The ultimate guide to workflow automation
Do you ever find yourself doing the same things over and over again, and wish there was an easier way? Repetitive tasks may be necessary for your company’s operations, but they don’t have to be so time-consuming. More and more companies are leveraging technology to streamline and automate their business processes.
Workflow automation is a business technology trend that is here to stay. Keep reading to learn what it is, why it matters, and how your business can get started with workflow automation.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is a way to streamline business processes. Not only does it involve digitizing paper-based or manual processes, but it is also about re-engineering them to make them efficient. Any business process, no matter how basic or complex, can be automated.
Automation of complicated workflows is a great way to ensure that they are optimized for efficiency. Ultimately, your organization’s unique business needs will determine where business process automation would add the most value.
What are the benefits of workflow automation?
1) Reduce Human Handshakes
There are usually multiple people responsible for completing the various steps of a workflow. This can cause bottlenecks as one person’s input may be contingent on someone else’s contribution. In addition to delays, if someone forgets that the process requires action on their part, things may fall through the cracks and not get done at all. Automation can streamline the process by replacing some, if not all, of these steps that require a “human handshake.” With automated workflows, it is the system that drives the users, not the users driving the system.
2) Save Time and Money
Automating repetitive tasks will help improve productivity and efficiency in your company’s operations. Automated workflows allow employees to focus on the work that really matters, instead of time-consuming manual tasks. By removing the repetitive drudgery from an employee’s day-to-day workload, you will also boost both morale and productivity leading to lower employee turnover. This will save you the time and expense of finding, hiring, and training new personnel.
3) Standardize Business Processes
Automation can greatly reduce the risk of human error in a workflow and improve consistency in your processes. Because the same steps will always be followed in the same order, a standardized process will ensure more accurate results and fewer mistakes. This will help you improve the integrity of your data and information.
4) Increase Operational Visibility and Accountability
Each step in a workflow has a clearly designated person who is responsible for performing a required action, which sets clear expectations for employees. If the process is held up at any time, the business has clear insight into which tasks take the most time and whom to hold accountable for delays. By making it easier to monitor processes and their real-time analytics, businesses can also become more agile. They are able to react more quickly to solve problems and address inefficiencies, which in turn helps the business to be more competitive in the marketplace.
5) Enhance Communication and Collaboration
Employees no longer have to rely on emails or verbal reminders to notify someone that it’s their turn to complete the next step in the process. Instead, users can get automatic updates as the workflow progresses and easily track the real-time status of the process.
Practical uses of automated workflows
Any business process has the potential to be automated, and every organization has their own unique processes. So, the practical applications of workflows are virtually limitless.
One common type of workflow is an approval workflow. The supply order process is a great example of an approval workflow: when an employee prepares a purchase order, they need to get approval before placing the order. Whether the purchase order is approved or rejected, the workflow automatically routes the document to the appropriate person.
Another common workflow type is the publishing workflow. This workflow could be applied to the editorial process for blog posts or for internal documents, such as company policy manuals. A publishing workflow ensures that content is reviewed prior to being published on a live site.
Approval and publishing workflows are two of SharePoint’s pre-programmed workflows, which makes it easy for businesses to get up and running with automating these types of processes. Other potential use cases for workflow automation include:
Project and task management
IT asset management
Work orders and maintenance request tracking
Laboratory study management
Marketing/sales campaigns Lead management
Finance (invoice processing, expense report management, budgeting, financial reporting, etc.)
HR (recruiting, employee onboarding, timesheet tracking, PTO requests, performance reviews, etc.)
How do automated workflows work?
Now that you know the benefits to automating your company’s business processes, you may be wondering how an automated workflow can help you accomplish your goals. How does all of this actually work?
First, you need to establish trigger conditions for the workflow. You will specify what actions must be performed or what conditions must be met for the workflow to begin. You can also set up the trigger conditions for moving from one step to the next. For example, you can configure the workflow to advance whenever a user submits a form, adds an item to a list, or modifies a document.
Then, the workflow can perform automated actions. Once a trigger action has been performed, the system begins a sequence of automated actions. For example, the system can automatically:
Change property values
Add, delete, or modify items
Assign a task to another person
Generate a customized document
By setting up the logic for the sequence (ex. If X happens, then Y will happen), you will be able to automate steps that used to be manual. Certain steps of the workflow may still require a human handshake, but the system will drive the user to take the action by sending notifications and alerts.
Workflow automation can be a valuable tool for your company, allowing you to save time and money, increase efficiency, and reach your business goals.