A new generation of workflow automation tools aims to – at least partially – automate previously manual, document-centric processes with the aim of achieving greater efficiency, transparency, and compliance. But what are the specific advantages, and how should you approach implementation?
In today’s business world, things are moving faster than ever before. Companies have to manage and protect more and more information. Your speed and efficiency are crucial to keeping up with the ever-increasing speed of transactions and the ever-growing expectations of customers and business partners. The old business adage that the fast eats the slow is as valid as ever.
However, many companies still rely on old methods to deal with the flood of information that bombards them every day. Multi-stage, manual processes in which data is painstakingly collected, the same templates are filled out over and over again and sent to other people for release or approval are no longer up to date. Companies cannot win the race with them. Instead, they should use solutions that allow them to improve efficiency and increase process speed. The productivity gained secures or increases margins and ensures a competitive edge.
There is significant potential for such improvements for many companies by automating document-centric workflows with workflow automation tools. Modern workflow automation does not focus on the complete automation of processes. In reality, most processes will not be able to be automated completely, or at least not in all special cases, even with the help of artificial intelligence.
However, through the associated optimization and elimination of manual steps in daily work, automation ensures significant rationalization successes, welcome efficiency gains, and higher throughput rates. At the same time, automation enables a process to follow predefined steps and thus ensures process fidelity and consistent adherence to specific regulations and compliance requirements. It relieves employees of manual and meaningless routine tasks and helps make processes easier to follow and repeatable.
Table of Contents
The goals and benefits of Workflow Automation can be divided into four major blocks:
By automating workflows, employees are automatically guided through the process. You no longer have to remember what comes next, contact other employees, or read work instructions. All necessary information for processing can also be proactively provided by the system, eliminating the time-consuming search for information.
For example, when employees start a new customer project, workflow automation can automatically provide the background context, set up the project in the system, and create all templates for work and results documents pre-filled. Likewise, when finalizing each deliverable document, workflow automation can ensure that all necessary reviews and approvals are completed before the final result is released to the customer.
Fewer sources of error
With workflow automation, existing processes can be set up so that they can be followed intuitively. This means work gets done on time, and information is proactively delivered to the appropriate destination. The correct work and approval steps, as well as controls and security measures, are triggered automatically, as is the correct documentation and filing of the process and the associated documents.
This avoids many sources of error and process interruptions, and even inexperienced employees have to worry less about making mistakes or holding up the process by asking questions.
Secure compliance with specifications and requirements
The transparent management of information is an important part of compliance requirements – especially in highly regulated industries. Modern workflow automation can automatically ensure policies are enforced, documents are secured, and files are created, used, and retained in a manner that complies with regulatory requirements. Workflow automation can help ensure that projects go through all required steps properly and all rules are followed to meet compliance requirements. This includes, for example, ensuring that only selected people have access to sensitive information.
Traceability and auditing
With modern workflow automation, work on and with documents becomes transparent and traceable. Every access and step is automatically documented with a date and time stamp, and a version history and history are automatically maintained. This means that there is always transparency about what happened to information when it happened, and who had access to it. Automated tracking makes it easier to prove in audits that specifications and guidelines have been adhered to and that a prescribed process has been followed. For example, an ISO-compliant company that has implemented workflows in a quality management system (QMS) can demonstrate that it is properly processing preventive and corrective actions.
How to get started with modern workflow automation?
If you are new to workflow automation, it is advisable to start small and pragmatically and then grow. Start with a process that isn’t too complex to automate. Use this pilot as a means to validate your chosen software solution, get started with change management easily, and learn how to implement automation in your organization best.
To start, choose a process that is not mission-critical. If there are any issues or delays in implementation, the impact will be minimal. A process that is limited in terms of the organization (i.e., a department-specific process rather than company-wide) is often a good starting point. When you start with a process that has a limited scope, you can test and iterate more efficiently in a smaller group to get actionable feedback quickly.
Starting small allows you to understand better and define your goals for implementing an automated solution so that you can ensure that automation improves processes over time and delivers the desired benefits. Once you’ve mastered automating non-critical processes, it’s easier to build on that to automate more complex solutions.
The biggest hurdle to automating workflows is usually the fact that employees are so used to manually editing, filing, and approving information that they have made these processes an important part of their job. A change in awareness must be initiated here so that employees see this manual handling of documents for what it really is: annoying routine work.
An important part of a successful strategy is, therefore, to discuss with employees how automating workflows can help them focus on higher-value tasks instead of spending endless cycles on unnecessary manual work. It is not the technology but the people in the process that remain the biggest obstacle to success if they are not explained the potential value of automation from the start and embrace it.
Also Read: How To Choose a Workflow Management Software