Posted in Workflow Automation

A Complete Guide to Workflow Automation

Manual tasks like data entry routing aren’t just tedious and repetitive — they take employees away from more engaging work. Employees waste valuable time when they fill out forms and chase down their managers for signatures.

So how can you streamline these tasks and ensure that you (and your employees) don’t get bogged down by monotonous activities? 

The answer is workflow automation.

If your organization is still doing things manually, it’s time for a change. Automating business processes increases overall productivity and eliminates tedious tasks.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at workflow automation, including what it is and how it benefits your organization. We’ll also look at workflow examples across different departments and even show you how to get started with automating your workflows.

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What is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation is the process of using software to automate manual series of tasks. Examples include data entry and document routing.

Workflow automation standardizes how work gets done and provides accountability at every stage of a process. This increases efficiency and reduces time spent on manual work.

A common use case for workflow automation is document approvals. Documents like purchase orders typically follow the same set of steps. 

Performing each step manually not only leads to higher cycle times but also leaves more room for error. An employee may make a calculation error or send the form to the wrong person.

By creating an automated workflow, you can streamline this entire business process. An employee simply submits a purchase order, and it automatically routes to the correct approver.

This is just one example of how companies are leveraging workflow automation — a market that was valued at $8.07 billion in 2019 and is now projected to reach $39.49 billion by 2027. That figure is only expected to rise as more companies recognize the value that automation brings to the table.

We’ll cover additional workflow use cases and examples later. For now, let’s look at how workflow automation benefits your bottom line.

Benefits of Workflow Automation vs. Manual Workflow Processes

Spreadsheets are certainly a step up over paper forms. But they’re still prone to human error, and they lack the transparency that management needs to make key decisions.

Here’s how workflow automation gives your organization a competitive advantage over businesses that rely on manual processes.

Increased Efficiency

Consider the steps involved in sending a purchase order. An employee creates a PO and sends it to their manager for review. The PO is then routed to the finance department for final approval before being sent to the vendor.

Performing each step manually is inefficient. The time it takes for an employee to fill out and hand over paper forms to their manager is time that could’ve been spent elsewhere.

In a survey examining the impact of automation, 61% of business leaders and 58% of employees said that parts of their jobs could be automated.

With workflow automation software, you can digitize your forms and automate the approval process, so they route to the right individuals. 

Employees don’t need to waste their time chasing signatures. Automating mundane tasks like document routing makes business operations more efficient.

Fewer Human Errors

Manual workflows are prone to errors. An employee may enter the wrong data, send a form to the wrong person, or even forget to move it to the next step altogether. 

These types of errors can negatively impact your bottom line. You’ll need to spend even more time and resources to fix those mistakes (if you even catch them).

While it’s impossible to eliminate risk altogether, you can leverage workflow automation software to prevent common errors from occurring. For example, with dynamic forms, you can have fields automatically populate with SQL data when selecting a vendor.

Here’s an example of what connecting your forms to a database looks like:

Purchase order form populating with SQL data

You can even have all subtotals and totals on the form automatically calculate. This reduces manual data entry and results in fewer human errors. 

Increased Accountability

Accountability is key to keeping operations running smoothly. This is when employees know what task to prioritize next and when to have it done.

Things can become quite hectic without accountability. If an employee regularly misses their deadlines, it can have ripple effects across the organization and result in unhappy customers.

A workflow automation tool increases accountability in a business process. An automated workflow can notify an individual that their input is required. Others on the team can also see everyone else’s tasks.

This is important because employees spend six hours per week duplicating work that someone else is already working on.

This increased visibility also means that managers don’t have to micromanage employees. They can track the progress of a workflow in real-time and step in only if needed.

Now let’s take a closer look at workflow automation use cases.

Workflow Automation Use Cases and Examples

Automating routine tasks allows your employees to focus on higher-value work, which can lead to increased engagement and satisfaction. 

Here are workflow automation use cases and examples for each department across your organization.

Human Resources

HR has an endless number of tasks they need to do to keep things running smoothly. But between filling out forms and chasing down signatures, it’s easy for them to get bogged down.

There’s also the time spent on confirming information. Employees spend an average of five hours a week waiting on others for information they need to do their jobs.

Here are HR processes that can be automated with workflow automation software:

  • Onboarding new hires
  • Processing payroll
  • Processing time-off requests
  • Maintaining employee records
  • Managing employee applications
  • Filling job vacancies

Accounting

The accounting department is responsible for preparing financial statements, approving budgets, and maintaining the general ledger.

These tasks typically require a ton of manual data entry, which means there’s more room for error. Someone may enter the wrong values, reverse entries, or omit data entirely. 

This can lead to cash flow problems (e.g., $10,000 was entered into accounts receivable instead of $1,000). You can reduce manual data entry and minimize calculation errors with workflow automation software.

Here are accounting processes you can automate:

  • Preparing financial statements
  • Managing sales orders
  • Processing customer invoices
  • Reimbursing employee expenses

Marketing

The role of marketing is to research target audiences, conduct market research, and develop campaigns. Workflow software can help marketing teams work more efficiently. 

