Guide to Automating Your Business

Chapter 3: Business Process Automation in Different Industries –  How to Tailor Automation to Your Business Type


Automation by industry varies. You hardly need an MBA from an elite institution to tell you that. What you do need, however, is acute awareness on your current operational inefficiencies or choke points, your labor needs and any industry-relevant technology or much-needed equipment — an awareness you only glean from years of working within your industry.

It’s these variables that shape your selected automation suite. Otherwise, you risk implementing new processes that only create more problems on top of the ones they were meant to solve.

Read on to see what technological automation and its best practices can solve in some of today’s leading industries:

1. Automation for Retail

Retail is a fast-moving, high-product turnover industry with hyper-segmented target audiences spread out across geographically and culturally diverse markets. From a niche clothing boutique with a single storefront to an international retail department chain, these enterprises have a list of operational process challenges that can prevent them from seeing maximum profits.

Retail’s common process headaches revolve around the systematic organization of merchandise workflows, beginning with orders, maintained through delivery and finalized through in-store or online points of sale management. Alongside these concerns, retail business processes also include a highly variable workforce and the need to keep pace with changing consumer demands and expectations — most pressingly the security of their credit card or payment information.

Frequent Retail Process Pain Points

Here are some of the main process problems plaguing retailers:

  • Inventory management, both in-stores and online, with balanced sales forecasting versus quarterly expenses.    
  • Customer-service channels that respond quickly and effectively to merchandise returns, questions and more.   
  • Paper documents crammed into small, ill-equipped back-office locations. 
  • Multi-location store management
  • High rates of employee turnover
How Automation Can Help

Automation can help with these problems in a few different ways:

  • A single platform to manage orders, with all customer and point-of-sales information stored in a private, secure database.
  • Improved distribution and inventory management, plus retail content and sales cycle tracking. 
  • Secure employee and customer information storage, such as credit cards and mailing addresses. 
  • Field-delivery and transportation cycle management.

2. Automation for Healthcare

Healthcare business processes sit at the core of a high-functioning, finely-tuned hospital, clinic, assisted living or other health-service institution. As one of the most regulated industries, it can seem impossible to balance stringent HIPAA rules and other compliance bodies with in-the-moment, interpersonal patient interests while still supporting efficient, streamlined back-office operations.

Yet it’s these very back-office operations, such as patients’ records management, medical history transfers and billing that keep healthcare operations afloat.

Frequent Healthcare Process Pain Points

Unsurprisingly, the healthcare industry generates a significant amount of data and has many processes to handle that data:

  • Legacy computer systems ill-adapted to the industry’s ever-changing software and data security statutes. 
  • Proper compliance documentation, especially if relying on paper-based files and storage.
  • Secure networks and PII.
  • Inefficient manual-data inputting into electronic health records (EHR) systems, alongside inundated paper-document storage.
  • Lack of communication regarding medical transportation operations, such as safely transferring blood samples. 
How Automation Can Help

Automation can help corral healthcare data and keep it secure.

  • Central repository for patient billing and other medical accounting tasks, plus compliant documentation. 
  • Central repository for patient records management and communications. 
  • PII encoding, encryption and in-house or cloud-based hosting. 
  • Improved compliance reporting, with a single integrated software program that simplifies audit trails and documentation. 
  • Greater consistency across inventory controls and medical transportation. 

3. Automation for Factories and Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is where process automation was born. Not only for traditional, on-the-floor warehouse workflows but also for the gamut of office operations and systems that contribute to quick product lead times and keep a plant running.

Yet it’s also an industry facing many hardships as globalization continues to decrease profit margins and pinch out yesterday’s successful productivity pipelines.

The best business process automation strategies for manufacturing are those which ensure product quality and customer-value-adding decisions never fall to the wayside, yet mitigate expenses and better define daily labor roles, procedures and responsibilities. Overseeing all this tends to fall on the shoulders of plant managers, who often don’t have the technological resources available themselves to make these domain fundamentals easier. 

