The Current State of Workflow
Every company has their procedures and methods for handling day-to-day operations such as invoicing, timesheets, new account setup, status reports, and everything else that makes their business tick. The term "Workflow" refers to the tasks, procedural steps, personnel, required information, and tools needed for each step in a business process.
Every company's processes are unique. Growing companies often end up with a mishmash of paper forms, email templates, spreadsheets, shared documents, and tribal knowledge necessary to handle day-to-day business. Most of the time this disorganization results in problems such as lost paperwork, missed deadlines, missing or incorrect information, and long completion times. This is what is often called "Red Tape". In the end, red tape hurts the customer, and then your bottom line suffers.
So What Exactly is Workflow Automation?
Workflow Automation is a relatively new type of software. It's a combination to-do list and project management tool, but on a different scale than either.
Think of a simple to-do list. Now imagine that the to-do list is available on a company network. This to-do list can independently track the items for everyone in the entire company. Next, give the list enough smarts to automatically generate appropriate to-do tasks as others are completed. Now, let the system pass the documents and data associated with each task throughout the process. Finally, throw in some neat features like visual status tracking, due date monitoring, business rules, and email and database capabilities and you'll start to see how Workflow Automation works.
Mini-Project Management for Processes
Another way to look at Workflow Management is from the perspective of Project Management. You might use full scale Project Management software for large, one-off projects such as constructing a building, or a new product launch.
But what about the small, everyday processes a company does in an office environment? Many of these tasks require team collaboration, specific task sequences, and time-sensitive deadlines. For workflows like merchandise returns, processing new customers, or expense reports, a company might have hundreds, or even thousands of these processes going on at the same time. These are exactly the situations where workflow automation excels.
Workflow Automation is like mini-project management for your daily office processes. It can track many individual occurrences of a process, with each at a different stage. Each occurrence has its own data, timeline, and history.
How Can Workflow Be Automated?
Well, first, there's the old way. It involves bringing in a team of software developers, creating a database schema, designing numerous graphical user interfaces and web pages, and writing tons of computer code. By the time everything is completed and tested, a company has invested tens of thousands of dollars and nearly a year into that one automated workflow. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this method, most companies can only afford to automate their costliest processes in order to see a return on their investment.
But, what if a workflow could be automated in a way that doesn't mean expensive software development? This is where Workflow Automation Software can bring the costs of automation to a level that's cost effective for just about any sized company to automate nearly all of their processes. Workflow Automation Software takes care of business rules and calculations, database access, security, and form generation needed for workflows. All that's left is defining the workflow, which is usually done by a Business Manager using a fast and easy diagramming tool. Using Workflow Automation Software to automate a process can save between 25% - 95% of the costs and time associated with custom software development.
How About an Example?
A major U.S. brewery had decided to automate its software requisition and purchasing process. The process was straightforward enough:
- First employees would request software for their PCs.
- Then, they had their supervisor and IT manager approve the purchase.
- Finally, someone from PC Support had to install the software once it was received.
After two months of custom development, the project was already behind schedule and was tying up two developers who were needed elsewhere.
The company began looking at Workflow Automation Software as an alternative. The same requisition process that had previously required two months of two full time software engineers to give up on been diagrammed in about four hours by the one person most familiar with the process. With a couple days of testing and training, a working solution was deployed company-wide that not only met the original needs, but also included some additional query and reporting tools. Another unanticipated feature was that the Business Manager could make changes to the workflow or business rules without a single minute of software development.
Using Workflow Automation pays off big in two ways. First, a company can save time and money with computerized and streamlined workflows. Second, Workflow Automation Software allows a company to automate its processes at a small fraction of the time and cost of custom application development.