Workflow Automation Systems Key Features & Benefits

Workflow Automation Systems

Key Features & Benefits 

In my last article I introduced the concept of Workflow Automation systems, what do they do, why they are so important, and how they allow you to define your organization’s hundreds of unique workflows, attach documents, provide visibility into both open and closed workflows (tasks), and ensure that these tasks are performed the same way, every time.

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Implementing a workflow automation system provides huge benefits to every organization, large and small:

 

  • Reduce errors and make sure tasks don’t “fall through the cracks”

    Workflow automation dramatically reduces errors and prevents tasks from being missed. With automated workflow processes, it’s impossible for tasks to be forgotten.  It virtually eliminates excuses… like “no one told me” or “I must have missed that step.”
  • Improve visibility and control of enterprise processes

    With e-mail, only the senders and recipients have visibility. With workflow automation systems, every workflow (process) is visible by those that have rights, and provides the means by which management can measure “who’s doing what.”
  • Spot bottlenecks and increase efficiencyBecause workflow automation processes are visible and measurable, you can easily see the bottlenecks in your organization, allowing you to add or remove resources based on quantifiable information. It also allows you to capture and analyze why things are happening.
  • Empower employees to successfully manage their own work

    With the right automated processes in place, every employee knows what is expected of them and they are fairly and evenly held accountable for their actions. If tasks are not completed on time, someone will be notified.  Managers won’t have to micromanage their employees and ask questions, and employees won’t have to spend their time responding to status requests.
  • Employees are more efficient and effective in completing their tasks

    Workflow automation improves employee accountability. And employees prefer this, because they know the system has recorded their activities and they can withstand an “audit.”  With built-in dashboards and reporting, management can see what is really taking place – without having to interrupt employees and pull them away from their work.  Your team quickly becomes more efficient and effective.
  • Internal communication dramatically improves

    One of the huge benefits of workflow automation is the improvement of internal communication, which increases job satisfaction and reduces employee turnover. With workflow, nobody has to remember to tell the next person in line that “it’s their turn.”

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Which brings us to the most important benefit for most organizations…

 

WORKFLOW AUTOMATION SAVES MONEY

 

When employees are able to do more within the same time period, productivity skyrockets.  And more productivity means saving money for the organization.  It’s that simple.  Let’s say that your company has 25 employees, and that the median salary, with benefits, is $60,000.  Your monthly payroll is $125,000.  If productivity is boosted by just 5%, that’s $6,250 per month.

 

$75,000 per year, EVERY YEAR

 

And that’s before factoring in any of the other benefits a workflow automation system provides.

 

What should you be looking for in a workflow automation system?  Here are my top 10 requirements:

 

  • Easy-To-Define Process Flows An effective workflow automation system must allow definition of process flows in business steps, not technical activities. The system should allow “process owners” (business people, not programmers) to easily define and adjust workflow.  And it means that the process owners should be able to “think in a straight line,” defining key steps in the process, each requiring input, approval, or denial.  Sure, the finished product is a flowchart, but that’s not how most people think, and that’s not how workflow should be defined.  Bottom line: You shouldn’t have to be a “coder” to define a workflow.
  • User-Definable FormsYour workflow processes will need to have forms to support them. Just as each process (e.g. New Hire, Travel Request, Contract Review, etc.) is different, so will be the form that is designed to support it.  The fields on these forms need to be easily added and customized, and must support documents that need to be attached.  Finished forms should be intuitively easy to understand and easy to use… the moment a user sees it.
  • Cloud-Based The system should be cloud-based, allowing secure access anytime, and anywhere that it’s needed, without a significant investment upfront in hardware and software that must be continuously updated, upgraded and maintained.
  • Integrated Document ManagementThe system should support fully integrated document management. Document types should be user definable and easily searched.  External e-mail (from customers, vendors, etc.) should easily and automatically be “pulled” into the workflow system, forming the starting point for subsequent workflow processes.  And software (like Microsoft Office) should be easily integrated to make opening, editing and savings documents – within the workflow system – easy.
  • Automatic Workflow GenerationAutomatic workflow generation allows one workflow to generate another. This simplifies the definition of small, individual workflows, in bite sized pieces, without having to develop the “mother of all workflows.”
  • Role-Based ControlRole-based control is important, as it provides two key functions… It automatically allows the system to “know” who reports to whom (simplifying design and workflow routing) and allows for easy definition of security so that workflows that contain sensitive information are not visible to those that shouldn’t see it.
  • Mobile ApplicationsMobile applications are important to allow your users to access the workflow automation system from their smart phones and tablets.
  • Reporting and Dashboard ToolsReporting and dashboard tools allow you to easily define what you want to see and how you want to see it. For example, if you want to see all tasks you owe to others, sorted by project and by due date, (or perhaps the other way around), it should be available at the press of a button.
  • A Proper DatabaseThe back-end database should be able to scale with you and should be able to be queried by any number of standard industry reporting tools. Don’t fall into the trap of working with a “legacy” database system that cannot scale.
  • Integration ToolsIntegration tools are critical to allow you to connect the workflow system to your line-of-business applications. Workflow does not operate independently of other business processes, and your existing ERP and CRM systems are no exception.  You will quickly reach the point where you will want to build integration bridges between these systems, and you will need the tools to allow this.

