Today, workflow automation is done by software, either custom built or SaaS, that comprises low-code, drag-and-drop features, and user-friendly UIs. Many of such applications offer advanced technologies such as AI, although this is not mandatory to build effective automated workflows. Generally speaking, rule-based logic applications are sufficient to address inefficiencies of manual workflows to improve productivity.
In this article, we’ll share with you the benefits of workflow automation, its common types and use cases, and make some predictions about the future of this practice. Let’s dive into the details!
Benefits of workflow automation
Workflow automation removes manual human involvement, which reduces human errors and saves on the resources spent on repetitive time-consuming tasks (e.g. manual data entry). Organizations with out-of-date manual processes often struggle to scale up effectively with labor- and capital-intensive manual processes. By eliminating this bottleneck, organizations will be able to scale up more easily.
Workflow automation also benefits organizations in the following ways:
- Streamlines task management
- Creates processes that reduce costs
- Decreases errors from manual oversights and entries
- Reduces time in a process cycle
- Automates approval and document flows
Also, workflow automation makes information exchanging between developers and operations easier. It helps lift common DevOps barriers which result from siloed developer and operations channels in traditional software development models.
Types of workflow automation
There are two main types of workflow automation: Business process automation (BPA) and robotic process automation (RPA).
Business process automation
Business process automation (BPA) is the use of software to automate repeatable, day-to-day business processes. It increases productivity by routing information to the right person at the right time via user-defined rules and actions. BPA enables organizations to streamline processes such as employee onboarding, contract management, accounts payable, and more.
Key elements to identify whether a process can be automated:
- The process is repeatable
- The process requires consistency across the organization
- The process needs to be free from error
Business process automation is not just able to replace paper with PDFS, but its goal is also to make processes faster, more cost-efficient, and transparent. With automated business processes in place, you can save time and improve operational efficiency.
Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation is the use of software to automate repetitive tasks. The software or robot can be taught to do certain tasks that can include multiple steps, such as taking received forms, checking the form for completeness, sending a receipt message, updating a spreadsheet with preset details, etc. The purpose of RPA applications is to relieve staff from the burden of doing repetitive basic tasks.
RPA software is typically designed to help with office functions that require the ability to do a series of tasks in a specific order. It does so by creating and deploying a software robot that’s programmed with the ability to launch and operate other software. In essence, the concept of RPA is similar to traditional manufacturing automation which is creating a robot that specializes in doing just one portion of a workflow. Office work often involves the same type of repetitive effort, but the matter dealt with is data, so the automation is software-based instead of machine-based.
Workflow automation use cases
You can apply automation to most types of workflows. For example, you can automate employee onboarding template documents for human resources or set and automate approval workflows for all of your team members.
Workflow automation has a wide range of applications; you can employ it in various areas of your business to improve productivity and efficiency. For instance, you can automate staff onboarding template documents to assist human resources activities or set up automated approval workflows for team members. Here are some use cases of workflow automation in common fields:
Use cases of business process automation
A good staff onboarding process is a great way to engage new hires and create a positive first impression. It will help the employees get familiar with the new environment and pick up their job more quickly. It is, however, not uncommon that new hires often get caught up in filling stacks of forms on their first days as onboarding programs place too much focus on paperwork. This can drain new hires and slow down their learning progress. Business process automation can solve this problem by automating onboarding tasks such as:
- Collecting personal information
- Setting up payroll and benefits
- Filling out official W4 and I9 forms
- Assigning office equipment
Order purchasing is one of the key steps in the overall procurement process, but all too often, this task is filled with manual data entry and paper forms, and employees have to spend hours each week on repetitive tasks such as filling in the same purchase orders. Business process automation can streamline this whole process by automating purchase form completion or auto-retrieving similar information from an SQL database.
It’s not much of a hassle if one can expect an off day and submit a time-off request beforehand, but it’s not rare that staff need to ask for a day off when they’re at home due to an illness or a personal emergency. That is when using physical forms for time-off requests is troublesome. You can, instead, make it easy for your employees by using business process software to streamline this task, so that in case of an emergency, your staff can submit forms online and don’t have to worry about office paperwork.
Expense claims are money your employees claim back after they’ve spent on business expenses, such as taking a client to dinner, on behalf of your company. Using paper reports for expense claims not only results in longer processing times but also makes it harder for your account department to keep track of and maintain the records. Software automation can help your employees fill out expenses more quickly, as well as allow you to verify and preserve the records with attached receipts.
Budget approval is a crucial task for business operations, but managing budget approvals can get messy quickly, especially when multiple layers of approval are required. Business process automation allows you to generate customized forms for different types of budget approval, and the software can prevent disorder by routing forms to the right approvers.
Use cases of robotic process automation
Modern customers have got used to quick support responses. An automated customer support system can help you revert to your customers’ requests quickly by creating answers to common queries. Such a system can also segment queries into different categories such as product queries, service queries, after-sales queries, etc. This segmentation can help customers get what they need quicker. Customer service activities tend to have rule-based processes that can be automated.
Keeping data consistent across internal systems is a very tedious and time-consuming task. Sales reps often need to use their precious time for non-critical tasks such as inputing data in the CRM system, and finance analysts then have to replicate the data into their own tools for analysis. This can result in data duplication, errors, and impair productivity.
RPA can help handle sales activities by automating tasks such as order data input, invoicing, etc. It will remove duplicated data and allow data to remain consistent across systems, which will increase your employees’ satisfaction as they now can concentrate on important tasks like lead nurturing and order generating.
Monthly payroll processing is a time-consuming and repetitive task for the HR department. It often requires a large volume of data entry, which can result in data inaccuracy that can lead to delay in payment and employee dissatisfaction.
RPA can verify the consistency of employee data across multiple systems, validate timesheets, update earnings and deductions, etc. It can also automate paycheck creation and additional benefits. This will help you prevent inaccuracies and payment delays.
Storing Customer Information
When your customer data comes in, RPA can help you organize it and make sure that it’s easy to retrieve any piece of information needed. The system can automatically categorize different types of data such as contact information, personal preferences, birthdays, purchase history, etc. Different roles, customer support, sales, marketing, etc., can retrieve from the system the type of information that they need.
Processing Fast Refunds
A company’s reputation depends hugely on how it processes refunds. Customers want to get their money back as soon as possible when they claim a refund, and if you’re slow, you may lose customers very quickly. Refunds often require data from customers, and processing them will be very slow if done manually. RPA can automate the process and refund the customer their money as soon as they provide required information. That will improve customer experience and generate a positive impact on your brand reputation.
Workflow automation helps you improve your efficiency in doing business by reducing the human factor in the work equation. Workflow automation can streamline operations for all types of companies, and it frees up time for your staff to do more important things. We hope this article has provided you with valuable information about workflow automation.