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Workflow Automation

What is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation

By Greg Belkin, Senior Director, Product Marketing

Workflow automation might sound a bit complicated. In many cases, it can be complicated to implement. Don’t fret. The basic idea is simple. Workflow automation is the design, implementation and automation of common processes using pre-defined rules so that tasks, files and data are shared between systems and people.

Throughout your organization, there are lots of tasks, documents, and information that need to connect in order to keep the business running. You could have people do that work, or you could automate it with technology. That’s workflow automation: The process of automating all those tasks, documents, and data to eliminate tedious manual labor.

Long story short, workflow automation means less work, fewer inaccuracies, and more time to focus on what’s important.

Understanding the Basics: Automated Workflows

To keep things happening the way they’re supposed to happen, you have to set up a series of rules and logical statements. These if-then statements instruct the programs what actions to take, how and where to move information, and the proper series of tasks to accomplish from start to finish.

Workflow automation can take one of two forms: dynamic or static. A dynamic workflow changes depending on the context, determining which step is the best one to take. For instance, a dynamic workflow might allow your team to follow-up on leads by sifting through customer questions on your website before adding relevant information to your CRM system and sending the lead to your sales team. In contrast, a static workflow never changes its steps, even if there are other contextual differences around it. Invoice generation is a great example of static workflows as it simply allows your accounts receivable team to automatically create and send invoices on a predetermined schedule.

The main value of workflow automation is efficiency, but other benefits include reducing errors from manual intervention, accelerating processes, and freeing people to focus on other work. Not only does this improve productivity overall, but it lets workers bring more value to more complex tasks that require human insight.

It’s kind of like having a computer program playing the basic beat and background music, while human musicians play the main melody and the more difficult instruments—all while being free to improvise.

Co-workers collaborating through integrated applications - What is Workflow Automation? Workflow Automation Part 1 - Blog

Creating a Workflow Automation Strategy

So, where do you start and how do you do it? With several types of automation available to address an array of workflow tasks, determining a workflow automation strategy is paramount to your success. The first thing to do is think about which processes are a priority for automation and which engines are best equipped for your needs. There are a couple main options, and they can even be used in tandem: a workflow engine and a business rules engine.

A workflow engine helps users automate their workflows. It often has an interface that any individual can use to set up a series of tasks that they want to automate. It may even have pre-built templates to expedite that process and minimize manual labor.

A business rules engine (BRE) operates based on a set of rules. It can either execute a task when a certain set of criteria are met, or it can prevent a task from happening when one or more conditions are present. These rules must be established at the beginning, but they can also be adapted to change the way the automated workflow behaves.

Replacing Manual Tasks with Digital Workflows

Increasingly, workflow automation tools use artificial intelligence to handle tasks and make decisions, further reducing the need for manual intervention.
There’s also the question of what to automate. Usually, you’ll want to focus on workflows that fall into one or more of these buckets:

  • Tasks that are repetitive
  • Tasks that could be vulnerable to human error
  • Tasks that have a series of actions that could be more efficient

Any workflow that is categorically redundant, time-consuming, or susceptible to human error is ripe for automation. But before you dive in, be sure that you have a good design for the process and clear business goals for the automation. Otherwise, you may do a lot of work without a clear benefit in the end. With KPIs in place, you’ll ensure that your automation delivers value, not just automation for the sake of automation.

Office workers leveraging hyperautomated workflows - What is Workflow Automation? Workflow Automation Part 1 - Blog

Workflow Hyperautomation

Want to go even further than workflow automation? At the risk of trying to run before you walk, there’s also hyperautomation, which Gartner recognized as a Top Strategic Technology Trend for 2022. It’s not different from workflow automation. It’s a coordinated use of it, combining the basics of workflow automation with other technologies or software such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, integration platform as a service, and other tools to add a level of sophistication to different workflows.

Essentially, it’s taking as much advantage of automation as possible. To successfully achieve hyperautomation, you need an overarching strategy, the right tools and technology, and a clear plan for ensuring that everyone knows how to use the automation. No, it’s not as simple as automating a workflow that sends out a series of emails to anyone who signs up for your newsletter.

But it could yield far greater efficiencies and opportunities. For example, you could fully automate the way that you market to website leads. A hyperautomated workflow can capture IP address data from web visitors, feed it to an outreach platform, identify relevant individuals, display ads to those people, and even send a series of marketing emails to them. All with minimal manual effort.

Instead of just having one or two instruments in your band, you have an entire orchestra that can play the beautiful tunes that automation can deliver. In other words, it’s how you can really rock your workflow.

Want to know more about workflow automation and how it helps workers? Read part two of our blog series here.

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