Posted in Workflow Automation

Workflow Integration: What It Is And How You Can Use It to Boost Productivity

In a small business, you can get away with having a mix of different tools and workflows. In spite of poor systems, it’s usually easy enough to collaborate with a low number of employees and clients.

But once your company grows and you have entire teams and departments dedicated to specific business processes — like sales or customer service — a lack of integration can lead to severe inefficiencies.

For example, suppose your support agents use a helpdesk completely separate from the CRM your account managers use. In that case, both sides lack any true insight into the journey of every customer they interact with.

Workflow integration can help you avoid these issues, eliminate inefficiencies throughout your company, and streamline the customer experience.

In this article, we’ll explain what workflow integration is, showcase examples, and guide you through the process of integrating workflows in your own company.

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What Is Workflow Integration?

Workflow integration (also known as process integration) is the act of integrating the tools, business systems and workflows different teams use when interacting with customers or completing certain tasks.

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Most companies use a wide range of software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps and tools to complete different business processes. This can lead to data silos and create a culture of poor interdepartmental collaboration and communication.

Workflow integration is a process and cultural shift away from the traditional patchwork approach toward the consolidation of different tools, techniques, and workflows.

For example, if your marketing team works with multiple platforms, they have to move data across them manually to generate meaningful reports. You could integrate the platforms and automatically generate full-scale performance reports, saving time and creating more accurate reports faster.

If you’re still not on board with the idea, let’s cover some of the core benefits of integrating your workflows.

Why You Need Workflow Integration

You need workflow integration to combat workplace silos, streamline workflows, and eliminate communication issues.

Combat Data Silos

The average company used 110 different SaaS applications in 2021. That almost guarantees a lack of cohesion throughout the different workflows in your organization.

SaaS App Overload

This large number of different applications (when not integrated) leads to data silos, increasing the risk of human error. It also leads to slow and poor decision-making (not based on the whole picture).

If sales and marketing are working in different tools to nurture and close leads, they won’t be able to deliver a congruent customer experience. If your sales and accounting staff use different tools, it can lead to mistakes in billing and ruin customer relationships.

Speeds Up Complex Processes

A complex workflow often adds unnecessary work, leading to overstaffed teams and extra payroll expenses. In a recent survey, 43% of companies said they plan to reduce staff due to technology integration.

A core tenet of effective business process management is to create cohesive workflows that are as easy to complete as possible. Working through five different tools and manually moving data from each stage to the next is obviously not part of that.

By making it easier to complete a complex process (like generating a marketing performance report through integrations), you can give your staff more time to focus on tasks that matter or even downsize staff that isn’t necessary anymore.

Integration is the Foundation for End-to-End Visibility

67% of organizations are implementing business process automation solutions that increase end-to-end visibility across different systems. That means they’re investing in integrating various solutions and creating one cohesive dashboard for their operations.

Businesses invest in birds-eye-view automation

Robust integrations between all your applications (either native or through APIs/third-party tools) are the foundation of impactful workflow automation.

If you want a better handle on how your company is doing in real-time, from processes like billing to support and even content creation, you need to invest in integrations.

How to Start Integrating Workflows in Your Company

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of workflow integration let’s dive into how you can actually start integrating workflows throughout your company.

1. Identify Inefficient and Detached Workflows

The first step is to identify which workflows need the most attention. You’re looking for a workflow that fits the following criteria:

  • You use multiple different software tools to manage it.
  • Multiple different teams or departments are involved at different stages.
  • There are multiple bottlenecks caused by either software or inefficient structure — for example, one person having to review everything manually.

Once you start looking for them, you’re probably going to find more than one. But if you’re just starting out — unless it’s a huge project with a generous budget — it’s better to start with a single workflow.

So single out the process you think is the most impaired by a lack of integration and get to work.

2. Map Out the Different Tools and People Involved

Next up, you want to map out the different tools and people involved with completing various tasks within the process.

Map of people, workflows, and tools

For example, for closing and billing new customers, your employees will use tools like invoicing software, payment processors, and digital signature software for the contract.

The people involved are at least a sales representative and a manager to sign off on the deal, but over time, also someone from accounting or data analysis.

Just go through each stage of the workflow, each specific task, and think who does what using which tools.

3. (Where Possible) Replace with a Complete Solution or Native Integrations

Once you’ve broken down the workflow, it’s time to integrate the various moving pieces.

There are three different approaches here:

  • Custom solution: Develop a complete in-house solution (or pay a vendor to do so).
  • API-based integrations: Use an application programming interface (API) to develop custom integrations between all your tools.
  • Native integrations: Find a platform that integrates with all your tools or a set of apps that all integrate “natively” with each other already. Native just means the platform itself created and supports the integration.

A custom solution is prohibitively expensive for most companies and also requires a serious time commitment.

Native integrations are great when available, but outside of maybe marketing, it’s not realistic to expect complete integration across the workflow.

