Workflow automation is a transformative approach that leverages technology to orchestrate and streamline complex business processes, eliminating manual intervention and optimizing efficiency. It involves the systematic design, execution, and monitoring of tasks, activities, and decisions, enabling organizations to achieve increased productivity, accuracy, and agility while freeing up valuable resources for more strategic initiatives.
This article will walk you through what it is, why you need it, and offers solutions to getting you started with process automation.
What is Workflow Automation?
Workflow automation uses technology and software tools to automate and optimize repetitive tasks, processes, and workflows within an organization. It involves the design, execution, and monitoring of these automated workflows to improve efficiency, reduce errors, and enable smoother collaboration among teams, ultimately enhancing productivity and accelerating business outcomes.
For example, in an enterprise business, workflow automation could involve automating the employee onboarding process. Instead of manually filling out forms and submitting them for approvals, the automation system can automatically generate and send the required forms to new employees, route them based on predefined rules, and notify relevant stakeholders once the process is complete.
This streamlines the onboarding process, eliminates paperwork, and ensures a consistent and efficient experience for new hires, saving time and reducing administrative burdens for HR teams.
Workflow Automation vs Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
While both aim to automate business processes, they have different focuses and applications.
- Workflow Automation primarily focuses on streamlining and automating tasks, activities, and information within and between departments or individuals. It is designed to optimize and improve the efficiency of structured and repetitive processes.
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) automates specific tasks performed by software robots, or bots, such as data entry, data extraction, screen scraping, and application integration. RPA bots mimic human interactions with user interfaces and applications, enabling fast and accurate task execution. RPA can work across various applications and systems without system or API modifications.
While Workflow Automation focuses on orchestrating end-to-end processes, RPA is more task-centric, automating specific actions.
Who Uses Workflow Automation Software?
Zapier found that around 95% of small- and medium-sized business (SMB) workers perform time-consuming tasks like manual data entry and other tedious workflow processes. They also found that 90% said automation improved their jobs, with 66% saying automation makes them more productive.
Various professionals and organizations across industries use workflow automation software. Businesses of all sizes use it, from small startups to large enterprises, spanning finance, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and more. Within these organizations, various departments benefit from workflow automation, including human resources, finance and accounting, procurement, IT operations, customer support, and marketing.
How Does Workflow Automation Software Work
Organizations use workflow automation to reduce human error, human intervention, increase efficiencies and boost overall productivity.
Many workflow management tools offer low-code (and no-code) drag-and-drop interfaces allowing workers to automate manual processes without needing a software developer.
Here’s a breakdown of how a workflow automation tool typically works:
- Users define and map out the steps, tasks, and decisions involved in a business process using a visual interface or workflow designer.
- Specific events or conditions, such as a form submission, data update, or time-based triggers, trigger the software.
- The software can assign tasks to individuals or teams based on predefined rules, roles, or availability. Assignments can be made automatically or manually.
- Once a task is assigned, the software executes it automatically, routing it to the designated person or system responsible for its completion.
- They integrate with various systems, applications, and databases to fetch or update data as needed.
- The software incorporates decision points and conditional logic to guide the flow of the workflow based on predefined rules or user-defined conditions.
- It often includes built-in collaboration features, enabling team members to communicate, share files, provide feedback, or seek approvals within the context of the workflow.
- Real-time monitoring capabilities allow users to track the progress of workflows, view task statuses, and identify bottlenecks or delays. Reports and analytics provide insights into process performance, bottlenecks, and potential areas for optimization.
- The software can handle exceptions and errors by triggering predefined actions or routing tasks to specific individuals or escalation points for resolution.
What Are The Benefits of Workflow Automation?
Businesses not using business process automation will be left in the dust. Workflow automation solutions are important for several reasons, namely:
- Efficiency: By automating manual and repetitive tasks, workflow automation streamlines processes, reduces human error, and accelerates task completion.
- Accuracy and Consistency: Automation ensures that tasks are executed consistently and according to predefined rules, reducing the risk of errors or deviations.
- Time and Cost Savings: Automated workflows eliminate the need for manual interventions, reducing the time spent on administrative tasks.
- Collaboration and Communication: Workflow automation software often includes collaboration features that enable teams to work together seamlessly. It facilitates communication, file sharing, and feedback within the context of the workflow, fostering collaboration and reducing communication gaps.
