Although business automation might seem novel, it’s been around for more than 50 years. One of the first instances of business automation happened in 1967 when Barclays bank opened the world’s first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in London and revolutionized banking.
AI-powered automation tools allow businesses to fully automate complex processes, such as market data analysis, vendor management, employee onboarding, customer satisfaction, and relationship management.
The demand to continuously improve efficiency in business processes has made it necessary for managers, employees, and even stakeholders to stay on top of developments in business automation. Being able to leverage the latest innovations in technology is key to surviving in competitive markets.
Not to mention that automation can take care of time-consuming and labor-intensive tasks that draw heavily on available resources.
Automating basic organizational and management processes can help you channel creative energies toward growing your business. This article explores the different types of business automation and some best industry practices.
- What is business automation?
- Types of business automation
- Business automation examples
- Benefits and challenges of business automation
- Best practices for business automation
What is business automation?
Business automation refers to the use of technology to perform certain business tasks. The primary goal of business automation is to reduce the need for human intervention in everyday business processes.
This allows employees to use their time and energy to perform higher-value tasks that businesses can’t perform well without human input. In an ideal workflow, automation tools work with available human resources to execute complex business tasks.
For example, let’s say a small business starts an advertising campaign to establish a distinct brand image. It can use marketing automation tools like Google Analytics to figure out the preferences of its target audience. The marketing team can then use this data to craft compelling ads that resonate with the brand’s target audience.
In this instance, Google Analytics and human marketers create the brand advertisement campaign. Automation tools allow companies to optimize and streamline their business processes, making them faster, more resource-efficient, and more profitable.
Manual purchase order process
Manual purchase order processing is difficult, inefficient, and time-consuming. It is also prone to mistakes, which can be costly. Note the high number of employee touch points required for manual order processing.
Automated purchase order process
With business automation, virtually all of these process steps occur without employee intervention—saving time and money, and reducing errors.
Types of business automation
Business automation can be divided into three main types based on the complexity of the processes and the tools used.
Each type of automation is used to support specific business processes. For instance, robotic automation is typically used in production and manufacturing, while AI automation is essential in data analysis and risk management.
Business automation types:
Business process automation
Business Process Automation (BPA) uses software tools to automate various stages of a complex business process. It aims to make these processes more efficient and transparent while generating important data-driven insights.
A typical example of a process automation tool is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. The average CRM collects, organizes, and rates all sales leads generated at a company. This data is then consolidated and displayed on a single platform that employees can access.
CRMs also allow sales teams to send follow-up emails and communicate regularly with important clients, partners, and customers. They automate all important sales processes, from capturing leads to approaching clients.
Robotic process automation
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the practice of using software tools to execute repetitive, manual tasks. These tools can execute back-office tasks like extracting data, moving files, and filling forms at industrial scales. This type of automation is used to execute the same small tasks tens of thousands of times.
One example of RPA is web scraping. Web crawlers (scrapers) are software robots that extract data from thousands of internet websites in real time. This data is then filtered and analyzed to draw valuable real-world insights.
Another example of RPA is e-commerce websites using order processing software. This automation software collects and organizes all order-related data on an e-retail website. Order processing tools eliminate the need for manual processes like data entry and processing, allowing businesses to pack and ship orders faster.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is arguably the most popular type of automation. It’s an elaborate form of business automation where software tools are programmed to analyze and remember large data sets.
The AI automation tool uses this knowledge to respond to new situations. AI tools learn the basic rules of a process by analyzing millions of examples. This process is referred to as Machine Learning (ML). Once incorporated, the tools can apply these rules to novel situations and present automated responses.
A great example of AI-based automation is found in data visualization and analysis software like Microsoft’s Power BI. This tool analyzes large volumes of business data to find patterns and use them to generate actionable insights for businesses.
Another example of AI-based automation is Natural Language Processing (NLP) software used by writing bots and chatbots for customer support. NLP tools are trained using millions of pages of relevant literature to help them understand a particular language’s tone, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.
Once trained, these tools work on streamlining customer information, monitoring social media monitoring, classifying emails, and more.
Business automation examples
A few general examples of business automation tools can help you better grasp the concept.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) automation
CRM processes deal with large volumes of sales lead data. This data needs standardization to be captured, filtered, organized, and made accessible to all relevant employees within the company.
