Automation is nothing new, with the first robot invented over 100 years ago (credited to Leonardo Torres y Quevedo for inventing a machine for playing chess if you’re interested!), and manufacturing businesses first adopting the use of robots in their physical processes. Business process automation or administrative tasks is, however, a relatively recent concept.
With all the different types of automation tools available, you might wonder where to start. As business process automation consultants we generally help small and medium-sized businesses so we are experts in tools aimed at that market. In this article we go through the options and who they might be suited to, to save you time when embarking on your own automation journey.
What different types of automation tools are available?
There are a few different types of automation tools available, with some aimed at larger organisations and others at small to medium-sized businesses.
The first type of business automation tools are specialist products aimed to automate one particular function, such as software test automation packages. With these, you need developer skills to program them to automatically perform logic to test paths through software applications.
The second group are Robotic Process Automation tools, or RPA for short. These are used to build scripts or blocks of code to mimic tasks that a human would usually do.
And finally, there are Business Process Automation tools, or BPA for short, which is what we focus on here at Solvaa. These are aimed at optimising entire processes as well as automating them.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic Process Automation uses a bot to automate individual tasks, often high-volume tasks, which are time-consuming for a human. RPA is a tactical approach to speeding up a single process and various tools are available to do this.
Examples of RPA tools are UI Path, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, Celonis and Robocorp. Microsoft Power Automate also has RPA functionality to link desktop apps which don’t have APIs, where you can configure bots to interact with your UI.
RPA tools play a significant role in IT operations and data security functions as well as data entry and extraction. Legacy systems can be automated using Robotic Process Automation too, as can data migrations and hooks into screen-scraping and OCR systems.
RPA tools tend to need programming or technical skills, although some are considered low-code or no-code solutions. In most cases, RPA is used by medium to large-sized organisations, although not exclusively.
What is Business Process Automation?
Business Process Automation is where entire processes are analysed, optimised and automated. BPA is all about using technology to improve the way we work by automatically performing repetitive tasks that would typically require human intervention.
Examples of BPA tools include Zapier (our favourite!), Make (formerly Integromat), IFTTT (If This Then That) and Pipefy. Microsoft Power Automate is in this category, and also covers Digital Process Automation (DPA) as well as RPA too.
Which automation tools suit a small/medium-sized business?
As Business Process Automation takes a holistic approach to look at the entire business and improve each process in turn, this is likely to have the greatest impact on a small or medium-sized business. RPA would suit larger organisations, which would likely include a development team and greater financial resources to implement bespoke automations.
Some of your business apps may include built-in integrations which you can use to automate parts of your processes. Xero, the accounting app, is one example, and the email platform Mailchimp is another. Using ‘native’ integrations is a great way to get started with automation as you’ll be focusing on the tasks related to that particular app.
The biggest game-changer, though, is adopting a tool which connects many different apps. These tools give you the freedom to streamline more of your processes, delivering the most benefits.
When deciding which Business Process Automation tool to adopt, one consideration for smaller businesses is the skillset of the staff, and whether a low-code or no-code solution would be most appropriate. Most organisations of this size operate without a team of developers, and their operational staff may not possess technical skills. In this case, no-code tools like Zapier would be more suitable as no programming skills are required, just a knowledge of the processes and how/when/where the different tasks are performed.
When choosing a no-code BPA tool, it’s vital to check which software apps it can connect. To compare a couple of the tools mentioned above, IFTTT connects over 700 apps whereas Zapier connects over 6,000! It’s one of the reasons that Zapier is our preferred BPA platform here at Solvaa.
We always recommend analysing your existing processes before considering automation, and part of that work is reviewing your software apps. Some may not be suitable for automation, so you might consider replacing them with ones that do, if they will deliver more benefits in the long run. Once you have a list of the apps in your business you should choose a tool which connects as many of them as possible.
Cost is a factor when choosing any software, and most of the BPA tools listed above include a free plan. Microsoft Power Automate doesn’t, and plans start at $15 per user per month. Having a free plan is really helpful as it means you can get started and try out automations in your business without it costing an arm and a leg. Then, once you’ve configured a few workflows and understand how valuable it will be for your business, you can consider upgrading for more features. RPA tools tend to be much more expensive and therefore unaffordable for all but large organisations, making BPA a better fit for most small and medium businesses.
What are the benefits of automation for a small/medium-sized business?
For a small to medium-sized business, Business Process Automation tools deliver significant benefits, including:
- Increased productivity.
- Time savings.
- Reduced costs.
- Eliminating human error.
- Greater profits.
- Better job satisfaction for staff.
BPA will allow you to grow quicker too, as it’s far easier to scale a small business when you have automated your manual tasks, because you won’t need to hire extra staff to get more done.
Automation also helps you deliver better customer service. You can ensure responses are sent to enquiries no matter what time of day it is, and email sequences are always sent on schedule. Staff retention is better too, as employees are able to concentrate on the fun aspects of their job rather than the mundane tasks. They will feel more valued as you are working with them to automate the boring processes, and if you invest in automation training then they will feel empowered to implement solutions across the business. We highly recommend appointing an ‘automation champion’ which is a member of staff who is responsible for identifying automation opportunities and working with others to bring them to life.
At Solvaa, most of our clients are small and medium-sized businesses so we use Business Process Automation tools to streamline their workflows. We recommend and implement native integrations as well as using Zapier to connect clients’ apps. For our featured case study, One Year No Beer, we reduced bookkeeping time by 63% and saved £2826 each month on bookkeeping costs.
How to get started with Business Process Automation
If you’re just started out on your BPA journey then our free e-book is the perfect introduction. We also have some useful articles in our blog including how automation can help you increase prices and also the benefits of business process automation.
Check out our automation training programme
And finally, if you’re really keen to transform your business using automation, then visit the Solvaa Automation Academy. Our signature training programme, ‘Simple Automation Blueprint: Zero to Hero’ is aimed at anyone who wants to learn the fundamentals of business process automation from the experts – a sure-fire way to recession-proof your business.
It’s an 8-week blended learning course with on-demand videos, templates, resources and weekly group coaching sessions. And it’s more than just a Zapier course (although we do show you how to use Zapier like a pro) as you’ll learn about Process Mapping, Business Process Improvement and Business Process Management too – principles that can be applied to other areas of business too!
Whether you are a complete novice or have been using Zapier for a while, our programme is for you. It’s perfect for individuals and teams in micro, small and medium-sized businesses, including solopreneurs, consultants and freelancers. You’ll have access to our experts and can participate in live calls where you can ask all your burning questions, as well as hands-on workshops to keep you on track with implementing your new skills. We run regular cohorts so there will be an opportunity for everyone to participate.
Our head trainer, Kelly Goss, is a specialist in business systems, process improvement and automation, and one of less than 100 Zapier Certified Experts in the world. Kelly has many years’ experience in optimising systems and processes, and implementing automations for clients and is now passing on her knowledge to students through our trademarked ‘4-Step Solvaa Automation Methodology®‘.
Find out more via our dedicated Solvaa Automation Academy website.
Solvaa is a process and automation consultancy specialising in improving sales, operations and financial administration workflows. We help you to simplify and streamline existing processes, integrate your business tools to make data transfer more efficient and automate manual tasks to increase productivity. We are Zapier Certified Experts, Pipedrive Certified Experts and Xero Certified Advisors.
Contact us today to discuss how Solvaa can help you simplify, improve and automate all aspects of your business with Zapier to save you time, reduce costs and keep you agile as you grow.