The 4 types of Business Process Automation
CRM. ERP. CMS. IRS. Our companies are being flooded with these acronyms with promises that they will make business better (OK, maybe not IRS). But what are they? What do they mean? Are they some sort of mystical incant?
One of the hip new things in the world of industry is something called business process automation (also referred to as workflow automation). Technically, the concept has been around for decades, but the past few years have seen a massive cultural shift towards software supplementation for your everyday worker. And it’s no surprise why: automation makes tasks that are long and boring to do by hand quick and easy to do by using technology. But what is business process automation, and how can it help your company?
In general, a business process is something, like filing an expense report, that follows a series of predefined workflow steps in order to reach a conclusion. In this example, filing an expense report ultimately ends with an employee receiving a reimbursement check, but there are many other tasks that meet this criteria, such as submitting an improved product design, filling out a purchase order, or engaging in customer support.
Business process automation seeks to streamline these tasks in order to make them quicker and easier through the use of technology and software. Many times, they can remove the human element entirely, which not only reduces the amount of time spent working on these tasks, but can also minimizing the margin for human error. In this blog, we will be going over the four different types of automation that are most commonly employed by businesses.
1. Robotic Automation
Now, if you’re like me, the word “robot” almost immediately conjures up images of things like mechanical arms, Boston Dynamic’s weirdly adorable dog-like robots, or Optimus Prime from Transformers. As it happens, Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, does not involve any of these kind of robots, and instead, uses software robots like the ones used at Botkeeper.
Okay, some robots help with automation, but today, we’re talking about software bots, not the kind of robots that can pick up boxes and wander around a parking lot.
An RPA program is effectively a bot (a piece of software designed for a specific function) that has been trained using machine learning to perform high-volume, repeatable tasks. This means that they can be used to do things such as data entry, form checking, or rekeying the interface between a system and the user into something streamlined and easy to use. In addition to performing tasks much faster than humans, bots don’t get bored, need bathroom breaks, or sleep. This makes them more efficient, and frees up humans to do higher level tasks that require strategic and creative thought. Sometimes, bot software will have a high initial cost, but most often, they are a smart investment because of the amount of time they save and the reduced costs over time.
2. Database Automation
Nearly any company with an appreciable amount of data is going to have a database. Because of how spread out many companies are geographically, and how quickly the pace of business is these days, creating a robust database is the first step to building a strong workplace collaboration application. Having an application with a well-designed user interface can be critical when it comes to getting things done quickly in an office, and they need a database to store all that business-critical information. Unfortunately, databases can be incredibly complicated, and many times, they will need to be duplicated across a cluster with minimal variation. This leads to your poor Database Administrator (DBA) being called upon to perform more and more tasks, some of which begin to fall outside their scope of expertise.
Luckily, database automation is here to take some of the tedium out of replicating databases ad infinitum. Like with all other forms of Business Process Automation, database automation is about making boring, time-consuming tasks go quickly and easily, enabling DBAs to have more time to tasks that require manual input, like performance tuning and provisioning. Database automation isn’t limited to cloning new databases, either; it also covers performance testing and system monitoring. As an added bonus, a good database automation program reduces the amount of human error in a system by checking for consistent versioning and correct settings as new databases are created.
This chart from DBMaestro.com shows just how much of a DBA’s job can be automated, and what tasks must still be performed manually.
3. Server Automation
Server automation isn’t that much different from database automation; much like databases, servers are an important aspect of company applications, and managing them can consume a lot of an IT administrator’s time. Server automation software provides quick, easy deployment of new server software, provisioning, inventory management, patching and compliance operations, and (as with database automation) removes the the margin for human error.
Server automation often comes in two forms: point tools and software suites. Point tools are cheaper, quicker to install, easier to use, and require a much smaller computer footprint, which is great for small businesses. However, they tend to focus on one specific kind of automation process, so you often need more of them to get the same comprehensive coverage as a software suite. Conversely, software suites tend to have a higher initial investment value and take more time and effort to install, but once they’re in, they cover practically every need. Which one is best for your business really depends on what you have for available resources.
4. Department Specialized Automation
Don’t see a form of automation that fits your business processes? You can still find ways to automate with department specialized automation. While there is a lot of software out there that caters to generic business needs, sometimes a department will need something very specific. In these cases, custom software can be built to fulfill a role that isn’t otherwise covered.
Departments that generally employ automation to great success include marketing, sales, HR, accounting, and warehousing. Any department, however, has at least the potential to cut down on speed and cost through a custom automation solution.
The BOTtom Line: Automation is Your Friend
This infographic from Dolphin-corp.com shows how everyone, not just workers, stand to benefit from automation.
One of the primary concerns about automation is that it will take away jobs. If an IT professional can spend less time working on menial tasks, that means companies require less of them, right? Not necessarily. While automation frees up a lot of time for human users, someone still needs to design and maintain the automation software. We talked about technological centaurs in the past, and automation is another example of how humans and technology work together to get the best performance for your business.
Are you interested in learning more about business process automation? Contact us to find out more.