- Visibility and Control: Automation provides real-time visibility into the progress of workflows, task statuses, and performance metrics.
- Scalability and Agility: Automated workflows can provide the flexibility to adapt and modify processes quickly in response to changing business needs or market conditions.
- Customer Experience: Workflow automation reduces turnaround times, ensures timely responses, and minimizes errors, leading to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. In SmartKarrot’s Global Customer Success Survey, 84% said automation is important for customer service operations.
- Compliance: Workflows can be designed to incorporate necessary checks, approvals, and audit trails, providing a transparent and auditable process.
- Data Insights and Analytics: Workflow automation software captures data and generates analytics and reports on process performance. These insights help identify areas for improvement, optimize workflows, and make data-driven decisions to drive continuous process improvement.
- Employee Empowerment: Automation eliminates mundane and repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus on more fulfilling and strategic work. It empowers employees by automating routine activities and enabling them to contribute to higher-value tasks, fostering job satisfaction and professional growth.
- Data-Driven Decision-Making: Workflow automation software captures and analyzes data throughout the workflow process. This data can include task completion times, resource allocation, and performance metrics.
Another benefit? Zapier’s report also found automation makes workers less likely to quit. They found that 74% of workers say they’d prefer to stay in their current position than pursue a new opportunity, but that increased to 90% of those using workplace automation.
Examples of Workflow Automation By Department
Workflow automation software is utilized across various departments within an organization. You don’t have to work in the IT department or DevOPS to take advantage the automated digital transformation.
Here are some departments that commonly use workflow automation software:
Human Resources (HR)
HR departments often use workflow automation to streamline employee onboarding, leave requests, performance evaluations, and other HR processes. Automation helps ensure consistent and efficient handling of employee-related tasks.
For example, when a new employee is hired, the software can automatically generate and distribute onboarding tasks and documents to relevant stakeholders, such as IT for account setup, HR for policy acknowledgments, and managers for training assignments.
Finance and Accounting
Workflow automation is beneficial for finance and accounting departments to automate invoice processing, expense approvals, budgeting, and financial reporting.
For instance, when an invoice is received, the software can automatically route it to the appropriate approver based on predefined rules and roles, eliminating manual handoffs and delays.
IT departments leverage workflow automation to automate IT service requests, incident management, change management, and software deployment processes. Automation enables faster response times, enhances service quality, and reduces downtime.
For example, when an incident is reported, the software can automatically create a ticket, assign it to the appropriate IT team member, and track its progress until resolution.
Workflow automation can optimize customer support processes by automating ticket management, escalation procedures, and customer inquiries. It improves response times, ensures adherence to service level agreements (SLAs), and enhances customer satisfaction.
Procurement and Supply Chain
Workflow automation supports procurement and supply chain processes by automating purchase requisitions, vendor approvals, inventory management, and order fulfillment. It streamlines procurement workflows, reduces costs, and ensures timely deliveries.
For example, when a purchase requisition is submitted, the software can automatically route it to the appropriate approver based on predefined rules and hierarchies, eliminating manual handoffs and delays. Once approved, the software can generate and send purchase orders to suppliers electronically, tracking the order status and providing real-time visibility into the procurement process.
Sales and Marketing
Sales teams can benefit from workflow automation for lead management, sales pipeline tracking, contract approvals, and order processing. Marketing departments can automate campaign workflows, content approvals, and marketing analytics, enhancing productivity and campaign effectiveness.
When a sales team captures a new lead, the software can automatically assign it to a sales representative, trigger a series of personalized email sequences, and update the CRM system with the lead’s progress.
Workflow automation aids project management teams in automating task assignment, progress tracking, approvals, and collaboration among team members. It improves project visibility, accelerates project delivery, and enhances team coordination.
For example, they can automate task assignments, notifications, and progress tracking, ensuring that team members receive timely updates and are aware of their responsibilities.
Workflow automation software offers a wide range of benefits across departments, enabling HR, finance, IT, customer support, procurement, sales, marketing, and project management teams to automate their workflows and manual tasks and focus on more strategic initiatives. Whether it’s automating employee onboarding, invoice processing, IT service requests, customer support, procurement workflows, or project management tasks, workflow automation has the potential to transform how organizations operate, enabling them to thrive in an increasingly digital and competitive landscape.