As enterprises take long strides into the era of digital transformation, workflow automation takes them closer to the idea of a fully digital enterprise.
IT leaders wish they could wield a magic wand and transform their enterprises by enhancing efficiency, boosting productivity, augmenting customer experience and increasing enterprise-wide process visibility and accountability. Wishful thinking, some may say. Not quite.
Today, workflow automation has emerged as a practical solution that can deliver on this long-cherished wish list. As enterprises take long strides into the era of digital transformation, workflow automation takes them closer to the idea of a fully digital enterprise.
So, let’s take a long and hard look at workflow automation and understand its implications and applications within the enterprise environment.
What is Workflow Automation?
First off, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts and understand what a workflow means. A workflow is a series of orchestrated and repetitive patterns of activities that process information or produce an output or an outcome. Workflows can be intradepartmental (running a branding campaign within the marketing department). It can also span across departments such as raising purchase orders.
Since workflows are based on a series of logical steps, it can be automated. That’s where workflow automation comes in.
Simply stated, workflow automation is the application of technologies such as task automation, robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data science, etc. to business processes that are repetitive and labour-intensive. It facilitates the execution of activities through pre-defined, rule-based, automated workflows and reduction of manual steps which are time-taking, error-prone, and expensive.
For example, consider an order fulfilment process which starts from a customer placing an order, making payment, inventory check, packaging, to delivery of the order. With RPA bots, you can automate the manual and repetitive tasks in this process such as inventory check, sending the order for packaging, assigning delivery person. This process can be further augmented with AI and ML which can resolve payment disputes, process refunds, optimize delivery schedules, etc.
These technologies not only help businesses automate their mission critical processes but also help enforce compliance requirements, keep business data clean, verified and complete, uncover deep insights, and identify consumer patterns. When implemented successfully, workflow automation helps take the load off your resources, giving them time to focus on what matters – business growth.
What is the difference between workflow automation, process automation, and robotic process automation?
Workflow automation and robotic process automation are two complementary tools which address different aspects of process automation.
Workflow automation practices have been around for many years now. It refers, as we learned above, to the application of technologies to processes or workflows in a business such as checking credit and approving home loans. Thus, it is used to optimize and automate the flow of tasks in a process. This is also why workflow automation is used interchangeably with process automation sometimes. However, process automation (also known as business process automation) projects are larger in scope compared to workflow automation, in the sense that a business process might contain multiple workflows.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is an emerging technology that is applied to automate task activities in a workflow. In the above example of loan approval, the task of credit check can be automated with RPA.
Benefits of workflow automation
It helps companies achieve more consistent results by streamlining processes and identifying other areas that can be automated to augment efficiency. Workflow automation reduces the errors in the execution of processes, allowing businesses to create superior quality products with fewer increases in costs and time. It can help in implementing business processes that have the long-term potential to increase revenue with fewer expenses.
Workflow Automation raises process visibility and accountability by several notches. It provides a better picture of the different tasks and makes it easier to identify areas for improvement and increases overall productivity.
Importance of workflow automation
Enterprises are beginning to realize that business processes workflows should be automated whenever possible. They know fully well that workflow management tools and practices can yield benefits on multiple fronts, by enhancing process efficiency. The productivity gain from process automation can help businesses realize significant savings and allow its employees time to pursue more critical value-enhancing tasks. With workflow mapping, business processes become more transparent, giving an organization a top-down view of its workflows. This resulting visibility into the workflows improves communication across various functional areas.
And the efficiencies are not just restricted within the boundaries of your enterprise. Workflow automation has substantial benefits on the customer service front as well. Automating responses to customer complaints improves response time and results in the effective resolution of a query. This, in turn, augments customer experience.
Automated workflow solutions also have the potential to increase customer engagement. By using automation, organizations can respond quickly to their customers.
In the long term, process automation provides a big impetus to an organization’s digital transformation efforts. Implementing technologies like workflow automation, business process automation, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning helps organizations digitalize their businesses and gain operational efficiencies, paving the way for true digital transformation.