 

If the time is right to consider a workflow automation system in your organization, be sure to evaluate more than one system, and avoid those systems that require hefty up-front licenses fees and long term commitment.  Vendors should be willing to provide a “proof-of-concept” system for you to evaluate, along with a satisfaction guarantee.  This makes your workflow automation provider a true partner… and makes sure they “earn their keep” every month.

To learn even more about Workflow Automation Systems join CIANJ at its Technology for Business Roundtable: Workflow Automation, Work Smarter, Not Harder on November 17, 2016. Click here to register for the event! 

 

Workflow Automation Systems: What Do They Do?

Why are they important?

Why should you care?

Ask any executive what makes their company different, and the majority will answer that their unique business processes are the lifeblood that makes them successful and gives them a competitive edge.  These business processes reflect the company’s culture, spirit and identity.  It is their “secret sauce.”

 

But then ask how they make sure these processes are performed the same way, every single time?  How does their team know exactly what these business processes are?  How will they know if they are being executed properly?  For the majority of companies, the answer is that they don’t know, and without the right systems in place, really can’t know.

 

An example of why processes are so important can be seen at McDonald’s.  Whether you like their Big Mac or not, consumers expect it to be prepared the same way, every time they visit.  Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s franchise empire, knew that uniformity in service and quality among all of the McDonald’s locations would drive success.  So he created and implemented a system to ensure that McDonald’s burgers are prepared the same way, regardless of where the store is located or who is doing the cooking.  And that’s one of the reasons McDonald’s has grown to over 35,000 stores worldwide.

 

For many small and mid-sized businesses (and even some larger businesses), defining processes and then making sure that they are being followed is daunting, if not impossible.  They try by documenting their processes, and while that’s a good start, it’s no guarantee that they will be followed.  What’s missing is a systemized approach that guarantees both complete visibility of all open tasks and accountability as to who owes what to whom.

 

To further make this challenging, many (if not most) of an organization’s processes exist outside its accounting and operational software systems.  For example, let’s say you are a window manufacturer.  Your customer service department receives periodic complaints about product failures, and you want to:

 

  • Review and validate reported failures (before creating costly return and replacement orders)
  • Track the quantity of failures and the specific parts that are failing (so you can analyze what’s happening and then eliminate the failures through engineering improvements)
  • Attach documents (pictures, e-mail, etc.) associated with each failure
  • Require special review and approvals for failures over a certain dollar threshold

 

Now, consider that this process occurs long before a return order is created in your ERP system.  How do you track and measure them?  How do you permanently record the activities for analytic review?  And how to avoid sending internal e-mails (which can only be seen by the sender and recipients) and which are not easily tracked, counted, analyzed and acted upon?

 

The answer is in implementing a Workflow Automation system.  These systems allow you to define your hundreds of unique workflows, attach documents, provide visibility into both open and closed workflows, and ensure that they are performed the same way, every time.  Imagine being able to see every completed business process, from a Cap-Ex request to a New Hire process to a Contract Approval workflow.  To know where each individual process stands, when it was done, who did it, who approved it, and to be able to see supporting documents.

 

Workflow Automation systems provide a platform for transforming a business and improving productivity to levels never before seen in most organizations.  They’re affordable, easy to start with and ramp up as you see success, and easily integrated with your existing business software systems.  And best of all, the business intelligence and analytic information that Workflow Automation systems provide will more than pay for the systems themselves… many times over.

 

What are some other workflow examples?

  • Interviewing, Hiring & Onboarding Process
  • Vendor Contract Review & Approval Process
  • Expense Review and Reimbursement Process
  • Request for Pre-Sales Engineering Assistance
  • Employee Review Process
  • Requisition Submission and Approval Process
  • Travel Approval Request
  • Product Development Processes
  • Quality Assurance (e.g. Non-Conformity) Process
  • ISO 9000 Processes
  • Lean Six Sigma Process Automation

 

The list is endless.  Here’s one more… How about simply being able to create To-Do requests, assign them to others in the organization, and then – at the press of a button – being able to track who owes you something?

 

There are many Workflow Automation systems available, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.  Some are expensive and targeted at enterprise-level companies, and some are so simple that you will quickly outgrow their capabilities.  You may want to consider retaining a consultant to help you identify your requirements and assist with the software review and selection process.

 

So get on the Internet and search for “Workflow Automation software.” You’ll be amazed at what you find, and more importantly, your eyes will be opened to productivity tools you previously only dreamt of.

 

Next time… I’ll review the key features (and benefits) to look for in Workflow Automation systems.

 

About Evan Berk

 

Evan Berk is Managing Partner at Certus Technologies, a managed and cloud services IT firm that specializes in helping clients dramatically improve their business productivity.

 

Evan is passionate about simplifying and demystifying complex Information Technology systems, and believes that the best IT systems should make our lives easier and more productive, both in the workplace and at home.  He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 973-944-5000.

 

To learn even more about Workflow Automation Systems join CIANJ at its Technology for Business Roundtable: Workflow Automation, Work Smarter, Not Harder on November 17, 2016. Click here to register for the event!