Workflow Automation: Why You Need It and What It Can Do For Your Business
7 Benefits of Workflow Automation and
How to Get the Most Out of It
If you’ve ever planned a large event, you know it requires a lot of coordination. There are hundreds of details that need to come together in a certain order, and each element impacts the overall guest experience. Of course, this isn’t an article about planning parties, but it will help you deliver an exceptional customer experience. Workflow automation is more than just a tool for process efficiencies – it’s a solution that can transform your business operations.
The Difference Between Workflow Automation and Business Process Automation
We want to start by making a distinction here between workflow automation and business process automation. Business process automation is a type of workflow automation that refers to the way businesses structure operational processes to best serve customers, increase efficiencies, and meet business goals.
For example, a business process might include inputting data, performing necessary calculations, creating measurable outputs, and providing forecasting based on those data calculations.
By automating this complex process rather than handling it manually, business process automation helps eliminate inaccuracies and increase efficiencies. That’s where workflow automation comes in.
Workflow automation is the automation of the completion of certain tasks. For example, logging data. Rather than expending manpower on manual data entry, workflow automation automates this task, making it easier and faster.
You need to have business processes in order to automate workflows. These terms are also often used interchangeably because they each offer many of the same benefits to businesses:
- Streamline business operations
- Reduce the time spent on individual tasks
- Increase productivity
- Eliminate inaccuracies caused by human error
- Improve operational efficiencies
- Effectively monitor and manage the performance of business processes
- Create enterprise-wide visibility into all tasks and processes
- Increase profitability with fewer errors and less time spent on manual tasks
- Elevate the customer experience with smoother processes and improved service
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on workflow automation, because all organizations have business processes they are trying to streamline, and the automation of individual tasks can dramatically improve operations. We’d like to show you how.
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Understanding Workflow and Workflow Automation
As you’d guess, workflow automation is the automation of workflows. And what are workflows? Like our data entry example above, workflows are any repeatable (read: tedious) tasks that ensure information, data, documents, and other communications are able to flow throughout your organization and be accessible to everyone enterprise wide.
To organize and automate those business processes, workflow automation software is designed with business process management in mind. It’s important to maintain the guidelines around business processes that help employees accurately and confidently complete day-to-day tasks.
If you think about it, workflow automation is not a new concept. Humans have always found ways to make tasks easier and more efficient; in fact, the term “workflow automation” was first coined in 1920 during the industrial era when workers manned manufacturing assembly lines.
Today, workflow automation software is a solution that is used across industries. It can perform specific functions based on the business processes it’s being used to streamline.
Primary industries that utilize workflow automation:
Manufacturing: Workflow automation helps streamline many complex functions of the manufacturing process, from product development to the purchase request to contract and supply chain management. Manufacturers can operate with more lead time and predictability, which provides end customers with a more seamless experience.
Finance: Automating the more repetitive aspect of financial institutions, such as accurate, timely, and consistent payment or revenue collection, as well as forecasting, eliminates errors and drives better customer service. Further, workflow automation can ensure compliance for industries like finance that must meet specific requirements.
Sales: If you’re in the professional services industry, you likely know the value of customer relationship management (CRM) software, which provides workflow automation for the tasks that are most important for tracking and engaging with customers. For example, your CRM will notify you when a customer downloads an asset or enters their information so you can follow up with the appropriate actions.
Marketing: In the marketing world, every customer engagement is tracked, measured, and analyzed to inform strategic outreach, determine efficacy of campaigns, and understand audience behavior. Workflow automation drives these processes so marketers can focus on the overall strategy.
IT Operations & Systems Management: For large enterprises in these industries, workflow automation can help manage in-house network operations; for example, you can connect marketing and sales with finance and legal for a more collaborative environment that reduces redundancies or oversight in the customer experience. Further, workflow automation software such as Professional Services Automation from FinancialForce provides managed cloud services to help enterprise businesses configure, deploy, and manage their in-house networks. With more oversight, business processes improve and the customer experience benefits.
Another important distinction of workflow automation evident in the above use cases is that it can be applied to both internally-focused and externally-focused operations. An email marketing campaign, for example, is an external workflow, whereas providing forecasting to help your manufacturing production team plan better is an internal workflow.
When investing in a workflow automation solution, it’s best to adopt one that can provide both internal and external workflows.
Automation and COVID-19
There is a correlation that can be drawn between the COVID-19 pandemic and a greater focus on workflow automation. For businesses that may not have relied as heavily on automated solutions due to consistent manpower and physical processes, the pandemic created an environment that required some automation to supplement in-person work.
