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What is Workflow Automation and What Can it Do for You?

workflow automation diagram

Technology has done a lot for us, especially in the last 20 years or so. It’s given us the internet, smartphones, and self-driving cars. It hasn’t quite given us time travel and hoverboards yet, but we do have self-lacing shoes as a consolation prize. And while we don’t have a digital solution for every problem yet, we do have solutions for quite a few—especially in business. Often, that solution can be summed up in one word: automation.

Now before you go voicing your concerns about the robot uprising, you should be aware that automation is already an integral part of business for many companies. The LEGO® factory in Billund, Denmark, for example, is wholly autonomous, requiring no direct action from a human being to create, detail, package or box the product. But “plastic brick mason” isn’t the only role automation can play. In fact, the most widely applicable forms of automation are completely digital.

Workflow automation is a good example of this, as it can seriously speed up work processes. Whether you’re a B2B agency or a bustling customer service department of a retail business, your manual processes can be dramatically improved by deploying a workflow automation tool.

Why manual processes aren’t cutting it

When you really boil it down, the most significant drawbacks to manual workflow processes are human-introduced errors, and human limitations to speed. Avoiding those two problems is why so many factories have moved toward automation. Human hands can only move so fast, and the faster they try to work, the more likely it is that they will screw something up. The same is true for processes related to data entry, compiling reports, sending notifications and other computer-based labors.

Beyond those two core problems, humans are vulnerable to other shortcomings. For one, efficiency lags as team members have to switch between different windows and applications in order to access the information they need.

The more disorganized the system you’re using, the worse it gets, with employees switching back and forth between emails, spreadsheets, documents, and so forth. It’s like having to walk back and forth from the copier again and again, but with more clicking.

Similarly, data that has become siloed in one department has to be requested and transferred in one way or another. Considering it’s humans who do the requesting, the reading and the transferring, it takes time for these transactions to take place. Worse still, managing and double-checking these processes can take more time than producing actual work itself.

In other words, (almost) anything we can do, computers can do better. And just because you don’t have Skynet handle any of your work yet doesn’t mean your competitors aren’t already siding with the machines.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the technique of replacing routine, manual tasks with automatic processes. A workflow app may be included in these types of software: enterprise resource planning (ERP), professional service automation  (PSA), help desk, support ticketing, customer service, CRM and others.

Workflow automation software allows you to plan projects and queue up tasks in multiple departments, such as:

  • Accounting
  • Inventory
  • Dispatch
  • Management

Then it goes a step further by making many of those tasks easier, more efficient, less time-consuming and less error-prone. It can even make some everyday tasks completely automated, removing them completely from everyone’s to-do lists.

At first glance, workflow automation looks similar to project management apps and task management software. Project management software helps you plan all the stages of a long project, and task management software helps employees put tasks into a schedule and check them off. Workflow management apps also cover those functionalities. Where they differ is workflow’s ability to automate.

Neither project management nor task management software has much capacity to take tasks off of your hands. You can set one or two things to perform automatically, but that’s really it. Workflow software is different, though. It allows you to accomplish a number of tasks without ever having to lift a finger (after you’ve set it up, obviously). For example, you can use workflow automation software to:

  • Test out strategies
  • Avoid time-consuming, error-prone data-entry tasks
  • Remind employees to take care of tasks and small details that might otherwise be easy to forget
  • Let everyone see the same information so they can coordinate and communicate better
  • Combine automatic workflows into larger processes
  • Compile and publish reports to relevant personnel
  • Input information pulled from multiple sources

We’ve also heard it can be used to build a robot army and achieve world domination, though that statement hasn’t been reviewed by the FDA.

It’s not just about keeping you on schedule. It’s about keeping you at peak productivity and helping your team do more with the time they have.

What are the benefits of workflow automation?

We all hate working on processes that are inefficient and tedious, and no one likes feeling that they’ve wasted their time. Workflow automation software can take much of the tedious work off of your hands, freeing you to worry about your customers, and how best to serve them. It can help you leave a good impression with customers, prospects and fellow employees. And it can help you build a reputation for addressing needs quickly.

For example, your document workflow software can create good-looking, pre-programmed documents and send them out automatically to customers for you in response to various events. Documents you can do this with include branded proposals, contracts, quotes and service level agreements. Since it’s all automated, it happens faster than a human can do it, and you’ll be wowing people with the speed of your business.

With workflow automation, you can do cool things like integrating workflow tools with other software, such as online price books. This helps your staff make informed decisions with real-time data, and allows them to add installation times and images of products to quotes. Your team will be happier because their job is easier, and your customers will be happier because they better understand what they’re buying.

Workflow automation can also help employees who don’t do all their work in the office. Many automation suites come with a companion mobile app that sends alerts to techs in the field when a new service order is scheduled. The tech can see the signed service order, the customer’s account and a driving route. It’s not quite as advanced as having Tony Stark’s “Friday” delivering them a combat analysis, but it’s pretty close.

The best workflow automation suites even include an account journal that’s automatically updated after every interaction with a customer, usually tied to service ticketing software. That means having a record of the purpose of every phone call, the result of each service order, the details of a given quote, and much more. Employees can see at a glance what has been done for customers, partners and prospects, and can jump right in where someone left off.

In other words, it minimizes that lag you usually deal with when certain tasks have to be done by one of those sluggish humans.

Workflow software can alert you when, for example (read: this list is not even close to comprehensive):

  • Service orders get booked
  • A sales opportunity is ready
  • A payment is declined or an invoice is posted
  • An item in inventory needs to be restocked
  • A marketing campaign is launched
  • A customer’s system has crashed

Perhaps best of all, workflow automation software can offer you insight into your valuable customer data by setting up alerts when you hit certain profitability levels on a contract, when sales goals have been reached, or when you hit a certain loss threshold. That way, you’ll never be blindsided by a financial shift in your business ever again.

Cheat codes for your business

Workflow software can automate many day-to-day tasks for your staff. It can send you task reminders and perform other automated workflows. It can sweep away mountains of documents, file folders and spreadsheets you’ve been using to manage your operations. It can set up critical alerts that keep you posted about important changes in key metrics.

It’s hard to change your thinking and establish new systems and protocols, but you’re not saving money by perpetuating manual processes and delaying automation—you’re just torturing yourself and your team. Making the jump to automation isn’t a cost (and it’s not accepting our new robot overlords). It’s an investment, one that will shower you with returns.

If you’re ready to find out how workflow automation (and business automation generally) can supercharge your business, contact us here at Tigerpaw. We’ll give you some up close demonstrations so that you can see with your own eyes just how much faster your business could be running.

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