All businesses of any type involve at least one administrative process: data entry, manual approval, routing information, scanning documents, etc.

These manual, repetitive tasks often cause two major issues: first, they take valuable time from employees that could be used to accomplish other tasks that will contribute more to the organization’s overall goal. It’s often administrative tasks that require employees to perform outside their core competencies, so an organization is essentially wasting time and resources in executing these tasks.

The second is that repetitively executing menial, tedious tasks are prone to human errors, and even simple administrative errors can have massive negative impacts when not managed well. 

So, how can we streamline these administrative and repetitive tasks while ensuring accuracy in execution?

The answer is workflow automation.

In this guide, we’ll discuss all you need to know about workflow automation: the concept, how it benefits your business, and especially how to implement them. 

What Is Workflow Automation?

As the name suggests, workflow automation is the process of using workflow automation software and other digital tools to automate workflows that otherwise must be executed manually. 

We can define a workflow as a set of tasks or actions, typically sequential, that will achieve a purpose and result when accomplished. 

There are two critical ideas behind automating a workflow: 

  1. Today’s software, especially with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), can execute simple tasks much faster than human users. While it can take hours for an average data entry admin to input 1,000 fields of data, it can be finished in just a matter of seconds with the right software. 
  2. Software programs are consistent and accurate, so we can reduce or even eliminate the likelihood of human errors by automating the workflow. 

A typical implementation of workflow automation is document approvals like reimbursement form approvals, purchase order approvals, and more. Typically, this type of workflow follows a predictable and repeatable set of steps: a reviewer manually reviews the document against a set of criteria and either approves or rejects the document. 

Automating these predictable steps can streamline this entire workflow while avoiding human errors like sending the form to the wrong person or calculation errors.

How To Automate a Workflow: Step-by-Step

Automating a workflow might seem like a complex and challenging task, but by following these steps, you’ll find out that it’s much simpler than it looks. 

Step 1: Identify your purpose

What’s the purpose of automating the workflow in the first place? Ensuring efficiency? Increasing output? Reducing errors?

Each workflow is unique, and to ensure successful implementation of workflow automation, we have to identify what objectives we are looking to accomplish. Doing so will also help justify the investments that may be needed in implementing the workflow automation to secure buy-in from stakeholders. 

Step 2: Identify the workflow to automate

If your business only involves one workflow, then this will be a straightforward process. 

However, most businesses have more than one workflow, so it’s crucial to identify a workflow you’re going to automate.

First, not all workflows can or should be automated, and you should consider: 

  • Whether it’s possible to automate the workflow (whether there’s the technology capable of automating the workflow) 
  • Whether it’s financially feasible to automate the workflow (i.e., whether the benefits you’ll get from automating the workflow justify the investments required)

Next, you can use one or more of the following approaches to choose a workflow to automate:

  1. Strategic: picking a workflow that has a considerable impact on the business (i.e., has a direct impact on revenue)
  2. Reactive: picking a workflow with obvious issues to fix them (i.e., repetitive and inefficient approval process) 
  3. Customer-centric: picking a workflow with a direct impact on customer experience (i.e., shortening queue time)

Step 3: Gather information

Once you’ve identified a workflow to automate, the next step is to gather as much information as possible about the workflow. Observe how the workflow is currently executed, and get feedback from stakeholders involved in the workflow. The information you should gather include: 

  • The start and endpoints of the workflow
  • The list of tasks required to accomplish the workflow
  • Information needed to achieve each step/task 
  • If the workflow involves decisions, what information is necessary to make these decisions?

The more information you can gather, the better the workflow automation will be. 

Step 4: Choose your technology solution

Different workflows may require other technologies to automate them, so the next important step is choosing the right technology solution to automate your desired workflow effectively.  

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, here are some key features you should look for when choosing a workflow automation software solution: 

  • Drag-and-drop workflow diagram builder (no coding required)
  • Easy to use (preferably drag and drop) form and visual rule builder
  • Automatic notifications and reminders
  • Mobile-friendly and easy-to-use interface
  • Analytics and reports
  • Integration with your other solutions

Step 5: Mapping your workflow

Most workflow automation software solutions will automate your workflow by using a flowchart-based workflow diagram.

With Aproove’s workflow automation solution, you can easily map a workflow diagram and customize each workflow step to fine-tune the automation. You can, for example, add conditional rules into your workflow to automate decisions.

The main concern of this step is accuracy: make sure the diagram is as accurate as possible based on how the workflow is currently executed. 

Step 6: Evaluate the automated workflow

Thoroughly test the automated workflow before launching it. Involve the workflow’s original stakeholders to evaluate how the automation performs, whether the workflow is more efficient than before the automation, or if it’s the other way around. 

It’s crucial to make sure the workflow is already as efficient as possible before you automate it. Automating inefficient workflows will only amplify their inefficiencies so that they will be counterproductive. 

Analyze your workflows for inefficiencies and bottlenecks, and reoptimize your workflow as needed. 

Conclusion

In today’s fast-paced business environment that demands agility, workflow automation is more important than ever. 

By automating your workflows, you can free up your employees’ time from performing repetitive administrative tasks. At the same time, improve the accuracy of the workflow execution by reducing human errors. In the long run, workflow automation will increase your business’s operational efficiency and productivity.