As we discussed, CRM automation tools help automate these processes so employees can focus on building and maintaining fruitful client relationships. We explain how the average automated CRM tool executes different tasks.
- Lead capture. The software can monitor all company emails and web forms for relevant lead information, like name, age, gender, and geographical location.
- Data filtering. The software can fill in missing lead information based on general assumptions. It can delete irregular or unusable information.
- Data organization. The software can organize all filtered lead data based on set parameters like age, gender, and location. This makes it easier for marketers to sort through it and find relevant leads.
- User access control. Employees can be automatically assigned data access based on their job roles.
Social media automation
Social media automation apps help marketers schedule and automate important tasks related to social media engagement. These include scheduling posts, analyzing audience engagement, and setting up automated replies for audience queries.
These automation platforms can also send specific tweets or LinkedIn posts whenever audience engagement peaks. They can be programmed to reshare popular posts at the right time to boost audience engagement.
Accounting and bookkeeping automation
Accounting and bookkeeping automation refers to a broad range of tools that help bookkeeping teams automate tasks, such as generating and validating invoices, processing payments, filing taxes, and generating balance sheets.
These tools are preloaded with all necessary taxation and vendor invoice forms, allowing accountants to finish and send them out much faster.
Benefits and challenges of business automation
Knowing the benefits and challenges of business automation can help you understand what to expect from these processes and what pitfalls to prepare for.
Some of the most important benefits of using business automation tools include:
- Increased efficiency. Automating clerical tasks makes larger business operations faster and more efficient. Automation tools allow businesses to set up streamlined workflows that require minimal human intervention.
- Cost savings. Automation tools help businesses save money on time spent, labor, and other valuable resources they’d otherwise spend on clerical tasks.
- Improved quality. Business automation solutions are designed to deliver precise, high-quality results with limited human errors.
- Increased productivity. Comprehensive workflow automation helps businesses work more productively and make apt use of all available labor and other resources.
- Improved data accuracy. Highly intelligent automation solutions are better at collecting and analyzing business data than human employees. Automation can often be the most feasible way of dealing with very large volumes of business data.
- Better decision-making. Data-driven automation helps businesses make better, more well-informed decisions like changing their marketing strategies. It allows them to factor in all market trends and test their marketing campaigns against intelligent consumer profile models before implementing them.
You can expect a few challenges while working with business automation tools.
- Implementation cost. Most business automation tools require you to pay an upfront setup price and a recurring subscription fee when you use them.
- Need for skilled staff. You’ll need to train and onboard employees to help them use new automation tools. This can translate to a sizable time and effort investment.
- Resistance to change. Automating processes usually requires businesses to train employees to adapt to them. The effort involved in the process can result in resistance from the workforce.
- Security concerns. Business data collection is a key part of modern business automation. While this helps with efficiency and data-driven decisions, it can also put your data at greater risk of breaches and malicious attacks. Without the proper security protocols, digital automation systems can leave your business data vulnerable to hacking and other third-party attacks.
Best practices for business automation
We cover a few industry best practices to help you implement automation in your business.
- Start small. Start by automating simple clerical tasks, like data collection and organization, before automating entire business processes. This allows you to ensure your automated modules sync with each other.
- Identify the right processes. Identify and prioritize specific processes that need to be automated in order of significance. Processes where repetitive tasks take up too much time and effort are a great place to start.
- Choose the right tools. Conduct thorough market research to understand what automation tools are right for you. Consider factors like features, pricing, and scalability to determine the right automation tools for your business.
- Plan for scalability. Switching between automation tools can be difficult, given the time and money needed to implement them properly. So, it’s wise to opt for dynamic tools that can scale with your business.
- Train your staff. Members of your staff and new employees should go through dedicated onboarding processes to use automation tools properly to learn the best, most efficient ways to use them.
Implement automation with help from Upwork
The best business automation solutions also serve as effective Business Process Management (BPM) tools. As business automation technologies become more efficient and comprehensive, businesses are expected to see dramatic transformation from increased automation in the workplace within the next decade.
Constant innovation and digital transformation also help make automation tools cheaper and more accessible to small businesses. If you’re a business owner looking to implement business process automation, you’ll likely need an automation expert to help you with the process.
Choose from hundreds of business automation developers from around the globe on Upwork. Additionally, if you’re a business automation developer looking for freelance jobs in automation, you can list your services on Upwork and find potential clients from around the globe.
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