Workflow Automation Systems: What Do They Do?

October 20, 2016

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! 

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