Learn about workflow automation — benefits, uses, and more
Manually sending an email or updating a database doesn’t require much effort. These tasks only take a minute to complete, but think about how repetitive they are. Eventually, that time adds up.
According to ADP, 70% of business leaders report spending 45 minutes to 3 hours of their 8-hour workday on repetitive tasks. These are the same tasks that can be avoided using workflow automation.
Manual and repetitive tasks result in work that’s slower, more difficult, and less consistent compared to work completed by software automation. Fortunately, workflow automation can make your team members better and more efficient at their jobs.
Learning about automated workflows can help organizations implement simpler processes that result in improved operational efficiency, increased workplace accountability, and fewer human errors.
This post will explain:
- What is workflow automation?
- Benefits of workflow automation
- Who uses workflow automation?
- Types of workflow automation
- Workflow automation examples
- Workflow automation steps
- Workflow automation software
- Workflow automation use cases
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is the use of technology to perform repetitive tasks like email communication, data entry, and software updates without the need for human input. This is made possible with software that creates a series of “if-then” rules that dictate how tasks need to be completed. Businesses that set up workflow automation see faster, easier, and more consistent work.
Benefits of workflow automation
Businesses of all sizes can use workflow automation to improve labor- and capital-intensive processes at scale. The benefits of workflow automation include:
- Higher productivity. Workflow automation frees employees from repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Instead, they can use their time to focus on more high-value tasks that require human strategy and creativity.
- Cost savings. Since automation reduces the need for human input, you can reduce labor costs for certain tasks. It also minimizes human error, which limits the potential for expensive mistakes.
- More accuracy. Automation increases accuracy by eliminating unnecessary inputs.
- Greater speed. Human delays aren’t an issue with automation, which ensures that work items flow to the right places in the shortest amount of time.
- Better communication. Automation sends the appropriate work items, feedback requests, and notifications to the right people without delays or gaps.
- Increased visibility. Managers can track the real-time progress of tasks and see who’s involved. This makes it easy to monitor tasks and stay ahead of deadlines.
Who uses workflow automation?
Every company could use extra time, so workflow automation is an ideal tool for any business looking to complete tasks faster and with greater accuracy.
Workflow automation can apply to all departments within an organization. This includes finance, human resources, marketing, operations, sales, and more. However, workflow automation has the biggest impact on the following sectors.
As more businesses adopt automation, those organizations with outdated, manual processes will struggle to succeed. From reducing human errors to saving time, automation makes it easier for businesses to scale reliably.
2. Developers and operations (DevOps)
Typically, development and operations work independently of each other, but workflow automation makes it possible to merge them. This limits bottlenecking and fosters communication with fewer gaps.
DevOps teams can guide the software development pipeline in an organized manner and better handle steps like data monitoring, data collection, code testing, and service requests.
3. IT network administration
IT network administration involves many moving parts. Automated workflows enable managers to oversee the cloud, network, operating system, and other departments. This layer of visualization helps managers stay ahead of problems and tackle network health and security threats before they become costly issues.
Types of workflow automation
Regardless of your business model or use case, there are plenty of ways to implement workflow automation in your organization. Several types of workflow automation exist that businesses can choose from, though most workflow automations are either static or dynamic:
- Static: Static workflow automation means there’s no variance in the steps taken. Assuming an “if-then” statement is set up, nothing will happen unless that “if” is triggered. External variables are not considered in static workflow automation even though they might potentially affect the outcome.
- Dynamic: Dynamic workflow automation refers to automation that determines steps in the moment. This means the software utilizes a schema template that handles varying inputs and considers different variables before making a move. This promotes agility and requires minimal long-term maintenance.
Some teams wonder whether they need a workflow automation solution or robotic processing automation (RPA). Both are valuable in their own ways, and it’s common to see organizations use both of them. RPA is a block of code — called a “bot” — that is responsible for completing a single task. Conceptually, RPA is similar to workflow automation. The difference is that RPA is useful for automating individual tasks, while workflow automation is useful for automating a series of tasks.
If RPA doesn’t fit a company’s goals, business process management (BPM) is another helpful type of workflow automation. This is a wide-scale methodology that manages multiple workflows, takes a higher-level view of what’s going on to best serve customers, and drives business process workflows toward increased efficiency to reach mission-critical goals. In many cases, workflow automation software is designed with a BPM philosophy. Excel’s autofill and macro features are early examples of workflow automation.
Workflow automation examples
Workflow automation can help with your everyday operations by using technology for a range of tasks, which can include:
- Sending data between applications and systems of record for unified and accurate reporting.
- Auto-populating calendars based on resource availability.
- Distributing tasks to the appropriate team member based on due dates, workload, and other criteria.
- Reflecting budget changes on a marketing project in your financial system.
- Routing customized reports to the relevant stakeholders.
- Sending handoffs between people, teams, and departments.
- Syncing data to one place for work statuses across different tools and teams.
