Steps to Automate Workflows the Right Way

As the pace of technology barrels full speed ahead, businesses need to do everything they can to make sure that their processes are efficient, results-driven and affordable. Departments are expected to perform tasks faster and with fewer errors. This is driving many organizations to focus on automating workflows. Workflow is the process, or series of steps, that one must go through in order to complete a task. Workflow automation replaces some, or all of the manual steps involved in performing that task, with machine driven decisioning so employees can shift their focus to more important initiatives.

Workflow automation can help to:

  • Boost productivity by eliminating repetition
  • Boost quality and consistency of work through standardization of procedures
  • Allow for greater flexibility, resulting in higher worker and customer satisfaction
  • Reduce paper clutter and costs

A study conducted last year by Forrester, found that workflow automation yielded an ROI of 176% over just three years. So what’s the best way to go about introducing automated workflow to your business processes?

1. Go Paperless

You don’t have to aim for 100% automation right away. In fact, the first step toward automation doesn’t actually involve automating any part of your workflow processes. Trying to implement a program of full, or even partial automation, all at once can bring workflow to a grinding halt as employees struggle to learn the new system. It can also cause you to overspend on automating processes that are best left alone.

Taking a slow, incremental approach to workflow automation will save you time and money in the long run. Your first step should be to simply go paperless. I say ‘simply’ but the process is certainly not simple. Transferring every step of your paper workflow into the digital sphere can be a time consuming process. But you’ll find that going paperless on its own will help to boost efficiency and productivity while eliminating paper waste and costs. It’s a great way to ease your company into automation with limited shock to the system.

2. Identify Redundancies

Workflow automation begins with understanding the nature of the underlying workflow process. So once you’ve digitized all of your original workflow processes, your next step is to continue work as usual, following the same steps you did before, just digitally rather than manually. At this point the decisions on where to send what documents are still made by your users. You should do this for at least a few months (3-6), paying close attention to the process as you go along. You should spend this time monitoring and analyzing your procedures. Whether it’s the way in which your accounts payable department processes invoices, or the steps your human resources department goes through when processing a new hire, you should ask your users to identify repetitive processes and make note of areas that could be streamlined and steps that can be eliminated altogether. It sometimes helps to plot out each step on a flowchart to give you a clear visual representation of the process.

3. Keep Measuring

After you’ve monitored your process over time, you can then begin to eliminate problem areas or duplications in your processes, slowly automate steps in your workflow and train your team on the new process. However, even though you will immediately begin to notice major improvements in the productivity and efficiency of your entire operation, that doesn’t mean there won’t still be room for improvement. Keep an eye on your key performance indicators to make sure you are getting the most out of the new system. Continuous measurement and monitoring of your automated workflow will help identify kinks and bottlenecks in the system. Be sure that your team is aware that you are looking for these problems and provide an easy feedback mechanism to capture ideas about possible ways to improve the process going forward. This feedback mechanism can even be an optional part of the workflow!Of course each business is unique and all have different needs when it comes to managing and improving workflow, so there is no one-size fits all solution. The key is to be intentional about it from the beginning. Be careful about examining your process beforehand, and have a detailed plan in place before you begin implementation. This will help cut down on unnecessary spending and prevent further headaches down the road.

Let Harvest Technology Group Show You the Way

Harvest Technology Group is the recognized leader in technology consulting, and we can help your business build your workflow automation processes from the ground up. Contact us today to learn more.