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.
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.”
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!