A recent McKinsey & Company global survey of 800 senior executives found that two-thirds said they would be stepping up investment in automation solutions, including AI. The common denominator of these executives? They were all in charge of businesses requiring close physical proximity, such as warehouses and manufacturing plants.
In response to the pandemic, 40% of companies worldwide increased their use of automation software and a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that it is necessary in order to survive in today’s economy.
Additionally, many businesses are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) for increased automation capabilities, although AI isn’t required to automate workflows. Rule-based logic software, like Professional Services Automation from FinancialForce, provides just as many benefits for making workflows more efficient and connecting your entire enterprise.
Position Your Workflow Automation Solution for Success
At a high level, workflow automation helps streamline operations across your enterprise so redundancies are reduced, accuracy is improved, and teams can collaborate and communicate more easily.
If it sounds like a magical scenario of smoothly-executed work, that’s almost accurate – but it does also take some coordination and planning to position your workflow automation software for success. To ensure you get the most out of your workflow automation software, you should have answers to these questions before you even adopt the solution:
- Is our organization in the right position to streamline operations and change the way we do things to work smarter and more efficiently?
- Are our organization’s employees willing to change the way they complete tasks from traditional/manual methods to more technological and collaborative?
- Will our organization be able to maintain or elevate our production goals and service quality after adopting new technology?
If your organization is ready to adopt automated workflows, there are another set of necessary steps to prepare for a successful onboarding:
Identify the tasks you’re looking to automate. Go into your workflow automation process with a clear idea of what you want to use it for. Ask your employees and review operations to identify more repetitive or tedious tasks that can benefit from an automated solution.
Create a workflow diagram based on the tasks identified for automation. Doing so helps everyone visualize each workflow step and how they work together, and allows your team to provide input and feedback at an early stage.
Define the business goals you’re hoping to achieve with an automated workflow. Do you want to work faster? Reduce errors? Be more in-tune with your customers? Maybe all three? Having a defined set of goals will help guide your workflow automation selection.
Provide user training to ensure success. Make sure anyone on your team who will be interfacing with your workflow automation software understands it and knows how to use it. Purchasing software is great but if no one understands how to use it, it won’t serve its intended purpose.
Monitor your progress by measuring key performance indicators. Understand how your workflow automation software is working for you by keeping tabs on performance data. Is it actually helping you engage better with customers? If you’re not seeing your business goals being realized, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re using the software.
Most importantly among these steps is choosing the right workflow automation software. When you can identify your goals and the tasks you’re looking to automate, it’s easier to select the solution that will work best for you, and provide all the benefits workflow automation is capable of.
7 Benefits of Using Workflow Automation Software
1. Greater Efficiency: We know that workflow automation automates repetitive tasks and reduces human touchpoints that can take up time and lead to errors or inaccuracies. Efficiencies are created when previously arduous tasks can be done more quickly – and done correctly the first time.
2. Increased Productivity: By removing human touchpoints on repetitive and time-consuming tasks, your employees are freed up to spend time on other tasks that can add value to the business and result in more work being completed on a daily basis.
3. Reduced Errors: Even the most skilled workers can make errors or fail to catch an inaccuracy in their work. When tasks that lend themselves to greater error, such as data entry or forecasting calculations, can be automated using rule-based logic software, accuracy is a given, which only adds value to your company’s performance and customer experience.
4. Elevated Experience: Customers will benefit from your workflow automation solution because you can automate everything from email responses to purchase history updates, ensuring that your customers feel heard and receive more personalized service with every engagement.
5. Improved Visibility: Workflow automation provides clarity around what tasks each member of your team must follow, which creates accountability in each area as well as accountability for the work. Your departments become more interconnected by sharing a workflow where everyone understands how their role impacts the larger picture.
6. Lowered Costs: By streamlining and automating tedious processes, your organization will likely see a decrease in costs previously associated with time spent in those areas. Whether it’s man-hours or resources, there are savings to be found in implementing an automated solution.
7. More Happiness: We can’t overlook this benefit. Employees who were buried in arduous, repetitive tasks like data entry day in and day out will be happier with an automated solution (at least, we think the majority will be). Giving your team the ability to spend their time on less tedious, more productive work will result in improved morale and overall job satisfaction.
If your business has tasks that take time away from productive work and result in greater error or a less ideal customer experience, workflow automation is a great option to help get your operations back on track.
Contact us today to schedule a demo and learn more about our Professional Services Automation solution, which runs on the Salesforce cloud platform, and see how it can streamline your operations and put your customers at the center of everything you do.