Cloud computing and mobility are broadening the use of technology throughout organizations and creating opportunities to revamp workflow. Business Process Automation (BPA) is one such area that’s poised for expansion in the coming years, not just among traditional enterprise-size companies, but among small and medium-sized businesses as well.
A company can streamline its workflow by integrating various business applications, eliminating the need for manual handoffs. This allows employees to focus on more valuable and innovative tasks. There is no single product that can be purchased and implemented to give a company automation of a wide range of processes. Rather, it is a strategic approach that involves three primary components.
- Software used for discrete functions such as invoicing or employee management
- Connections between applications to start and end workflow and pass work from one stage to another
- A central repository for data
However, many companies lack a basic understanding of how processes tie together. They may be using technology across most of their processes, but the connections between applications may not be obvious, especially if that technology has been implemented in a piecemeal approach. Even if they understand how the connections could be made, companies often lack the skills necessary to execute on an automation strategy.
Finally, once processes have been automated, there’s a significant challenge in training the workforce and making the shift to a new operational style. Technology can allow processes to be extensively streamlined, but this is unlikely to produce drastic changes to deeply ingrained behaviors. This highlights the specialized knowledge required to successfully make the switch to automated processes.
Integrating applications and technologies in a complex landscape has long been a sweet spot for IT channel firms. The needs presented by BPA are no different.
In fact, companies are partnering with outside firms to address challenges and drive a greater degree of automation. A 2014 CompTIA study on workflow automation and communications found that one in five businesses have increased their amount of process outsourcing.
In the CompTIA study, 34 percent of companies claimed a significant increase in their use of BPA technology over the past two years. It appears that there is momentum behind this trend.
CompTIA asked companies to identify the areas where they hope to see workflow improvements through the use of BPA. Here are the top five:
- Bottlenecks that slow things down (48 percent of companies surveyed)
- Duplication of work (46 percent)
- Poor interaction between departments (39 percent)
- Difficulty locating documents (33 percent)
- Lack of business process visibility (27 percent)
There is clearly still more work to do in focusing the use of technology toward automation, and dispelling the notion that BPA is only for large enterprises. IT channel firms and solution providers who can make this case will be well-positioned to add substantial value to
their clients’ automation strategies.
Technology and trends that generate additional revenue or new business tend to draw the most attention, but improvements to internal operations that reduce costs also contribute to the profitability equation. There are many facets of internal operations that can be improved with BPA; and while it may be too complicated to pursue a strategy that addresses all needs, starting with the most significant issues and planning for the future is a smart approach.
Seth Robinson is the director of technology analysis for CompTIA, a non-profit association for companies in the information technology (IT) industry.