Micro Focus is now part of OpenText. Learn more >

You are here

You are here

What to consider when implementing automated workflows

Linda Rosencrance Freelance writer/editor
Pink neon light spelling flow with various plants

The workflow automation market is expected to increase to more than $78 billion by 2030. Organizations are increasingly looking to adopt workflow automation to improve productivity, efficiency, communication, and customer experience. But getting started still takes a lot of manual planning.

Workflow automation is the process of automating typically manual tasks and business processes, using a variety of methods—software applications, simple scripts, or even robotics. This can free up employee time for higher-level activities, save money on headcount, and guard against human error.

"By automating these tasks, organizations can improve efficiency and accuracy, while also freeing up employees to focus on more important tasks," said Jim Durham, CIO at Solar Panels Network USA. "For example, [workflow automation] can improve communication by automating email and communication systems. It can also optimize resources by automating tasks, such as scheduling, time tracking, and expense reporting."

Andrew Gonzales, president of BusinessLoans.com, reports that his company's human resources department has found workflow automation particularly useful.

"A lot of the approvals and oversight function better when automations interpret submissions from staff, like a vacation request, and check viability against the work calendar before sending [the request] to an HR rep for yes/no approval," Gonzales said. "Streamlining things like that is pretty straightforward, and HR staff themselves can take the lead on how they want to implement it." 

So how do you implement it?

Getting started

Workflow automation starts with a plan. Usually, that plan starts with a flowchart documenting a process scheduled for automation.

"This visual representation works best for teams to identify and understand the problem more quickly; more detailed specs can be provided as needed," said Jeff Pierce, senior vice president of product engineering at Appfire. "Once the diagram is completed, the different systems involved can be identified to help determine the requirements for the workflow-automation tool." 

At this point, stakeholders should identify the current pain points of that process. From there, they should define KPIs that a workflow-automation solution must be weighed against to successfully solve for these pain points. Once workflow automation has eventually implemented, the company must continuously measure whether these workflows meet these goals.

"All organizations should have dedicated resources and task forces to track the progress, report back ROI data, and closely monitor and adjust the workflow automation deployment strategy," said Stanley Huang, CTO and co-founder at Moxo, a client-interaction solution provider. 

Selection and deployment

After outlining the pain points, business goals, and KPIs, stakeholders will be equipped to start shopping for workflow-automation solutions based on their specific needs. And while price is important, it's not everything. 

"Cheaper is not always better," said Borya Shakhnovich, CEO and co-founder of airSlate, a workflow-automation vendor. "Even with an initially higher price, organizations may pay less because there’s no need to organize special training, outsource to developers, or buy additional tools like PDF editors or electronic signature solutions." 

In addition to considering price, Shakhnovich advised that companies focus on functionality, integrability with current systems, deployment speed, and the skills required to use the solution. For instance, a workflow-management solution may require a certain level of programming skill (low-code) or no coding at all (no-code). Indeed, stakeholders may have to ask developers for help with the design and implementation phase, depending on how technical a workflow-automation solution is.

"Understand that the simpler and more user-friendly automation-platform operating principles are, the faster it should be to deploy," said Shakhnovich.

The human aspect

Easy workflow automation does not mean unattended automation, however. Volodymyr Semenyshyn, president of the EMEA division of IT-services firm SoftServe, warned that an organization must take care to maintain human control.

"The fact that a task has been automated should not mean that no one is looking after it," said Semenyshyn. "Every workflow should have its own owner." 

For instance, enterprises must consider how to strike the right balance of automation and personalization in their business processes. In high-touch industries, where clients require frequent human touchpoints, personalization is critical to maintaining a quality customer experience. As such, it's crucial for businesses to carefully consider how they are leveraging automated workflows to accentuate personalization in touchpoints with clients—rather than to eliminate personalization altogether. 

"To preserve the human aspect of business, it is critical to only streamline the routine processes that can increase efficiency," Huang said. "For more complex, ad hoc requests, it’s important that employees are available to engage—and provide a personalized interaction catered to the specific client." 

Similarly, businesses need to stay flexible to handle unforeseen circumstances. This means building human-override options into their automated workflows. Otherwise, tasks may get "stuck"—held hostage by the need for a button click.

"As soon as you set up some form of automation, you'll find the exception to the rule you've defined," said Peter Robert, CEO and co-founder of IT consulting company Expert Computer Solutions. "Without the ability to manually override the automation, you'll have to create a 'phantom' task that you complete only to push the work item through the flow."

At the same time, said Semenyshyn, one of the main reasons for failure in the implementation of automation is the human aspect. Huang, for his part, emphasizes that training employees on how to properly use automated-workflow tools is critical.

"Then, during the actual implementation, organizations should start with light, low-impact processes while they're learning how workflows work," Huang said. "From there, they can transfer their more critical processes into workflow automation one piece at a time." 

Semenyshyn points out that training won't entirely solve for the change-management problem, however.

"Reluctance, lack of understanding, or fear for one's own job security are usually an effect of poor communication of goals and benefits on the part of managers," said Semenyshyn, "as well as common misconceptions around the entire automation field." 

Therefore, sending a clear message at all levels is absolutely essential. According to Semenyshyn, this clear messaging should include how automation fits into the company’s vision, what each employee's involvement in the implementation of workflows will be, and how individual employees and stakeholders may benefit as well as the company at large.

"None of [the benefits] will matter, however, without effective communication at the very start and good management after implementation," said Semenyshyn. "Without securing that at the start, automation can either fail altogether or not deliver the expected benefits."

Keep learning

Read more articles about: Enterprise ITIT Ops