand. We all know IT projects are risky, even if you have the experience on board. Whilst it’s not ideal to be running at non-optimal efficiency, it sure beats a software project that (for example) tanks your stock by 8% and wastes countless resources whilst doing so.
Using a custom software development partner means you don’t have to make this compromise.
At Tivix, we’ve been helping businesses automate both internal and external processes since 2008. We do this by creating you your own, unique solution that’s designed around your specific needs – so the risks of a bad-fit software purchase are minimal to none.
This means that you both realize the benefits of business process automation faster, and get a better, faster return on your initial investment.