As technology relentlessly accelerates the pace of change, organizations must leverage every opportunity to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve productivity so they can boost the bottom line and stay ahead of the curve.
With the digitization of business processes, automation technologies are increasingly important in helping organizations optimize resources, reduce labor costs, streamline processes, facilitate collaboration and drive profits. In fact, 61% of respondents in a survey believed that workflow automation helps improve the customer experience, 59% indicated that automation leads to higher productivity, and over 50% apply automation to enhance knowledge sharing within their organization.
There are many automation tools on the market. It's important to understand the key trends in business process automation (BPA) so you can choose the right technologies to optimize your ROI.
In this article, we'll explore the top six BPA trends and how they impact businesses:
AI-driven technologies such as machine learning and predictive analytics will facilitate the rapid adoption of a data-first culture in organizations.
Robotic process automation will integrate closely with BPA technologies to execute complex workflows.
No-code or low-code platforms will enable business users to automate processes in a matter of hours to increase efficiency with minimal IT involvement.
Adaptive case management technology will automate workflows that are unpredictable in nature by adapting to human decisions along the process.
Collaboration technologies will integrate with BPA systems to sync data in real time and facilitate both internal and customer interactions.
Smart technologies (e.g., IoT devices) will facilitate digital transformation by bridging digital processes with equipment in the physical world.
The great news is that many of these technologies are very accessible. They can be implemented quickly and affordably, offering flexible solutions for organizations of all sizes to adapt to the rapidly evolving business environment.
BPA is the key to ensuring that information is shared across the organization in a timely manner, while routine forms that need approval and authorization are routed to the right people at the right time for optimal operational efficiency. It also helps prevent bottlenecks and minimize human errors.
Here are some key technologies to look out for in 2019 and the coming years.
1. Machine learning and artificial intelligence
Automation and AI are different. Automated systems follow preset rules, while AI mimics human behavior.
AI-driven technologies, such as machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP), are already being used for smarter process automation, leading companies to rapidly adopt a data-first culture. ML can help evaluate both structured and unstructured data to extract actionable insights and suggest data-driven improvements to optimize operational efficiency.
We'll also see an increased use of predictive analytics, which can help businesses leverage the large amount of data available to anticipate trends, take proactive actions and even automate data-driven decision-making so they can respond to changing market conditions in real time.
2. Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) is most effective when used to conduct rule-based processes that don't require human decisions. In the future, it'll be augmented by the use of AI-powered technologies to handle more complex and less repetitive tasks.
RPA is used to automate individual tasks while BPA software manages the underlying workflows. These two types of automation will be closely integrated so RPA can complement BPA. For example, RPA can be used to transfer data between different systems (e.g., from on-premise software to a cloud platform) so a BPA workflow can be executed.
3. No-code and low-code platforms
No- or low-code platforms empower business users to build digital applications quickly with minimum IT involvement so they'll have the flexibility and agility to respond to the fast changes of the business environment. According to a recent report from Salesforce, 76% of IT leaders indicate that a low-code solution is helpful in improving their business partner relationships.
No- and low-code platforms replace programming with features such as a visual form builder, a drag-and-drop interface, and prebuilt integrations with point-and-click wizards. They enable users who are not coders by trade to quickly build reusable forms, workflows and business rules for routine tasks (e.g., time-off requests, purchase orders and travel requests). They can standardize processes, increase efficiency and facilitate the application of BPA.
4. Adaptive case management
While most current BPA technologies deal with predictable tasks, the use of adaptive case management technology will allow organizations to automate processes that are unpredictable in nature. These workflows follow different courses that are altered by human decisions along the way, instead of adhering to a prescribed order (e.g., as illustrated on a linear flowchart).
With case management functions, subworkflows will be combined into one "case" with a defined outline, so users don't have to create and stitch together a series of complex workflows to cover every scenario or work pattern that could happen along the way.
5. Collaboration and communication technologies
The right collaboration and communication tools help ensure that data and files are shared across the organization effectively. For example, features such as data syncing and process-related alerts can integrate with a BPA system to streamline internal team communications (such as by reducing the number of emails).
For example, chatbots can be paired with a BPA solution to eliminate the need for human agents in many customer interactions. They can provide timely resolution to common questions or screen queries to route them to the right agents.
6. Smart technology integration
The use of smart technologies and IoT devices such as sensors and monitors can bridge digital processes with equipment in the physical world. Data can be gathered from self-monitoring, analytics and reporting functions, providing the feedback necessary to adjust processes in real time.
Interconnected technologies make it possible for various systems in the physical environment to "talk" to each other. This allows them to automatically make adjustments based on a variety of inputs to optimize resources and deliver the best possible outcomes without human intervention.
Final thoughts: The era of 'small automation'
In 2019 and beyond, automation will focus on improving the agility and adaptability of organizations. Small automation – driven by technologies such as AI, ML and RPA – will be implemented in short sprints to deliver focused and budget-friendly results.
In fact, small automation can improve the productivity of individual processes by 80-100% and overall functions by over 20% when integrated with existing BPA applications. These technologies are often easily configurable and have the ability to "learn" dynamically, so they can be deployed in environments where the input and output are highly variable, such as customer service centers.
The inherent flexibility of small automation technologies enables fast implementation, allowing individual departments to nimbly respond to changes in the business environment. Meanwhile, many of these tools allow for integration across departments to help avoid a silo approach.
Since small automation focuses on individual processes or tasks, its success is built upon a solid foundation of data and standardized processes established by a larger-scale IT initiative. After all, without a well-defined framework and an effective automation strategy, you won't be able to organize your efforts and further optimize results just by throwing more technologies into the mix.
As such, you need to consider the big-picture BPA workflow management that's built upon your business objectives. Also, consider the incremental benefits made possible by incorporating new technologies into an established framework to optimize your investment in automation technology.