Frequent Manufacturing Process Pain Points

Manufacturing can be a complicated web of interconnected processes:

  • Complex order workflows relying on multiple suppliers, contracts and vendor operations.
  • Supply-chain management of those workflows.
  • Product distribution, transportation and delivery management.
  • Warehouse inventory management.
  • Quality control and product consistency across mechanized operations.
  • Comprehensive employee training yet limited HR and accounting resources.
How Automation Can Help

Automation can simplify these various processes into a streamlined workflow:

  • A complete, centralized document management system for invoices, purchase orders and receipts, as well as all contracts and vendor information. 
  • Barcode printing and signature captures for enhanced field and transportation operations. 
  • In-system shipment and delivery notifications for further distribution and delivery management.
  • More informed work order processes to keep all costs under control.
  • Better forecasted inventory controls.

4. Automation for Energy and Utilities

The energy and utilities sector has unique problems to mitigate when it comes to its business processes. At the macro level, the industry must remain as proactive as possible to variables well outside its immediate control and is increasingly looking to big data and tech-augmented systems to do so. Yet on an everyday, micro-operational level, the very nature of this industry relies upon teams of field-service technicians and personnel leveraged as mobile workers, most of whom do not have access to said data-driven, strategic technology. This push-and-pull presents distinct questions on organizational, managerial and compliance best processes for energy and utility companies. 

Frequent Energy and Utilities Process Pain Points

Utilities and energy industries have distinct processes to manage:

  • Enterprises and assets that are widely dispersed.
  • Legacy geographic information systems (GIS). 
  • Tight industry oversight and regulations, including models on pricing and expansion.
  • Complex financing and billing procedures.
  • Constant workflow streams and internal approval procedures out-of-sync with field operations.
  • Changing consumer tastes and beliefs.
  • Globally tied markets and competition.
How Automation Can Help

Here are a few ways this industry can benefit from automating these processes:

  • One repository for all utility and energy workflow documents, customer-facing and internal, from initial contract signings, invoices and service updates to meter verification and service paperwork.
  • GIS data storage and retrieval.
  • Regulatory compliance documentation for streamlined OSHA-audit trails.
  • Improved operational financing and accounting documentation 

5. Automation for Transportation

The business needs of the transportation industry necessitate processes that work for personnel on the road, not sitting stationary in an office. This translates to a complete suite of remote document management, accounting, finance and field resources that makes field workflows of managing deliveries simpler and more real-time responsive. Otherwise, you risk a transportation business that cannot meet the most basic expectations of the industry, with every touch point in your operations poised to suffer. What’s more, all these processes and their subsequent technology must be manageable and user-friendly for drivers — enhancing their jobs rather than robbing them of their on-the-road autonomy.     

Frequent Transportation Process Pain Points

Here are some of the processes that concern the transportation industry:

  • Asset tracking across dispatches, locations and assignments.
  • Delivery speed and reliability, the bedrocks of quality assurance for the transportation industry.
  • Mobile fleet personnel management, with geographically dispersed and on-the-go employees.
  • Constant paperwork, invoices and receipts to manage while on the road.
  • Heavy industry regulations and audits.
How Automation Can Help

Process automation can ease these processes in several ways:

  • Photo, field and signature capture technology to fill and document orders and shipments on the road.
  • Delivery tracking and confirmations, plus other resources for real-time field updates. 
  • Automated content distribution and barcode printing.
  • Automated invoice processing to reduce the need for manual data entry and shorten the entirety of your mobile workflows.   

6. Automation for Finance

The financial sector has little time for process errors and many chances for process-related noncompliance. Paper documents are inherent to this industry, yet financial services cannot afford to keep relying on legacy document-management systems, old filing methods and subsequently mismanaged client data. The stakes are too high — as are the consequences.

Financial institutions have an obligation to keep their processes transparent and their client PII safe across all channels. With more and more oversight of these obligations, those in the financial industry must seriously review their document management, employee compliance training and IT network business processes to protect their own reputation alongside the privacy of their clients. This alone presents a host of process-related changes that those in the financial sector must soon adapt to. 

Frequent Finance Process Pain Points

The finance industry relies on several complicated processes:

  • Strict industry regulations.
  • Client communications and paperwork coming in a near-constant stream.
  • Network and transactional security, as well as the secure storage of PII.
  • Employee onboarding and compliance training across all organizational levels.
  • Data collection and inputting into network databanks. 
How Automation Can Help

Automation can uncomplicate many of these processes:

  • Secure digital document archives with easy yet access-controlled search features, retrievability and editing capabilities.   
  • Contract e-signing and sending affordances, to reduce paperwork and the need for manual data entry.
  • Cloud-based data storage to align with leading industry IT-best practices.

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