Workflow automation steps
Since workflow automation requires input from your team, reach out to members who manage the day-to-day workflow operations to create an automation blueprint. Follow these steps to start automating workflows within your business.
1. Define the workflow
First, consider where you need to save time. Where do your workflows begin and end? What initializes a workflow? What finalizes a workflow? At this stage, you need to document the path that the workflow follows.
2. Identify all processes in the workflow
Once you define the start and end points of a workflow, you need to figure out how to connect the dots. Consider the individuals that are relevant to a particular workflow and how data should pass from one point (or person) to the next.
3. List all systems, apps, and tools
Take note of any collaboration apps, shared inboxes, databases, or legacy components you use to complete the workflow. This will help you pick the best automation solution.
4. Note all the input avenues
Well-formatted inputs are integral to the success of automated workflows. Examples of input avenues in your daily operations may include forms that capture emails, requests, or data from an app or system.
5. Pay attention to all handoffs
In this step, you’ll set up work handoffs from one person to the next. Is it clear who is responsible for a certain task? Consider who, how, and when handoffs occur in a workflow.
6. Create an automation wishlist
Now that you have a better understanding of your workflows, there are probably things you’d like to improve. Jot down all the tasks you’d like to automate or any inefficient tasks that automation could improve.
7. Build the to-be version of the workflow
It’s time to start building. Choose the automation solution of your choice, and create a new version of your workflow. This may take some trial and error to get right, but it will be worth it in the final product.
8. Test the to-be version
Once you have your to-be version ready, make sure to test it. Does the output meet its targets throughout the various steps? Are there instances of bottlenecking, data leaks, or other problems?
9. Train your users
Team members may need time to adjust to workflow automation. Prepare them for working with the new tool. If your team is familiar with automation, brief them on the new optimized workflow.
10. Deploy, monitor, and optimize
Once the workflow is ready, put it into practice. Deploy, monitor, and occasionally optimize your workflow to ensure that it’s productive and efficient.
Workflow automation software
People may refer to automation software as workflow automation software, workflow management systems, or simply workflow systems. Some software can apply to any organization, while others serve specific niche needs. Still, there are some fundamental factors to consider when choosing software.
Look for a platform that provides value-added workflow features like:
- Integration capabilities to increase the range of automation you can implement.
- No-code builders to reduce the amount of IT support needed to implement and maintain the software. This means users will be able to reap the full benefits of automation with little to no programming knowledge.
- Simplicity, which includes a user-friendly UI and no-code solutions.
- Real-time data and centralized dashboards to create reports with ease.
- Visual resource tools that let you easily analyze requests against priorities and balance workload.
- Built-in reporting to examine lags, monitor tasks, and make improvements.
- Mobile capabilities so you can work from any location and any device.
Workflow automation use cases
Workflow automation can benefit a range of industries. However, the following verticals often see the biggest gains by investing in workflow automation.
Time is of the essence in cybersecurity. Workflow automation means faster incident response, which makes the process more efficient. In the case of a cyberattack, automation can automatically trigger alerts and triage incidents, allowing analysts to identify and respond to threats faster. Security playbooks can also be immediately deployed for certain types of incidents.
Finance is all about numbers and budgets, which makes data entry one of this industry’s most time-consuming tasks. Data entry — along with account approval processes, paid time off requests, salary adjustments, and invoicing — is perfect for automation. Workflows can automatically send invoice statements between clients and team members with ease.
Automation can generate staff work schedules and on-call rotations without the need for human input. It can also transfer patients’ electronic health records between providers. This lets healthcare professionals leave the paperwork behind and more promptly attend to patients.
Automation’s ability to quickly process and send data makes it appealing to HR. Automation can simplify timesheet approvals, onboarding, offboarding, and managing personnel changes.
Automation supports IT teams by orchestrating the software development pipeline in an organized manner. Steps like data monitoring, data collection, code testing, and service requests can be easily automated with workflow software.
Marketing teams need to maximize the ROI it gets from their budgets. Fortunately, workflow automation can remove finicky tasks from the marketing team’s to-do list. Automation can handle everything from social media posts to email marketing.
Workflow automation makes it simple to manage employees across multiple departments, such as sales, finance, legal, and administrative teams. Managers are able to see who’s responsible, who’s available, and the current status of tasks.
Sales can quote a higher volume of leads thanks to automation. It can also automate tedious tasks like proposal approvals, quotes, and website interactions. Automation software can even generate task lists for team members once a lead schedules a meeting with a sales rep.
Manage great work at any scale with automated processes
Automation helps businesses work faster, better, and more efficiently. Organizations champion it because it lets employees do more with less.
To make the most of workflow automation, you need the right tools. When you’re ready to simplify workflows and level up, Adobe Workfront can help.
Workfront accelerates campaigns with the power of automation. As your clients’ needs shift, automation can update your plans and assignments with lightning speed and accuracy.
Use intuitive visual resources and powerful automation that let you easily analyze requests against priorities, balance your workloads, and identify the best team members for every job.
Take a product tour or watch the overview video to see if Adobe Workfront is right for you.