Many businesses continuously improve internal processes in order to reduce costs and deliver an exceptional customer experience. One way to do this is by automating workflows. In this piece, we’ll define workflow automation, outline the benefits, and highlight ten features to consider when evaluating workflow automation tools.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is a series of steps or manual tasks that are automated in order to improve business processes by speeding up repetitive, everyday tasks and minimizing errors. Most workflows are made up of three core elements: a sequence of steps, stakeholders who complete those steps, and any conditions for carrying out those steps. Some real-life workflow examples might be related to procurement, new hire onboarding, or customer onboarding.
For instance, in your company, you might have a workflow for paying vendors. The contractor submits an invoice, which ends up in a payment processing system, which triggers an approval process, and so on until the vendor receives payment in their account.
While these steps seem straightforward, there are a few points where things can go wrong. Maybe an invoice doesn’t have the correct purchase order number, or an integration between two systems fails and payment doesn’t go through. Or, maybe the process is so laborious that vendors and internal teams struggle to complete it. Workflow management ensures that any workflow problems get identified and mitigated quickly.
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What is workflow automation software?
Workflow automation software is a business process management (BPM) tool that operationalizes and automates routine business processes to help teams be more efficient. These efficiencies can be achieved by automated routing, machine-driven processing, or uniting once disparate tasks. Workflow automation software gives teams the ability to track, coordinate, and edit workflow tasks to fit the needs of various departments in an organization.
Workflow automation software typically provides administrators with analytics capabilities used to measure progress toward goals and to determine whether or not modifications to workflows resulted in noticeable differences in time or cost.
Why you need workflow automation software
Automated workflows increase productivity by decreasing the time and effort associated with highly manual processes. Added advantages of implementing automated workflows include:
- Reminders to finish uncompleted tasks
- Visibility into performance metrics
- Reduced project risk and timeline delays
- Automated repetitive functions so staff can focus on creativity and innovation
- More realistic timeline estimates for future planning
- Explicit audit trails when something goes wrong
- More equal delegation of responsibilities
10 essential workflow automation software features
To reap the benefits of an automated workflow, you need a tool that is easy to use with adequate functionality. Below are 10 characteristics of an ideal automated workflow system.
1. An intuitive UI
Let’s face it — employees simply won’t use a tool that’s difficult to learn. Opt for a platform with an intuitive UI that requires little to no coding experience. Look for drag-and-drop designers, out-of-the-box reports and dashboards, and customizable templates. The best workflow automation systems allow users to think linearly, suggesting next steps or possible integrations along the way. Glowing customer reviews are an indicator that a workflow automation system is easy enough for citizen developers, but can still handle complex processes on the back-end.
2. Automatic processes
Some examples of automatic processes might be automatic status updates, API calls, or task assignments. The system managed routine tasks, freeing up time for employees to focus on other pressing projects. Plus, automatic jobs reduce the chances of error or scheduling delays. Standardized and automated processes make timelines more precise and curb the need to redo work down the line.
3. Cloud-based platform
Cloud-based BPM or workflow automation platforms minimize storage costs, prevent data loss, and enable employees to access their work from anywhere. To keep your information (and potentially your customers’ information) safe, also be on the lookout for enhanced cloud security, compliance, and privacy procedures.
4. Built-in audit trails
Choose a workflow automation system that allows admins to configure a set of pre-defined rules for a range of potential issues. Whenever a workflow hits a snag, the software will already know what to do to fix it. For example, in a vendor-payment workflow, the software could discern that an invoice was missing a PO number and send the vendor a pre-written email explaining how to find the PO and upload a new version of the bill.
5. Helpful notifications
Many workflow automation systems will send notifications via text, email, or within the platform reminding stakeholders of upcoming tasks or pending approvals. Choose a platform that notifies employees of the most urgent issues right in the app and via email or text.
6. Easy integration with other software
Businesses rely on multiple applications to get things done, and in many instances, a workflow automation platform must connect to those programs. Look for one that integrates with your existing ERP, CRM, calendar, and other document management systems in real-time. Though some workflows may only have one or two steps dedicated to moving data from one system to another, those steps should take place quickly and successfully to keep things moving along. Integrating with your workflow automation system should be straightforward and shouldn’t require continuous maintenance.
7. Status indicators
Automated workflow software is responsible for orchestrating several, if not hundreds, of workflows simultaneously. Status indicators are an excellent way to stay on top of each one. A status dashboard helps users prioritize their tasks, spot any issues, and follow up on things they may have forgotten about. A dashboard should present statuses in a clear manner for everyone involved in each workflow. Many automated workflows use color-coding to distinguish serious issues from trivial ones.
8. KPI-based reports
A powerful workflow automation platform will shine a light on any bottlenecks, recurring points of breakdown, jobs taking longer than usual, and more. Tailoring dashboards to your specific KPIs may provide insight into workflows that may be unnecessary, or ones that might be missing. In addition to high-level metrics, they can supply details such as when tasks are completed, who completed them, and any useful modifications made to speed up a process.
9. Role-based access
Being careful about who gets access to what avoids data breaches and protects sensitive HR, payroll, and financial data. Role-based access gives administrators the option to provision rights to view or edit particular workflows to employees with specific roles. Some softwares take permissions to an even more granular level, where admins can dictate what each user can see and do within the tool. Just be careful — adjusting people’s access may affect existing workflows.
10. Different ways to visualize workflows
Choose a workflow automation platform that can display workflows in myriad ways. Some people like Kanban boards, while others like referring to overall workflow diagrams, or even a plain list of steps. Having multiple ways to visualize a workflow could help bring a new perspective, but it shouldn’t deter from the main objective of your workflow.
Create automated workflows with Pipefy
Automated workflows can transform an organization’s operations. Design efficient end-to-end workflows with Pipefy, and you won’t have to toggle between tools or worry about losing information along the way. Build smart automation rules, connect tools and departments, and let your team focus on strategic actions — all from a single place. Centralize and streamline your workflows by automating manual tasks, connecting processes, and creating standards on Pipefy’s no-code platform.
Pipefy makes it easy to integrate, automate, and boost your operational efficiency in departments like HR, Finance, Marketing, and CS, among others.