What is business process automation (BPA)?

Business process automation is the use of technology to complete business processes. BPA can range from simple (have you ever used an “out of office” message in Outlook?) to complex. A complex automation will usually include multiple steps. Take for instance, the procurement process, which might be used in retail, healthcare, manufacturing, or construction. It’s a multi-step process that can be automated to save money and man hours.

Process automation saves time for employees by completing all the unskilled, mundane tasks, leaving the creative work for humans. When employees are freed up from the monotonous work, they are able to take the time to work more strategically and creatively.

Why shouldn’t humans do mundane, monotonous tasks?

As we’ve learned from technological advances in the past, there are certain things that humans do best, and there are certain things that bots or robots do best. If you’re inputting the same text into multiple systems several times each week, for example, bots will do that better. Here are four reasons to let bots take on your monotonous work:

  1. Humans get bored with monotonous work, and their job satisfaction goes down. This, in turn, affects productivity.
  2. Humans need (and deserve) breaks. Bots don’t. Bots work more quickly and can work 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. They don’t stop at 5 pm or even for weekends. They don’t take breaks. They don’t cost more if you run them more than 40 hours per week.
  3. Humans make mistakes. Bots AREN’T good at making judgement calls, unless there are business rules to follow, but boy, do they shine in monotonous work. Bots aren’t able to mistype something or make a mistake – they only follow rules, the same way EVERY time. Humans, of course, get tired and make mistakes.
  4. Humans are expensive. Yes, there is a cost associated with bots, and the upfront cost of training a bot is fairly high. But when you hire a human to complete mundane tasks, you have to train that human too. And then the human gets paid hourly (or a salary) to complete the work – often with benefits, overtime, or paid time off that needs to be factored in as well. If the human quits a year in, you lose all the knowledge base the human has built over the past year. You have to hire a new human who is starting from scratch, and pay for training again. There is simply no good reason to hire a human just to do mundane, monotonous work.

How eliminating mundane tasks frees creativity

Society loves to talk about how automation is stealing jobs, but it’s simply not true. Automation creates jobs – after all, someone has to teach bots how to do work, and they need to be maintained. In many roles, humans and bots work best together. Think about chatbots, for example. When they are used well, chatbots give the right basic information every time, they are available 24-7, and since they can answer several questions at once, they drastically reduce wait times for customers. But sometimes a customer asks a question that is outside of the “norm” that a chatbot has been trained for. That’s when a human comes in. Because 75% of the routine questions have been handled by chat bots, the humans have plenty of time to spend with clients, helping them get the right information and taking time for individualized interaction.

What do you do with large portions of time that you used to spend completing monotonous tasks? You have margin to solve problems creatively, to take a step back and actually think about a better way to do something rather than just doing, doing, doing. Creative thought is unleashed! When an organization has the margin to value creative problem-solving over efficiency of task, true growth can occur.

How do you change a culture to value innovation, rather than focusing on efficiency?

It takes time to change a culture. At first, employees who are used to measuring the number of units they complete per month will feel lost in a culture that now values creativity and innovation. But here are a few ideas for how to get started:

  1. Recognition. Make time to publicly recognize team members who are working to find better solutions to problems.
  2. Offer incentives. When a team member comes up with a creative solution that has a positive outcome for the business, offer a bonus, a gift card, or extra paid time off.
  3. Competition. Encourage the spirit of competition by creating hackathons or innovation competitions for solving tough problems. Encourage cross-team participation, and give teams a chance to brainstorm and then present their solutions to company leaders or an audience.
  4. Innovation time. Provide resources for team members to spend a specific amount of time each week or month innovating solutions. Don’t give in to the temptation to back fill all time saved from automation with new tasks.
  5. Leadership support. Make sure that top leadership is on board with the culture shift, and mentions it often. Remember to call out those that are improving the company through innovation.

Business process automation can make a huge difference in how innovative a company can be. Are you ready to think about digital transformation for your business?