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Process Automation Software: What is it?

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“Every company is a software company” says Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. He means, of course, that software is crucial to every company. But choosing the software that best suits your company is tough, and selecting process automation software in particular is a challenge for most.

In this brief blog, I will help you think more clearly as you select process automation software and consider which type is best for you.

So, What is it?

Process automation software improves the flow of work and information. Sometimes it fully automates your business process, so that none of your employees need to be involved. An example would be insurance policy renewal, where a customer chooses to renew, and your systems automatically take care of it.

Very often, however, process automation software is used to help human teams work better together, while it simultaneously draws upon and updates automated systems. Frequently it involves customers, partners, suppliers, and third-party systems too.

Process automation software can automate a wide range of processes. This includes:

  • New customer onboarding
  • Claims processing
  • Invoicing and accounts payable
  • Customer service
  • Booking and order management
  • Case management

Why Should I Use Process Automation Software?

Before software was available, people did everything manually. That was slow, error prone, and hugely inefficient!  Process automation software speeds up the flow of work, fully automates repetitive tasks, efficiently engages people when needed, and moves documents securely alongside the process.

Companies automate business processes most often for the following reasons:

  • Increase the speed of business: Manual work slows business down. Automation saves time by eliminating the human effort of keying and re-keying data, executing repetitive tasks, and transporting required documents physically.
  • People shortages and skill gaps: In response to staff or skill shortages, companies chose process automation simply to keep operations running.
  • Improve productivity and efficiency: Automation has a multiplier effect on efficiency, making it possible to complete more ‘transactions’ per hour. More claims settled, more new accounts opened, more orders booked, more invoices processed, etc. Productivity jumps up as a result.

What Types of Process Automation Software are Available?

The choice of process automation software available is huge, but in simple terms the available options are of two main types, albeit with some overlap:

1. Applications

Applications are built for one specific purpose and are useful only in that context. An example is an insurance policy management system. It does what it says on the tin, but you can’t use it to automate other processes in your business, such as claims management or invoice processing. This type of process automation software is often called commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software, hence the tin comment.

COTS software excels in convenience and ease of use and gets you up-and-running quickly. The software vendor is continually updating the software for you, so you get innovations in line with evolving best industry practice.

A downside of COTS software is that your business process is heavily influenced by your software vendor. Think about it. You execute your business process in accordance with the software’s capabilities. For many companies, that’s great and the software is fit for purpose. For some, it’s too constraining.

2. Platforms

Platforms enable you to automate any business process in your company, according to a design that you specify. The difference between platforms and COTS software is that the platform doesn’t actually automate any process on day one.

Instead, the platform provides you with a ‘Design Environment’ and you create your own automated process. You don’t need software engineers to build software from scratch. Rather, non-technical staff use the platform’s visual modelling tools to map out the process.

In simple terms, you draw a picture of the process flow, sketch the ‘screens’ you may want staff members or others to use, add some detail, and at the proverbial “touch of a button” you have an automated business process. This type of process automation software is usually called a low-code or no-code platform.

The fact that low-code platforms can automate any of your many business processes is the big advantage of platforms. You don’t have to buy multiple COTS software systems from multiple vendors, one for each of your business processes or departments. You can solve all your process automation challenges with one platform and deal with one vendor only.

Great, huh? Well, yes. But… you need to design all those processes yourself, including all the details. No business process comes pre-built and ready-to-use. And you need to update the processes you design as your own best practice evolves.

For some companies, that ability to create automated processes unique to the company’s need is exactly what they want.  But, be aware when choosing a platform that the investment in design and evolution of your automated business process is all yours. The vendor will update their platform, but you need to update and maintain your own processes. That means an ongoing investment in staff and/or consultants.

Horses for Courses

In order to select the process automation software that suits you best, evaluate your needs and priorities against the pros and cons of application software and no/low-code platforms. It’s a mistake to buy a low-code platform when what you need is pre-built COTS software, and vice versa.

To think more clearly about process automation software and which type is best for you, start by asking some simple questions:

1. Which do I value more:

  • a customized process that mirrors my everyday business practice in detail but which will require significant design, development, and maintenance on my part; or
  • a pre-built process that does most of what I need, doesn’t require more than minor configuration to get started, and where the design, enhancement and maintenance is done by the software vendor.

2. What factors matter most to me:

  • Speed of implementation
  • Uniqueness of my business process vs how other companies do it
  • Upfront and ongoing investment in customization and enhancement
  • Meeting departmental vs enterprise requirements

There are many more factors at play in your software selection process, but these simple questions should orient you well at the outset.

Trends in Process Automation Software

Building software from scratch is now rare, other than inside software companies such as Microsoft. The trend in businesses who require software to support their operations is to move away from coding and to use no/low-code platform or COTS software instead.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use or embed low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25% in 2020.

Amplifying this trend, low-code platforms are evolving to become no-code platforms, as software vendors enhance their software to equip less technical buyers (so-called ‘citizen developers’) to automate processes without the need for technical knowledge.

On the buyer side of this trend, many businesses prefer COTS software for process automation because it requires no design effort, not even no-code design effort. Therefore, COTS software better suits the speed and priorities of business. COTS software is prebuilt and simply works. Process flows and screens are ready-made for use. Low/no-code is simple, but COTS is simpler, say these buyers.

The Best of All Worlds?

Can’t we have COTS software with the enterprise flexibility and scalability of no-code platforms? That is the ultimate destination of the trends I have noted, but the journey there may be long. Given that businesses need to make choices right now, choose the horse that is best for your current course – but think ahead too!

To learn how Lithe process automation software helps customers unlock business value quickly while maintaining scalability, talk to us now via the live chat or contact us option on this page.

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