What is Workflow Automation: Tools, Benefits, and Steps

No matter what industry you belong to, every company has multiple workflows – a sequence of tasks that requires data to be processed at each stage. In other words, every time data passes from one user and/or system to another, a workflow is created. 

For instance, a company wants to find out how many of its business units are performing below par. Manually calculating this result could take days if not weeks, as employees would need to painstakingly sort through massive volumes of data. On top of that, any additional value delivered by such a report would be greatly reduced by the time and cost expenditures involved. But with a decent data integration tool, the same calculations can be performed within minutes and the results will be in front of the top management within hours.

But automating these tasks requires the company to create a workflow. Workflows streamline data processes making them faster and more efficient thus limiting manual work.  

In this article, you’ll learn what workflow automation is and why it is important for gaining better business insights. Plus, you’ll explore a step-by-step process on how to automate your workflow. In the end, you’ll discover three proven workflow automation tools so that you can choose the one that suits you the most.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go. 

What is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation includes a sequence of programmed activities for the different stages in an enterprise data process. It involves the design, implementation, and automation of practices depending on sequencing rules. 

Basically, users are no longer responsible for manually transferring data from one task to the next. Instead, the company’s workflows are automated to handle this handoff. The system administers the flow of tasks including notifications, cut-off dates, and reminders.

Let’s go back to our previous example and see how an automated workflow would look like.

With a data integration tool, the company can create a workflow to fetch all the relevant data from different sources, apply transformations on it, and then load it into the data warehouse. This would save the data management team from laborious task of manually adding scripts to extract, refine, and load data while avoiding errors. A workflow will automatically check anomalies in the ETL process if data quality checks are in place.

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Benefits of Workflow Automation

The following are some of the key advantages of workflow automation:

  • Time-efficient

Workflow automation allows you to dedicate more time to the actual work instead of wasting time on the supporting processes. 

  • Easy tracking

Workflow automation makes it easier to track data. Unlike a manual workflow, you don’t have to physically update spreadsheets, or communicate back and forth to inquire about the status.

Automation will help you instantaneously see what the dataflow is.

  • Streamlined communication

Workflow automation enhances internal and external communication, reducing churn and improving efficiency. 

By automating the workflow, you’re also automating communication across the organization as top management will be onboard for all types of workflow automation and there will be minimum barriers.

  • Negligible errors

Manual jobs can have errors but that is a very less likely that Workflows will have any errors. Because a workflow is set up once, tested, and then implemented for the whole organization. Errors are removed in the trial process. 

  • Optimizing Technical Resources

Moreover, by automating the workflow, companies can take much work off the plates of their employees. All they have to do is provide little inputs and the workflow automation tool does the rest of the hard work.

Six Steps for Effective Workflow Automation

Now that you know the benefits of workflow automation, we’re sure you’d want to automate your workflows.

Here are the six steps that you must implement:

Step 1: Have an objective

The first step is to have a clear objective of automating your workflow. What is the core objective of creating a workflow? Is it going to improve efficiency? Provide better business insights? 

Focus on your top priority and then create the workflow around it.

Step 2: Bring management on-board

Next, involve your management and take them into confidence by explaining why and how you are planning to automate the workflow. 

This step may involve some level of decision-making such as identifying the process owner who is authorized to make changes to existing workflows. And, you may also want to choose a workflow automation software. So, it’s crucial to seek the input and approval of your management.

Step 3: Diagram the workflow

The next step is to map out the workflow. Figure out whether you’ll need parallel workflows, or if you wish to include specific conditional tasks.

It’s best to keep your workflow as short and succinct as possible to ensure greater success. You can always add tasks afterward if needed. 

Step 4: Gather data

Now, collect data about all your unautomated processes. The best strategy to validate the effectiveness of your workflow automation is to compare it with the manual one. 

Find out the number of people involved and determine how long every task usually takes. You may also want to determine the average length of the entire process.

Step 5: Test the automation

With all necessary data in hand, now is the time to test your workflow automation. 

If possible, seek vendor support to test your workflow automation software. Once your team is ready, implement automation on the actual process and monitor it strictly.

Step 6: Measure KPIs

The last step is to measure your key performance indicators (KPIs) through reports and data analytics to see if automation has made any difference to your pre-existing processes. 

By incessantly monitoring and measuring your workflow automation, you can detect obstacles and recommend areas that need improvement. As a result, your team will get more competent in automating the future workflows.

Best Workflow Automation Tools

Looking for the best workflow automation software for your business? We’ve compiled a list of top three tools to help you get started.

1. Centerprise Astera

Centerprise Astera is a powerful workflow automation tool that has an in-built job scheduler. It lets you easily schedule a multifaceted workflow consisting of several subflows in a code-free environment. 

You can leverage its process organization capabilities to sequence integration and transformation tasks, executing them serially or in parallel on several servers. 

Other integrated workflow features are SQL execution, external program execution, FTP uploads/downloads, and email.

2. Flokzu

Flokzu is a cloud-based business process management tool that offers visual workflows featuring icon-based flow charts. It allows you to outline your business processes with zero knowledge of coding. 

Flokzu supports integration with 700+ existing applications via Zapier and WebServices. You can adapt all workflows to personalized processes based on your team’s particular tasks and requirements. 

It also provides workflow templates if you need ideas to get started and guarantees data security via end-to-end encryption. Plus, there’s a full suite of process statistics, facilitating analysis and process enhancements for your business.

3. ProcessMaker

ProccessMaker is an open source workflow automation platform that makes it easy for you to quickly design and deploy automated workflows. This way, it helps deliver near-perfect digital agility to your business.

This web-based tool allows you to create visual flowcharts, helping you build approval-based workflows. Plus, it offers Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) 2.0 compliant process modeler so that you can easily design, understand, and quickly automate your workflows.

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Conclusion

Automating your business workflows isn’t as frightening or overwhelming as it seems. 

Irrespective of what workflow automation tool you choose, you should only consider automating the repetitive steps of your workflow for superior results. This will give you the flexibility to make any extra alterations at some point if necessary.

Your newly automated workflow shouldn’t be an unnatural system imposed on your present workflow. In fact, it should just improvise the essential areas of your workflow. It shouldn’t necessitate the operators to learn any new coding languages or skills to work with the automated business processes.

Sharjeel Ashraf

Sharjeel loves to write about all things data integration, data management and ETL processes. In his free time, he is on the road or working on some cool project.

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