What is process automation? And how can you implement it successfully?

A guide to process automation

Regardless of the department you work in, the role process automation plays is likely more important than ever.

The insights from our Work Automation Index, which involved analyzing the automations that hundreds of our clients have implemented, only validates this notion. 

For example, when comparing the automations that our clients built from April 2020 to March 2021 with the same period as a year earlier, we found that automation adoption has risen exponentially across departments.

A horizontal bar chart that showcases the growth in automation across different departments

Why are different departments aggressively increasing their levels of automation? And how do these automations work in practice? 

We’ll break down the answers to each of these questions and more. But first, let’s align on our definition of process automation.

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Wondering what else we uncovered from our research?

Learn about all of the noteworthy automation trends by reading our W*rk Automation Index.

Read W*rk Automation Index

What is process automation?

Process automation, or business process automation (BPA), is the use of a platform to automate a fairly complex process—in the hopes of achieving meaningful business outcomes. These outcomes can include anything from improving customer or employee retention to lifting sales to shortening your time-to-hire.

This term is often used interchangeably with robotic process automation (RPA) and process optimization—but in reality, it differs from both. Robotic process automation is an automation technology that uses software robots to perform UI-level tasks; while process optimization is a discipline that involves tinkering with certain variables while keeping specific constraints constant, all in the hopes of realizing a desired outcome from the process.  

Related: What are process flows?

Benefits of business process automation

With this definition in mind, let’s break down a few of the benefits that come from automating your processes. 

Data silos break down

Data silos, or when data is locked in specific apps that only certain employees can access, cause all kinds of issues. 

They can leave employees unaware of certain types of data, and thereby unable to benefit from it; they can force employees to request data from their colleagues, which can delay their timeline for receiving it; and they can discourage employees from requesting access to data, as the expected delay can significantly diminish the data’s value. 

By integrating your systems and implementing workflow automations that enable the data to move seamlessly across your tech stack, you can easily remove these silos and the negative consequences they created.

Business processes get transformed

Process automation offers opportunities to re-envision how your teams execute their operations. 

To illustrate this, let’s use an example:

Say your sales reps need to identify clients who are ready to spend more with your organization. Moreover, they need to build out presentations to persuade these clients to actually make additional investments.

Instead of having reps manually comb through their list of accounts to identify those worth pitching, where they’d then build out slides for each client they pitch, you can put together the following business process automation:

A process automation that allows  reps to get notified of clients who are ready to spend more and receive  presentations for pitching each of them

1. Once the client’s level of product usage exceeds a certain predefined threshold, the workflow gets triggered.

2. A platform bot collects information on that client from various systems, which it uses to populate a templated slide deck.

3. The platform bot shares the slide deck with the assigned sales rep in their business communications platform, whether that’s Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Employee experiences improve

The previous benefits already imply this implicitly, but it’s worth writing out: Well executed process automations can dramatically improve the employee experience.

They allow employees to avoid repetitive tasks that are less than pleasant to perform (e.g. data entry), where instead, employees can focus on the thoughtful, business-critical work they value. In addition, automations like the example above improve employees’ decision-making abilities and, therefore, their chances of being successful. 

Customers receive best-in-class support

There’s a seemingly endless supply of research that points to the value of providing top-notch support, from increasing the prices of your products and services to boosting positive word of mouth to outperforming competitors (in terms of revenue growth).

So how do you provide support that both fuels customer satisfaction and lets you reap these business benefits? By automating your support processes. 

To help paint the picture, let’s use a BPA example that looks to accomplish the following: enable customer success managers (CSMs) to identify and support clients who struggle to get enough value from your product.

An automation that allows CSMs to become aware of clients who aren't using your product to the fullest extent

1. Once a client’s level of product usage drops below a certain level, the workflow gets triggered.

2. A platform bot collects data on the client from various sources, and it goes on to use that data to populate a templated account health 360 report, which lives in a Google doc. 

3. Once completed, the platform bot shares the report with the assigned customer success manager (CSM) via your business communications platform; from there, the CSM can respond quickly and in a way that inspires the client to use your product further.

Related: How customer-facing teams can leverage product intelligence

How to automate a process

Once you’re bought into automating and you know which processes you want to streamline, the next question you’re faced with is how you go about implementing the automation.

Here’s a set of questions that, once answered fully, allow you and your team to go on and execute any automation successfully: 

5 questions that can guide you towards building powerful automations
  • What problem(s) will the automation solve? The answer can provide necessary guardrails when building an automation. 

For example, if you’re looking to streamline lead routing, some of the problems you’re looking to solve might include the reps’ slow response times and their generic follow-up messages to leads. With that in mind, any variables that influence speed to lead and the nature of the rep’s response should be considered during the design phase; while variables that don’t influence these factors directly should, generally speaking, be put to the side.

  • What business apps are involved? Most automations involve several apps, and by being able to identify them in advance, you can bring together the right implementation team from the get-go.  
  • Is this process time-sensitive? Some processes, like lead routing, need to take place immediately in order to operate at their best; while others, like generating paperwork at the end of the month, offer more flexibility. Identifying where your automation lies along this spectrum can help you choose the appropriate automation trigger.
  • What are the business rules/logic? Moving and syncing data between apps can come with all kinds of nuanced requirements. You might need to validate certain data, transform it into a schema, aggregate records, etc. 

Understanding the specific business rules and logic you need is not only essential to building the automation, but can also help you when evaluating automation tools, as you’ll need one that offers such functionality.

  • What exceptions may occur? Unfortunately, all kinds of issues can arise from your automation. For instance, you might have system or API outages to contend with, or find that there’s specific data missing. 

Thinking through the potential issues you might come across, along with the solutions for addressing them, can all but ensure that you build a foolproof automation.

Related: Best practices for implementing business process integrations

Automate any process with Workato

Workato, the leader in enterprise automation, offers a low-code/no-code UX so that lines of business and IT are empowered to implement scalable integrations and automations across a range of use cases. Moreover, the platform offers:

  • Hundreds of thousands of automation templates and hundreds of pre-built connectors so that your team can build integrations and automations faster and with minimal customizations
  • Enterprise-grade governance and security so that citizen integrators can use the platform without compromising sensitive, business-critical data 
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered platform bots that can bring automations directly to your business communications platform, whether that’s Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Workplace from Meta
To learn more about Workato, you can schedule a demo with one of our automation experts.

About the author
Jon Gitlin Content Strategist @ Workato
Jon Gitlin is the Managing Editor of The Connector, where you can get the latest news on Workato and uncover tips, examples, and frameworks for implementing powerful integrations and automations. In his free time, he loves to run outside, watch soccer (er...football) matches, and explore local restaurants.