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In 2010, our company invested in marketing automation by migrating our website to HubSpot and integrating it with Salesforce. It was a big project for a company that only had a part-time marketing department.

Despite occasional bumps on the road, automating marketing elements made for a better and more integrated customer experience. Looking back, it was a precursor to growth. Inbound leads continue to increase, resulting in a positive ROI for the department. There is now a full marketing team on staff.

There are diverse views on the impact automating business processes can have on an organization. Business process automation (BPA) takes data, information, and processes related to a business and manages them with technology to drive down costs.

There may be some debate about the depth and breadth of BPA, but once fact is indisputable: it's use is on the rise.

The numbers suggest there are good reasons to automate:

1. Cost of manual processes and legacy systems

The most direct reason for businesses to adopt automation is cost. Here are some truly unbelievable losses in the United States resulting from poor organization and old-school approaches to office management, as found by Brother International Corp., in its 2010 survey of office workers.

The average U.S. office worker loses up to 38 hours a year looking for misplaced office items. Think about it enough and you'll never look at hard copies the same way. Across the pond, British businesses collectively lose an annual amount equivalent to $434-million searching for lost or hard-to-find paper files. Extrapolating outward, the global loss in productivity is truly astronomical.

Little wonder that progressively more people are receptive to paperless offices and automated processes.

2. Savings and productivity

Here are four notable examples of firms that saved big and increased productivity by automating business processes (statistics compiled by professor Mohsen Attaran):

R.J. Reynolds: automation of its accounts payable function resulted in:

  • 53-per-cent reduction in invoice processing costs
  • 25-per-cent decrease in clerical staffing requirements
  • 16-per cent increase in transactions volume

Frito Lay: automation of its purchasing processes resulted in:

  • Saving between 30,000 and 50,000 work hours a year
  • 10-per-cent reduction in distribution centres

Cisco Systems: adoption of web-based customer relationship management resulted in:

  • Elimination of 75,000 customer phone calls a month
  • Savings of more than $270-million in annual operating expenses

Emerson: adoption of web-based procurement processes resulted in:

  • Consolidation of buying activity across 60 divisions
  • Saving an estimated $500-million over four years

Success factors

If the preceding information has you coming around on automation and you see opportunities to automate processes in your organization, you might wonder what makes BPA projects successful. The following five factors are critical:

  • An executive sponsor. As with anything related to real change in an organization, BPA requires a high-ranking champion who is willing to shepherd things and rally the troops around the initiative. This one’s a must.
  • Executives and managers who love tech. Younger, more educated executives and managers who already have lifestyle ties to technology represent a driving force toward greater business process automation. You certainly want them on your team to champion the cause.
  • Automated suppliers or clients. Birds of a feather flock together. If those in your ecosystem have embraced automation, there’s greater impetus for you to do so. Many firms prefer to partner with companies that have automated processes.
  • Clearly defined strategies and goals. The road to automation can sometimes be full of nasty potholes. A clear strategy and defined goals are absolute musts for contending with the tougher times and the inevitable resistance to these initiatives. All players involved have to know what a “win” looks like and when automation has achieved its desired level of implementation and results. It’s worth looking at “agile” implementation of BPA, because often you can see the effects quicker. These results can then be turned into the main storyline you tell internally.
  • A culture of communication and celebration. From experience, companies with internal dialogue that’s more robust tend to have an easier time automating business processes. It makes sense, since you’ve got to communicate any time you change things in an organization. It’s also important to celebrate the successes of automation that you realize. The team worked hard to get there so let them have some fun and feel proud.

Regardless of the size of your company you can certainly reap substantial benefits from automation.

Chris Thierry, is president and founder of Etelesolv, a provider of telecom and IT expense management software. Robert Al-Jaar, is the company's vice-president of product engineering.

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