What is Business Process Automation?: A Guide for FP&A Teams

Quickly changing business environments demand that companies be agile to be successful. Business process automation helps organisations to do just that by ensuring they devote their workforce to the right tasks.

What is Business Process Automation?

Businesses are only as strong as the systems and processes they rely on to get the job done. However many company processes include repetitive, manual, and time-consuming tasks that can stunt growth and harm employee and customer satisfaction.

And when employees spend time on tasks better left to software, they don’t have enough time for the work that truly benefits from human judgement and insight.  

Business process automation (BPA) allows organisations to complete these critical, but repetitive, tasks (think: inventory management or shift scheduling) more efficiently. With software, tasks or workflows are automated to free up employees for higher-value work. As a result, organisations can become more nimble in the face of market changes—a hallmark of successful companies.  

Learn how business process automation can enhance your organisation's systems and workflows.


What is the Business Process?

A business process is a set of steps or activities—performed by people and technology—a company takes to accomplish a specific goal.

Well-defined business processes are the backbone of successful companies.

One such example is offboarding an employee. To accomplish that goal, leaders from HR and other departments must accomplish tasks such as ensuring knowledge transfer, scheduling an exit interview, reassigning work, and notifying clients. The same is true of the explicit procedures that financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams must follow to process invoices or budgets for Q4.  

Well-defined business processes are the backbone of successful companies, helping to streamline operations and boost productivity. When these processes are easy to follow and properly deployed, they provide structure, clarity, and consistency.

Technology has recently enabled organisations to automate several manual business processes. So, whereas a decade ago, a company’s accounts payable process might’ve required the physical delivery of an invoice, today, those same invoices are delivered and settled electronically via advanced, cloud-based FP&A software.


What is Business Process Automation (BPA)?

Business process automation is using technology to automate recurring, manual, and multi-step business processes, streamlining individual tasks and overall workflows.  

Automation might be applied to a single task in a process—say, sending an acknowledgement to a customer email—or multiple steps such as guiding job candidates through the hiring process.

The use of automation in time-sensitive tasks and inefficient workflows can improve employee morale as employees spend less time pushing files and more time on engaging work.

Organisations of all stripes have found ways to make business process automation work in their favour.

By boosting workflows and removing bottlenecks—no need to wait for Employee A to drop off an invoice on Employee B’s desk—operational efficiency and costs go down. A Bain & Company survey found that businesses that integrate automation software have reduced costs by nearly 20%. 

The right automated solutions also can help ensure that best practices are implemented and followed, reducing the likelihood of human error. A PwC survey found that automated solutions lifted the accuracy of FP&A insights above 99%. Such increases in precision directly correlate with improved customer satisfaction and trust and can have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line. 


Types of Business Process Automation

Automation isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Different solutions work better for different processes or tasks.  

Task automation: Using software to automate one or more repeating manual tasks in a process such as scheduling social media posts via platforms or automating a survey to garner feedback from new hires.

Workflow automation: Automating and optimising a larger, day-to-day workflow rather than a task or two.  

Process automation: A more holistic approach than workflow automation aimed at improving company-wide processes and structures—such as safety practices—through automation.  

Robotic process automation: Using technologies to perform repetitive, back-office tasks otherwise handled by employees, such as pulling data or filling out forms. One such example is using Optical Character Recognition technology to recognize text within images and convert jpegs into extractable documents.  

Intelligent automation: Similar to robotic process automation, but targeted toward less routine tasks that require judgement and problem-solving, such as financial forecasting.


Examples of Business Process Automation

While not every task is worth automating, almost every industry can benefit from BPA in some way.  

Certain high-volume, rules-based tasks, such as web scraping and data transfer, are well-suited for digital transformation. Other examples of processes ripe for automation include

  • Customer inquiries. Customer management is a high-touch process, but answering customer complaints or questions doesn't always have to involve human effort. And often, automated communication is more timely. Bain & Company research shows that when companies implemented automation to provide simple status updates to customers, the time spent resolving the issue dropped by 27%. 

  • Data management. Automation can help convert emails into documents for later retrieval or convert forms into records. This speeds access to data and can lessen employee-induced errors.

  • Time and attendance tracking. Machines are particularly useful for spotting patterns in data.  The ability to see trends, such as increases in employee absences, allows HR leaders to act before trends become problems.  

Organisations of all stripes have found ways to make business process automation work in their favour.  

Insurance companies have successfully applied automation technology to demanding, repetitive tasks like underwriting. AI has helped reduce the processing time at the insurance giant Prudential from 22 days to 22 seconds. Group insurance claims processing is now three times faster due to the automated data systems the company installed in 2022.  

