What is Business Process Automation?

Business Process Automation (abbreviated as BPA) is nothing more than the use of computer system to “automate” the work that is required to complete a “Business Process”. It can cover a wide range of work from computers on the factory floor counting raw materials, to the smallest one-person business generating a sales report. The most common meaning that I know of usually falls into the category of creating custom reports automatically. Usually this involves some form of Microsoft Office application like Word® or Excel® and a source of information like an internal database or web-based system.

How do I know that I need to Automate a Business Process?

This is usually very simple: If there is a process in your company where someone has to copy or cut/paste information from one computer system and put it into another computer system, then you need BPA. The very fact that you are using a person’s valuable time to move information from one computer to another shows that you have an opportunity save both time and money by automating the process.

How do I know that it is a Business Process worth Automating?

It is fairly easy to figure out what the ROI would be on a BPA project. First you need to figure out how much time is spent to generate the results each time. Then attach a dollar amount to the time people spend creating the result (or output in BPA parlance). This is your total cost to generate the result. Once you talk to your BPA professional, you should have a cost of the new system that you can compare with the cost of having your people transfer the information. Dividing the cost of the automated system by the cost to generate the result will give you a very simplified Return on Investment (or ROI) in terms of how may times your new system would need to be run in order to break even. Your ROI will actually be much greater if you add in other common factors that go into a normal ROI analysis. Your BPA Professional should be able to help you produce a more thorough ROI statement.

What’s some examples of BPA?

The following are some real-world examples of how BPA was implemented to reduce time and costs:

  1. The Loan Status Report Many large banks have large mainframe computers that hold tons and tons of information on the various loans the bank has outstanding. One of our customers was going into these systems and with pencil and paper copying down various data about each loan closed by their department so that a monthly status report could be created. It was taking the person “two or three days” a month to create this report. The information was stored on the bank’s mainframe computers, and a request to generate this report was deemed “too expensive” to create by the internal information systems personal. We sat down with the customer and determined it would take 50 hours of work to create a program that would query the mainframes like a terminal and retrieve all the information and paste it into an Excel spreadsheet just like the existing report. The report now takes under five minutes to complete, and their ROI was less than four months.

  2. The Project Status Report This medium-size company had a web-based project and work management system that was purchased from an outside company. They wanted to get a project status report, but the reports that came with the system did not provide the set of information that they were looking for. When they talked to the company about adding this report, the outside company responded with a six-figure proposal! Not wanting to pay that amount, they turned to us for options. The project task system was entirely web-based, so we wrote a program that would manipulate the web browser to call up all the information on each task, copy that information into an Excel spreadsheet, and when finished, open up Microsoft Outlook and email the status report! Since there were several people that were spending many hours looking at each task in the project system every day, the ROI was literally only one week!

What’s the next step if I want to explore BPA?

Contact your local BPA professional for a consultation! Be sure to have an idea about what you want the output to be like (you don’t have to stick with exactly what you have now!), and how much time is spent currently generating your result. The BPA professional should be able to analyze your systems and determine a cost for a new automated system. They should also be able to tell you what the expected ROI will be!

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 | Posted by MobileDataGuy | Categories: HowTos, Opinions | Tagged: , |

From time to time I need to create a utility that will work on one of my customer’s messaging systems to monitor something about it.  Since Ruby isn’t on a lot of these systems (yet) I usually end up having to use Perl to create these utilities.  Once nice thing about Perl is that there are lots and lots of packages out there that already do all sorts of functions. So after I have found the package that I need, I go out and see if its already on the messaging system.  Since a standard Perl installation has any number of places where the package could be, I wrote this quick little Perl script to go parse through the @INC directories and print out all the package names it can find.  The output can then be grep’d for the package in question quite easily.

Here’s the code:

#  ShowLibs.pl  --  Print out all the packages in the @INC paths.
#     Useful if you want to see if a particular package is on your system or not.
#  John D. Allen, June 2009

use File::Find;

$cdir = "";
find(\&wanted, @INC);

sub wanted {
   if (/\.pm$/) {
      if ($cdir ne $File::Find::dir) {
         $cdir = $File::Find::dir;
         print "\n$cdir:\n";

      open(PM, $File::Find::name);
      while(<PM>) {
         if (/^\s*package\s*(.*);/) {
            print "$1\n";
      close (PM);


You may need to change the first line, as my Perl home directory is not in a default location.

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 | Posted by MobileDataGuy | Categories: Code, OtherStuff | Tagged: , |

A new survey by the Center for Disease Control (why is the CDC doing a cellphone survey?!?) finds that 20% of US homes now only have Cellphones … no land lines. It would be nice if they were also asking how they got onto the internet…via cellphone?  WIth more data options being provided by the cell phone companies, the days of having a modem to get onto the Internet are dwindling even faster now! 

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 | Posted by MobileDataGuy | Categories: OtherStuff |

iPhone to get MMS Client

18 March 2009

Finally!  One of the great pains about the iPhone (besides the lack of cut/paste) was the absence of an MMS client.  Sending an MMS to an iPhone user entailed the iPhone user going to a website on a PC and entering in a password and picture id to retrieve it. Yesterday they announced that iPhone 3.0 was going to have an MMS client…among other things. Now lets hope they have their upgrade process working better this time than the day they launched the 2.2 upgrade!!

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 | Posted by MobileDataGuy | Categories: OtherStuff | Tagged: , |

I always find it a bit amusing working with Wireless Carriers when they hand me an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) for “Project Dinkelburg” with clues to what the project actually is. (I’m not using any real-world code words here, so don’t bother trying to Google a “Project Dinkelburg”.)  If you read through the text of the NDA, there are many clues as to what the project is actually about, and in theory, I could refuse to sign the document and be legally with in my rights to discuss the clues listed in the NDA with anyone.  Of course, these same Wireless Carriers are my major customers, and I would not be working with them not long after I did discuss any clues. I guess its kind of a ‘Catch-22′ for them as they have to create an NDA that will be legally binding, but to do so they have to include information that really should be NDA. Keeps lawyers employed I guess :)

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 | Posted by MobileDataGuy | Categories: Opinions |