Overview of Workflow Automation

Workflow automation doesn’t just save time and money; it’s vital for enterprises to remain competitive. Replacing manual human tasks with software-automated processes improves both speed and accuracy, and is an essential component of digital transformation.

But while the concept is straightforward, execution can be challenging. Some tools are overly complex, some are simple but rigid, and others have limitations in terms of scale or flexibility. What you need is a platform that enables you to implement workflow automation in a way that’s secure, expandable, integratable, and agile.

 

What is Workflow Automation?

A workflow, per Wikipedia, is “an orchestrated and repeatable sequence of operations.” Workflow automation starts with optimizing a workflow process using business process management, then replacing costly, time-consuming, and error-prone manual efforts with tasks performed by software.

Logic: Essentially “if A then B” type elements that control what happens given certain conditions, actions, or triggers. A very simple example is conditional branching for the questions displayed on a request form: if an employee is requesting help with a tablet-related issue, then display fields asking for brand, model, and OS level.

Rules: These control steps within the workflow, such as who is permitted to make certain types of requests, who must approve them based on the dollar level, and when certain actions are permitted or blocked.

Approvals: While the approvals themselves are a human task, the proper routing, reminders, alternate routing, and acknowledgement can all be automated. Approvals generally trigger the next series of steps in an automated workflow sequence.

Notifications: Automated notifications can be used for a range of purposes, from simple FYI alerts to reminders or requests for specific human actions to messages that a status has changed or an action has been completed.

Among other critical attributes, effective workflow automation requires: 

  • software integration (the ability to read, write, transfer, and update data fields and information among and across different software systems);
  • the ability to test new or modified workflow processes without changes to live data;
  • recoverability in the event of an error or interruption in the workflow process;
  • the ability to scale up and down;
  • data and user security; and
  • traceability, the ability to view the status of a process such as a service request at any point in time.

One simple example of workflow automation is ordering a laptop. An employee uses a smart portal (which populates forms asking for all of the information that is required, but nothing more) to submit the request. The request is approved, the order gets placed with a pre-specified vendor, and the laptop is delivered. Finally, an IT service rep is instructed on how to set up the laptop (based on the employee’s role) and deliver it.

 

Benefits of Workflow Automation for your organization

Beyond being a key component of digital transformation, workflow automation enables enterprises to:

  • Reduce costs: Minimizing human touchpoints takes significant costs out of service delivery and fulfillment.
  • Accelerate processes: Machines work faster than people. Workflow tasks get completed more quickly, with zero delay between the completion of one step and the start of the next.
  • Save time: Employees spend less time on manual workflow tasks. Faster processes mean less elapsed time from request to fulfillment.
  • Increase accuracy: Eliminating error-prone redundant data entry and manual tasks makes processes not only faster but also more accurate and reliable.
  • Streamline approval processes: Approval requests and reminders are sent automatically based on pre-set rules. Alternate approval routing ensures processes can keep moving forward even when a designated approver is unavailable.
  • Raise productivity: Employees spend less time manually chasing down approvals and checking on “where things are at.” Workflow automation provides easy and instant visibility into the status of processes or requests at any point.
  • Improve the employee experience: Simple request processes, combined with status visibility and faster overall fulfillment, enable employees to stay focused on achieving objectives rather than administrative tasks, improving satisfaction and engagement.
  • Expand management visibility: What are the most commonly requested services? What’s the average time to fulfillment? How are things changing? Leaders have instant, anytime visibility into workflow processes to answer these questions and more.
  • Enhance teamwork: By providing clear responsibilities and status visibility, workflow automation minimizes confusion and misunderstandings, helping your team members work together more collaboratively.
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