What is process automation? – Back to basics through the document management lens

Automation has been quite the buzzword over the last few years. However, the idea of automation can be traced back decades, and perhaps even as far back as the dawn of the industrial age. The realization that revenue and profits are closely linked to consistency and efficiency has meant that whenever the opportunity arises to get things done better, faster, cheaper, and error-free – it must be grabbed with both hands. In fact, businesses that don’t automate get bested in their markets over the long run.

The exponential adoption of technology in business has led to an ever-increasing diversity of tasks that can be automated. And with it comes the opportunity to integrate various automations within an enterprise into a unified whole. Today, the availability of AI has taken the game to a whole new level, boosting efficiency by removing redundancies in even highly complex tasks involving human decision-making.

Therefore, process automation is a term that has meant different things at different periods in history. To demystify what it means today, let’s get back to the basics.

What is process automation?

Process automation encompasses leveraging readily available technologies to facilitate the execution of time-consuming and repetitive tasks – thus, reducing the need for human intervention while creating flexible workflow systems. As the name implies, a workflow is an order of tasks or steps used to carry out business processes using pre-determined protocols.

Let’s familiarize ourselves with a few terms commonly used to describe process automation in businesses.

●     Business process management (BPM)

BPM approach entails assessing the business as a whole. The process helps to revisit all the processes across the business, analyze the growth, optimize where required, and set a new path for improved efficiencies, business agility, and revenue generation. In essence, BPM is a strategy to use both automated and manual processes. It focuses mainly on modeling day-to-day activities.

●     Business process automation (BPA)

BPA is essentially a digital transformation of business processes into simpler and controlled systems using workflow automation solutions. This automation aims to establish error-free, economically feasible, open, and streamlined functions across the organization with clearly defined adaptable, efficient, and accessible roles. The process focuses on replacing manual tasks with an error-free, and seamless automation approach.

●     Robotic process automation

RPA utilizes sophisticated and exclusive robotic programs to automate routine tasks. The difference here is that BPA is more about achieving instructive codes, but RPA is about taking those illustrative steps in finishing the tasks. These robots mimic human actions, like responding to emails, copy-pasting, general administrative tasks, and more by using user interfaces.

Let’s discuss business process automation in particular and how a robust document management system can facilitate and enhance its deployment across the enterprise.

Business Process Automation: A brief overview

Automation was a herculean task not too many years ago, requiring elaborate mainframe systems and an army of experts. In the present day companies of all sizes can leverage the functionality of cloud-based automation platforms, making the process simpler and faster. Among other functions, process automation delivers valuable business insights through two components – process mining and workflow automation.

Process mining

The methodology of process mining involves applying data science to uncover, validate, and improve workflows. Data mining and process analytics help organizations uncover bottlenecks and other improvement opportunities by comprehending their information systems. Nonetheless, process mining is a relatively new discipline. It still faces challenges like data quality (incomplete and distributed data diluting the quality as it reaches the destination) and concept drift (change in processes as they are evaluated).

Workflow automation

Workflow automation simplifies and optimizes a company’s operations. Generally, this is achieved by coordinating interactions between stakeholders and information systems. This process attempts to assign tasks to the right employee at the right time, provide relevant information, and push for progress. Additionally, it incorporates various business activities through document management.

Business Process Automation with Document Management

Today’s businesses need flexible and modern systems to keep pace with the changing technological landscape. One of these is document management systems which play a central role in most growing enterprises, and we have established that process automation is a key component of modern business operations. That being the case, then the document management system is a good place to start when looking to implement process automation – arguably the foundation of all process automations.

All business processes generate documents, both paper, and digital trails, to coordinate and cooperate with other business operations. Keeping up with heaps of documents generated clogs up functions, consumes time, distracts the efficiency, and challenges customer satisfaction. There are a few features of document management systems that enable process automation, as discussed below.

●     Capturing data

Capturing scattered data across multiple kinds of documents, channels, and formats is an ever-growing challenge with traditional practices. From emails to individual files, papers to e-forms, multimedia to virtually any source of information from numerous devices results in data silos.

Enabling multichannel capturing in a DMS would be a suitable process automation candidate. This approach helps to expedite the capture process of scanning, indexing, organizing and extracting data, and exporting information for application-specific use cases. Capture technologies like OCR and NLP coupled with AI can complement existing document capturing capabilities by extending the capture beyond paper.

●     Integrating with workflow systems

Another significant roadblock to process automation is the dependence on legacy IT systems. These are often expensive long-term purchases that are even more expensive to overhaul. Leveraging a document management system is a relatively inexpensive way to bridge the gap between existing legacy systems and state-of-the-art process automation mechanisms.