Salesforce, a cloud-based business software provider, has astutely deployed automation and AI to consolidate its technical debt and unite its data as it expands into new markets. The company, for example, relied on automation to quickly set up a new legal entity. Now, Salesforce uses AI and machine learning (ML) in its back-office operations, allowing analysts to focus on more strategic work.  

In the medical industry, cancer treatment centre Roswell Park uses automation to bring much-needed visibility to its supply chains. By implementing business process automation solutions like a cloud-based enterprise resources manager, the organisation has a holistic view of how it uses its medical supplies and how many days of inventory it has. “We know which products to use first, what substitutions are in place, and whether we need to tap additional sources,” said Ashleigh Gross, executive director of supply chains. “The benefit of this is real-time monitoring, increased transparency, and more efficient transactions.”


How to automate FP&A processes

Given that business process automation has been shown to increase accuracy, it should come as no surprise that it poses unique and transformative benefits to FP&A, where precision is the reigning success metric.  

Predictive analytics, machine learning, and real-time reporting are no longer on CFOs’ wish lists. Now, they’re an essential aspect of FP&A strategy that is helping FP&A teams elevate their financial insights and make decisions that drive earnings, reduce costs, and improve company performance, according to Deloitte.

The benefits automation brings to FP&A proves out in the data. The global market for accounting software is expected to hit a t value of $20.4 billion USD by 2026. The growth is driven by the need for compliance, accuracy, and efficiency, as well as the transformation of the CFO's office.

The global business landscape demands tools that meet current needs and anticipate future challenges.

With the right tools installed, automation can help solve many issues that FP&A teams frequently face, from error-filled spreadsheets and inefficient planning cycles to data security risks and compliance issues.  

Analysts can use automated solutions to intelligently match payments with invoices, reducing the time to complete the reconciliation process and close the books each month. Automation can also help spot suspect payments in real-time, significantly decreasing the time and money companies devote to fraud detection. The banking group HSBC uses automation and AI to help identify money laundering, fraud, and terrorist funding.

Looking further ahead, business process automation and automated solutions will likely play a more supersized role in recruiting. As the workforce ages out of spreadsheets and Excel databases, FP&A tech tools will be essential for attracting talent. Even today, having employees who are comfortable using automation tools gives companies a competitive advantage amid a historic and ongoing talent shortage. 


What to look for in an FP&A automation solution

When it comes to picking the right automation solutions, CFOs need to be discerning.  

The global business landscape, reshaped by recent events, demands tools that meet current needs and anticipate future challenges. Some critical criteria to consider include: 

  • Ease of use. An intuitive design reduces training time and increases adoption among employees. 

  • Analytics and reporting options. Access to deep insights and customizable reporting grant CFOs company-wide visibility and support strategic decision-making. 

  • Integrations. FP&A is at a crossroads with its technology. Spreadsheets are still a part of many organisations’ daily functions, and data abounds across multiple servers. FP&A automation tools must be able to plug into numerous information and data streams and seamlessly integrate them into a central platform. 

  • Mobile-functionality. Finance leaders need 24/7 access to information to make quick decisions. Mobile functionality also empowers remote teams. 

  • Scalability. FP&A software should grow alongside an organisation without disrupting the normal flow of business or introducing pain points. Scalable solutions can handle increased load and complexity without compromising performance.

  • Security measures. CFOs frequently cite data security as one of their chief concerns regarding AI and automation, so it’s paramount that the solutions they install include advanced features like access control and permissions. 

  • Alerts and notification features. In today’s global economy, macro-events are now common occurrences. Sound notification features enable CFOs to respond quickly to disruptions that may impact the bottom line. 

  • Customization. Quality, customizable solutions ensure that technology adapts to your company’s specific requirements, not the other way around.


Explore the Advantages of Workday Adaptive Planning

Workday’s Adaptive Planning is the optimal solution for companies wanting to build a resilient and forward-looking financial operation.  

With Adaptive Planning, FP&A teams can plan for multiple scenarios, such as a surge in hiring or a dip in sales, and forecast well into the future. The software’s automated solutions, including in-memory calculations, AI- and ML-supported predictive analytics, and real-time reporting, combine to transform the CFO role into a strategic partner and ensures organisational agility to meet whatever the moment brings.

While the exact shape of the future business landscape is unknown, there’s no doubt that FP&A will be relied upon to predict and react to market shifts. This is why financial pros need to be freed from spending time trading spreadsheets and culling data. With the smart use of business process automation, FP&A can instead focus on delivering strategic financial insights that help guide and accomplish organisational goals.

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