For example, you can create an automated workflow that streamlines the content approval process. In this case, drafts would route to a content manager for review and are then published right away or sent back to the writer for revisions.

Here are some marketing tasks you can automate with workflow software:

  • Qualifying leads for the sales team
  • Approving new marketing campaigns
  • Scheduling social media posts
  • Setting up email campaigns

Sales

A strong sales team is crucial to the success of any organization. They’re responsible for building relationships with prospects and bringing in sales.

But sales teams are often held back because of manual processes. An estimated 30% of sales-related activities can be automated. When tasks like data entry and invoicing are handled manually, sales teams spend less time closing deals.

One way to use workflow automation software to improve sales processes is for qualifying inbound leads. For example, you can set up an automated workflow that routes leads to the sales team to follow up on.

Other sales processes you can automate include:

  • Qualifying new leads
  • Scheduling consultations
  • Sending quotes or proposals
  • Preparing sales reports

IT

IT plays a critical role in every organization as they’re responsible for managing all computer systems. But like all departments, IT teams have a ton of processes they can automate.

Processes that IT teams can automate with a workflow automation platform include:

  • Creating accounts for new employees
  • Handling internal support tickets 
  • Testing new hardware and software

Now let’s look at how you can get started with workflow automation.

How to Implement a Workflow Automation Solution

Getting started with workflow automation can seem overwhelming. But it can have far-reaching benefits across your entire organization. 

Follow these steps to get started.

Step 1: Define Your Goals

Workflow automation isn’t something that happens overnight. Successful implementations require time and effort.

Start by defining your workflow automation goals. Examples include reducing cycle times, increasing output, and improving workflow efficiency. With your goals established, you’ll be able to justify workflow automation and get buy-in from management.

Step 2: Identify a Business Process

Choose a manual process you want to automate. It should be one that follows the same set of steps and gets repeated often.

Here are some examples of processes you can automate:

  • Employee onboarding
  • Expense approvals
  • Purchase order approvals
  • Sales contracts
  • Travel requests

Your organization likely has dozens, if not hundreds, of processes that can be automated. Choose one to get started with for now.

Step 3: Gather Input

Get feedback from those who are involved in the process you selected. What tasks take the most time to complete? Are there any issues they frequently run into? 

Have employees walk you through a process from start to finish. This will help you identify areas of improvement and address potential bottlenecks.

Step 4: Choose Workflow Automation Software

The next step is to choose a solution to help you achieve your goals. But with so many different options on the market, choosing the right one can be difficult.

Here are the key features to look for choosing workflow automation software:

  • No-code workflow builder
  • Drag-and-drop form design
  • Visual rule builder
  • Notifications and reminders
  • Built-in mobile friendliness
  • KPI-based reports
  • Interaction with other apps
  • Cloud and on-premise options

Step 5: Build Your Workflow

With frevvo’s workflow automation software, you can easily map and configure each step of your workflows. 

Here’s an example of a workflow for time-off requests:

Time-off request workflow

You can also incorporate conditional rules into your workflow. In the example above, time-off requests for five days or longer are routed to a VP for further review.

Step 6: Test Your Workflow

With frevvo’s workflow automation software, you can easily test your workflows and even preview how they’ll look on mobile devices.

Here’s an example of a mobile preview for time-off request forms:

Testing a workflow with frevvo's workflow automation software

Thoroughly test your workflow before rolling it out across the organization. Gather input and make changes to your workflow as needed.

Step 7: Train Your Team

Implementing a workflow automation solution ultimately depends on all stakeholders. But it can be challenging to get everyone onboard — change isn’t always easy. 

Explain the benefits of automated workflows, keep your team involved every step of the way, and develop new training materials.

Be sure to update your training materials as you make any changes to your workflows.

Step 8: Measure KPIs

Workflow software enables you to measure key performance indicators (KPIs). A key metric for purchase orders is cycle time — the time it takes to create and send a PO to a vendor. 

frevvo’s workflow automation software features in-depth reports, allowing you to track key metrics for each of your workflows.

Reports and analytics from frevvo's workflow automation software

Analyzing this data can help you improve your processes. For example, if it took longer than usual to send out a purchase order, a manager can review each step of an existing workflow and identify bottlenecks

Conclusion

Workflow automation is more important than ever. It allows you to automate repetitive tasks, reduce human errors, and increase operational efficiency — all of which have a positive impact on your bottom line.

With frevvo’s workflow automation software, you can automate countless processes across each department in your organization. Instead of getting bogged down with mundane tasks, your employees can spend their time more productively.

Try out frevvo for free with a 30-day trial to see how easy it is to create your own automated workflows. 

Author:

Ashish Deshpande has worked in the process automation space for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in successfully deploying frevvo’s software at hundreds of organizations such as HBO, New York University, and Boston Public Schools. Ashish has contributed to leading publications such as Forbes, business.com and readwrite.com. Ashish received a PhD in Computer Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.