A DMS can facilitate the flow of information across external systems with the standard processes, resulting in the opportunity to introduce workflow automation to your enterprise. Automated workflows can streamline the review, approval, and archiving of these documents by routing them to programs like CMSs or ERPs.

●     Consolidation & duplication

One of the core functions of automation is its reliability – i.e. once in place there are usually few errors requiring troubleshooting and human intervention. However, this is heavily dependent on the source of data used to implement the automation. Therefore, de-duplication and consolidation of documents are essential components of process automation. The tendency for documents to be scattered across several locations is a recipe for disaster, especially if more than one version of the same document exists. Moreover, in an automated workflow, redundancies could compound invisibly.

For instance, when you create a key document, chances are employees may need to reuse the data for multiple purposes resulting in them making copies. Further, any changes made in one of the copies may not be updated in the original – the one that is critical to automation systems designed around it.

With an effective DMS, this process of updating such information can be centralized and automated. Additionally, helping the approach with context and relevance-based storage can result in eliminating redundancy. The logic behind this approach is that when data is mapped, stored, and dynamically looked up entity-wise, it facilitates a better categorization, thereby eliminating duplication across the organization.

●     Search & retrieval

Searching and retrieving a document from a pile manually is unimaginable today. With full-text indexing and search, employees can access information from the central repository, with no productivity lost to locating information. This automation is made even more efficient with features like auto-saving the search history of documents and their metadata using different words and phrases. Using metadata, users can navigate or pivot through large results sets. And It is also possible to save, share, sort, and filter search results.

Furthermore, this also increases the number of ways in which a look-up function can be reliably used in a variety of process automations.

●     Access control & collaboration

Restricting access to physical documents is nearly impossible, without a lock and key. How much ever they are kept in a safe, they still are prone to vulnerabilities both from a security and a physical storage standpoint. On the other hand, a DMS can ensure database-level security and enable collaboration

A DMS can be used to trigger automated access controls which allow identifying a role-based or use-case-based authorization. For example, if an invoice needs to be accessed, it immediately calls for an instructed code identifying who is requesting that file. In that sense, they also act as a signal for the smooth functioning of processes reducing security threats while improving administrative inefficiencies.

●     Regulatory compliance

Compliance obligations pose another major challenge to traditional document management. It is a very tedious process; any mishap could expose sensitive data to the world, causing data security breaches. A large corporation with multiple clients and several intermediaries can face a huge time-sapping challenge with regulatory compliance.

In contrast, a DMS will not allow a document to be modified in the system without resubmission. Therefore, in this case, process automation could be used to allow monitoring of existing clients, thus, preventing hefty fines for non-compliance. By doing this, an audit trail is generated automatically, and no question of authenticity can arise. This process would also generate extensive logs, making for clean administrator exports and inspection records.

●     Electronic forms

While application and form processing is often viewed as a back-office task, more accurate capturing, retrieval, and management of the data leads to numerous efficiencies directly and indirectly. Electronic forms not only prevent human error at the back end but also ensure the accuracy of submissions with data validation and auto-fill suggestions. Further, the information within forms can be recognized, categorized, and indexed intelligently. For example, a form entry beginning with a certain set of capitalized alphabets and with a specific number of characters can be automatically recognized and classified as a product code or an invoice, or an identification number of some kind.

In this case, a DMS with an inbuilt business rules engine can trigger automated workflows downstream automatically. The data could then be captured, extracted, and mined automatically and can be shared between remote datasets and integrated systems for better workflow collaboration.

Automate before it’s too late

Process automation using a document management system can help increase productivity, create business value, generate insights, and help identify the areas that need more focus to generate revenue. You no longer have to wait for your legacy systems to pass their sell-by date. In fact, automation with a document management system is certain to extend the life of your investments, while keeping your costs low – all the while enhancing your flexibility to adapt to the rapidly advancing technologies of the future. Therefore a document management system like Tessi Docubase® is a compelling investment to make. Book your demo today.

dbs Software & Services (dbs) is a long-standing provider of document management and process automation solutions for education and business, and the exclusive provider of Tessi Docubase® in North America.

Tessi Docubase® is an enterprise-grade modular, secure, and easy-to-use document management system that seamlessly integrates with Business Information Systems. Its secure architecture and a broad range of features make it the perfect solution for a wide range of enterprises and use cases.

dbs LiveForms, is a low-code Business Process Automation platform. Its sole focus is simplifying complex processes by automating repetitive steps – from data capture to alerts, notifications, email confirmations, and everything in between quickly, without involving a programmer.

dbs eSign is a cloud-based electronic signature solution that allows users to manage the signing process for a document, from upload to signing and sealing, from any mobile device or computer.