5 Key Tips For Effective Workflow Automation

Workflow automation has dramatically changed how companies and teams run their processes. Employees and managers no longer need to waste time, money, and resources doing mundane, repetitive activities and tasks in their processes, as they are already streamlined using automated technologies and tools that apply business logic and rules. 

According to a recent survey on digital transformation conducted by IDC in cooperation with DOCUMENT Strategy, companies from various industries clearly understand the benefits they are getting from using workflow automation technologies and tools. Majority of the survey respondents confirmed that error reduction, increased employee productivity, and cost savings are the leading workflow automation benefits. 

Unfortunately, while some companies are reaping and maximizing the benefits of workflow automation, others aren’t able to implement it in the right way. There are instances where projects and initiatives for automating business processes are turning into a nightmare. For instance, one common workflow automation mistake is the usage of multiple disparate applications to automate the same processes, which is just causing integration headaches and redundant tasks, especially data entry. 

If you want to automate your business processes in the most effective way, you should consider the following essential tips: 

  1. Examine Your Existing Business Processes

Workflow automation refers to the process of accelerating and enhancing the execution of specific activities, tasks, and steps included in a business process. This involves assigning or routing the right jobs together with the necessary information, documents, and content to the right individuals at the right time, which is done through the application of business logic and rules. 

When you’re implementing workflow automation, you’re not doing this overnight. Buying pre-made workflow automation applications from software vendors and deploying them all instantly is a wrong approach to workflow automation. This is because this digital initiative requires rigorous planning first.  

The initial step you need to do is to understand and examine your existing business processes. Here, you have to identify the pain points, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies in your processes and the reason behind them. You’ll be able to do this by talking with the people who are directly involved in these processes.

Let’s say your employees might be having a hard time communicating and sharing documents with each other. You can focus on such concern and come up with the right tools and techniques to automate communication and document management. 

You should also determine which aspects and components of your processes should be automated and which ones still require human intervention. One workflow automation mistake some companies are committing is that they are automating everything in their processes. There are activities and tasks that require decision-making and critical-thinking from humans, so automating them is not a good idea. 

2. Centralize Processes & Resources In A Single System

An effective way to implement workflow automation is that you have to consolidate all your business processes and the associated resources, including the people who are executing these processes in a single workflow automation platform. This is a centralized system where you can access all important information and resources related to your processes, allowing you to perform your tasks faster without switching between multiple applications. Sad to say, not all companies are doing this. Instead, they are using multiple disparate applications and tools to automate the same business processes.

Look at this example: To automate the execution of a simple purchase order, a company uses several tools –  project management tool, enterprise resource planning system, accounting software, and document management app. The project management tool is used for automatically routing the purchase orders to the right departments (requesting, procurement, finance, accounting, and receiving department). So, the designated personnel from each department receive automated alerts and notifications if it’s their turn to take actions.

Cool, isn’t it? However, the finance and accounting departments are also using the company’s  ERP and accounting systems to handle their tasks. Thus, the finance and accounting personnel have to re-enter information and details about the purchase orders into these systems manually. Also, a separate tool for creating and editing purchase order documents is being used by the procurement department. But then again, the procurement personnel switch between multiple apps just to get the information they need.

This defeats one of the main goals of workflow automation, which is to increase productivity. In fact, research on the causes of employee productivity decline and job dissatisfaction conducted by Pega in 2018 reveals an extreme case of multiple application usage. The research shows that there are employees which productivity is hampered because they have to switch between 35 applications more than 1,100 times each day. 

3.Choose The Right Workflow Automation Tools

If you follow the second tip provided above, then you’ll get only the workflow automation tools you really need. But are you sure that they are the right tools you need for effectively implementing workflow automation? Many companies today are relying heavily on various pre-made or off-the-shelf tools offered by software vendors. The problem with this is that sometimes using these tools removes your control over your own business processes.

These tools are created based on the premise that organizations and businesses have predefined ways of running their processes. For example, a workflow automation tool might force you to use its built-in templates for specific processes. But there are a lot of questions you need to answer – Do you even have these processes in your company? If these processes are existing, what will you do if they change over time? Are you still going to use the same tool?

In other words, you should be on top of your workflow management and automation initiatives. This simply means your workflow automation tools should match how activities and tasks are being performed in your own company. If you have some complex, dynamic, and unstable business processes, you shouldn’t use workflow automation tools that are designed only for rigid, repeatable, and predictable processes.   

Adopt a workflow automation software that reflects the unique characteristics of your organization, such as your own way of conceptualizing projects and aligning employees with project goals. 

Choosing the right workflow automation tools, therefore, is very important, as this will bring the exact outcomes you want to achieve. 

4. Don’t Be Afraid Of Embracing Robotic Process Automation

Many managers and employees are reluctant to embrace and support more advanced workflow automation technologies and techniques, like robotic process automation or RPA, because they are afraid of the possibility of being replaced by machines. In other words, they have this fear of losing their jobs. This is a wrong mindset; but before we go further on this, let us first define what robotic process automation is all about.

Robotic Process Automation applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) to your process automation workflow. It is the highest level of workflow automation in which the actions of human beings on user interfaces are emulated by a program with such capability. Through RPA, information can be collected from documents, transferred to different systems, and processed in those systems all without the need for human intervention.  

So, should you be afraid of RPA? No. This is because any application or program that implements robotic process automation still has to depend on you. You’re the one who’s going to set and define the rules, conditions, and instructions related to the operations of RPA-capable applications.

It is not designed to replace you; rather, it’s objective is to ensure that you won’t be doing repetitive tasks, helping you focus on more important aspects of your business. Even a small business should embrace automation like RPA because it makes its employees more productive, eliminates errors caused by manual, repetitive tasks, and enhances how it delivers customer service while still giving a room for creative and strategic thinking, a function that only human beings can do. 

5.Monitor & Evaluate Your Automated Processes

Once you are able to successfully implement workflow automation, the next critical step is monitoring and evaluation. You need to make sure that your workflow automation tools are really helping you achieve the specific objectives you set during the workflow design and planning stage. Are they addressing and solving the pain points, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies in your business processes?

In fact, RPA can aid you in answering this question. RPA allows you to track and analyze the performance of your business processes. It can surface historical data related to the previous executions of business processes. You can also take advantage of it to generate employee performance metrics. 

If there are factors that slow down how employees accomplish activities and tasks in your processes, RPA can keep track of those. Then, you can modify your workflow automation techniques based on the data you have. Perhaps you need to incorporate new tools, set up  AI-driven escalation processes, or restructure the dependencies in your processes. 

Getting The Right Mindset For Workflow Automation

Workflow automation mistakes and failures occur because some organizations have the wrong mindset about it. They get easily attracted to applications and tools offered by various software vendors just because they can see the word “automation” in the ads. So, they are attempting to automate their business processes only to find out later on that they are only recreating the pain points, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies in their processes they want to resolve. 

Others are even hesitant to embrace workflow automation, especially if it applies AI because they think it won’t be supported by their employees who are assuming that they will be replaced by machines. To effectively implement workflow automation, you should first assess how you and the people inside your company view this process. If you have the right mindset, all of your initiatives for workflow automation won’t be wasted and will produce positive results. 

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