Often, the best you can do is find a platform that natively integrates with some other tools and also offers a robust API that makes it easy to integrate with the rest.

Don’t be scared of working with an API. “Native integrations” are often facilitated through that technology, and even with a smaller dev team, you can usually set things up in weeks, not months.

4. Automate Repetitive Tasks & Optimize the Overall Process

Once you’ve connected the tools, you should work to automate as many previously manual tasks as possible.

A few common examples of tasks you can automate include:

  • Moving data
  • Double-checking numbers against a source
  • Generating cross-platform reports
  • Notifying other teams or employees based on task status

5. Measure the Impact of Your Improved Workflow and Make Adjustments

Once you’ve created a new cohesive workflow, it’s time to measure the results.

It’s much easier if you use a core platform that integrates with the other tools you use. For example, with a workflow automation platform like frevvo, you get a real-time view of the state of the process.

For example, an accounting overview of budgetary compliance and all expenses might look something like this:

Budget dashboard in frevvo

In this case, a successful transition would be a reduction in spending exceeding the budget, as well as more accurate forecasting and budgeting in the future.

Workflow Integration Example: Sales & Shipping Samples

Varex Imaging is an independent supplier of medical image processing solutions with a complex sales process.

Typically, it involves requesting and shipping custom samples to interested companies around the globe.

Case study image for Varex

Before using frevvo to integrate the different stages of the workflow, the process took place over email and other platforms, and it often lasted a whole month. The new workflow that uses smart forms with conditional routing and automatic notifications has sped up the process to just two days on average.

Instead of:

  1. Manually looking up information in the ERP
  2. Then communicating to sales reps through email
  3. Looking up customer information in the CRM
  4. And finally, using an invoicing tool to create the invoice

Everything happens on a single, integrated platform.

From creating and approving a request to generating and sending out packing slips and invoices, frevvo handles it all. 

No longer is a specific person responsible for starting the process. Any sales rep can initiate a shipping request workflow. That removes one of the most important bottlenecks that drastically slowed down this process.

Plus, the forms include a point-and-click wizard and dynamic rules that reduce human errors and ensure each application is filled out correctly, avoiding having to start from scratch because of things like address typos.

Dynamic business logic ensures the right compliance information is filled out to avoid delays and issues. And conditional routing sends each form to the right approver automatically.

All-in-all, it creates a much faster, more cohesive workflow without any of the typical bottlenecks that lead to serious delays.

The backbone for this transformation was the robust native integrations that frevvo brings to the table — it can read/write from your SQL database, save documents, or form data to SharePoint or any other document management system. 

frevvo also integrates with Google’s entire suite of Workspace tools (Sheets, Docs, etc.) and supports Active Directory or other LDAP-based systems. And if you want to integrate other tools, our robust programmatic API makes creating custom integrations simple.

Common Workflow Integration Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Before you jump in and try to maximize the benefits of workflow integration for your company, you need to understand the most common pitfalls of the process. 

No Budget/Time to Develop In-House Solutions

Even if you’re interested in digital transformation, most companies simply don’t have the budget or time to develop in-house solutions. 

Work on finding well-supported solutions with robust native integrations, and use third-party software to fill in where needed.

For some use cases, such as marketing, you can find a suite of tools where everything works together, from the CRM to the email marketing tool to the social media planning platform, etc.

But even for more complex use cases where this isn’t possible, you’re not out of options.

Wide Variety of Apps with Limited Native Integrations

The starting point for many companies is that they use a large number of different SaaS applications for most business processes.

While native integration is the cheapest solution, it’s unfortunately not realistic for most use cases.

Instead, the best option is to choose third-party workflow automation software and use its API to bridge the gap.

The benefit of using this type of software as the foundation is that it’s naturally designed to integrate and process data from other sources, which makes using the API a lot less challenging than when trying to integrate five different platforms separately.

Lack of Employee Buy-In in New Processes and Tools

To help get your employees on board, include them in the decision-making process, and highlight that the end goal is to make their lives easier.

If you make it about the employees, instead of making them feel like you’re just working to replace them, you’ll get a lot more buy-in from low-level employees.

Their interest in the project is crucial for swift and successful adoption of your new tools and workflows, so you can’t afford for them to be jaded and uninterested.

Want to Integrate and Automate Workflows Without Breaking the Bank? 

Are you ready to start integrating your workflows and automating the many routine tasks that hide in your inefficient processes?

Once you’ve figured out which workflow to tackle and defined which tools and roles are involved in the process, you’re ready to start implementing a new solution.

frevvo is a workflow automation platform that offers drag-and-drop visual workflow building tools and an easy-to-use visual rule builder to help companies transform how they work. Our robust API also makes it easy for teams to integrate a wide variety of tools to create seamless workflows.

Request a demo of our modern, cloud-based software.

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.