Digital Workflow Automation
Repetitive, Recurrent, and Redundant – the 3 R’s that bring down the efficiency of business processes. From healthcare to mortgage, and from manufacturing to the travel industry the lesser the time spent on the 3 R’s, the higher the efficiency and productivity.
Take for instance the Mortgage sector, the lesser time load officers spend on inspection and rote paperwork the more time they get to focus on loan processing and client discussions.
Manual processing is not only repetitive but slow and tedious in most scenarios. How does one optimize the business workflow without compromising on the quality of output? Enter “Digital Workflow”.
What is a Digital Workflow?
Simply put, a “digital workflow” is the automation of a company’s external and internal processes for effective workflow management. Digital workflows can be as simple as email communication to a more comprehensive business process automation. Automating a workflow involves triggers to set actions in motion, creating automatic notifications, alerts for expired due dates, and automatic approval workflows.
Digital workflows can also be integrated with other tools for the free flow of information. Workflow automation eliminates the dependency on manual inputs, saves time, and minimizes human errors and bias.
Getting to the Finer Details of Digital Workflow Software
Digital workflow software can vastly improve the efficiency of workflows irrespective of the type or scale of your business. With that said, let us now get into the details of implementing a digital workflow. Digital workflow software enables businesses to manage and track workflows efficiently and effectively.
Running a business smoothly requires effective, easy-to-use tools that map out, assess, and improve your process workflows. Digital workflow software tools do just that, they optimize and cut out the extraneous steps, and accelerate workflow.
Removal of redundant steps from the workflow translates to cost-cutting, which ultimately means higher business revenues. Digital workflows happen only on the computer, there is no paperwork whatsoever. What digital workflows do is build a strong foundation to carry out workflow automation, which is critical for business processes to function smoothly without intervention.
Digital workflows offer limitless possibilities when combined with automation. Automation cuts out redundancy from business processes to ensure process efficiency and accuracy of results. While companies recognize the advantages of digital workflows, the transition from manual to digital process workflow is a challenging proposition.
Here are a few pointers that help businesses in the digital transformation:
Perform a workflow audit: This helps assess the current workflow and identify the pain points. Post this assessment, you will have a fair idea of the complexity involved in digitizing the process/s.
Prioritize the processes: Workflow audit helps in prioritizing business processes that benefit most from digital transition.
Phased Implementation: The prospect of reaping the benefits of digital workflow automation can excite businesses to jump in and try to implement on a mass scale. Ideally, the transition done in a phased manner yields better business outcomes and also enables businesses to take timely corrective action wherever applicable.
Successful adoption of digital workflows requires careful planning, implementation, and maintenance. Digital workflow automation can be as simple or as complex as we make it out to be.
Another common assumption that businesses make is that digitization applies only to high-tech business processes. The truth is that digital workflows can help businesses of all types and sizes to optimize their operations for hassle-free process flows and better business outcomes.
How to Switch to Digital Workflows
While deciding to make the switch to digital workflows, companies have to bear in mind that not all business workflows are suitable for digitization. The nature of business operations determines whether the process is apt for digitization or not. Typically, processes that are repetitive, and labor-intensive are suited for digital transformation. Some other processes may involve complex operations that may not be suitable for automation. That is why it is important to first examine the process in detail to decide whether it is beneficial to go for digital workflow automation or not.
Conduct a workflow analysis –
taking stock of the current process operations is the first and the most important step that helps determine if the process is fit for automation. A workflow audit helps determine the health of the process and the nature of operations. A process map is required for auditing the process. During the process audit, each task in the process is evaluated based on the inputs, operational conditions or requirements, and expected results. While the process is audited, it can be determined whether the current process is producing the expected results, whether there are any bottlenecks that were unnoticed so far, and whether the task can be automated. It is ok to take time to audit the process because this step impacts the digitization decision-making process. The following 3 steps are part of the workflow analysis
1.1) Identifying the pain points – the inputs gathered from the process audit throw light on the pain points, bottlenecks, resource wastage, and technical complexity of the process. Gather a list of workflows that use up resources indiscriminately and delay the process. Most likely, such processes are prime candidates for automation.
For example: approval-based workflows are usually delayed due to dependency on manual approvals. Automating these processes/tasks result in immediate and significant improvement in process efficiency and speed.
1.2) Evaluate technical complexity – considering only the bottlenecks (pain points) of the process for deciding on digitization would be a biased move. You also must evaluate the technical complexity of the process in order to arrive at the right decision. The technical complexity of the process determines the time and resources that are required to build a digital workflow. Companies that have decided to digitize their process workflows should start with processes that are less complex for a smooth transition. Some examples of simple processes fit for automation include repetitive processes like data entry, tasks that involve numbers and calculations, tasks that require review and approval, and tasks that drag resources into the quagmire of redundant tasks.
1.3) Evaluate process priorities – sometimes the order in which tasks are executed may not be the optimal order. Re-organizing the tasks in the process may improve the outcomes. Also, establishing priority among processes for digitization is also important. Assign priority of digitization based on – which processes would benefit most from prioritization; whether digitization would deliver immediate results, and what time and cost savings that digitization would lead to.
Create a road map –
once a workflow has been identified for digitization, the next step is to plan how to go about the transition. While creating the roadmap, it is not enough to consider the tasks alone, but also the resources involved in each task. For creating the process roadmap, follow the below steps.
2.1) Use a workflow map – a workflow map or a flow chart is a visual representation of specific tasks within the process. Creating a detailed workflow map helps you spot problems within the workflow and ensure that all the stakeholders are on the same page about the work. A workflow map enables accurate digital workflow definition. Using smart visual workflow automation software helps you create effective process workflows. A good workflow map helps you design or choose a digital workflow software that will ease out the pain points identified in the process analysis step and identify the tasks perfect for automation.
2.2) Communicate with the team – once the workflow map is created, the roles and responsibilities for each step in the workflow are also clear. The current process has stakeholders assigned to each step in the process. It is important to talk with each stakeholder to see if anything is missing or mismatched between the assigned roles and responsibilities. Providing absolute clarity to the stakeholders on the intention and manner of digital transition is important for a successful transition.
2.3) Research use cases – Research on use cases of digital transitions that have been undertaken within the organization and outside is a good idea. You can learn from these examples and come up with the right path to digitizing the process. There could be several companies that have had similar issues with their processes and have executed digital transitions successfully. The challenges they underwent and methods adopted to overcome them could be very useful in building your digital transition plan.
Designing and deploying –
after all the research on the digital solution to your process, you should be having a fair idea of how you want the solution to look like and what needs to be achieved.
3.1) Choosing the workflow software- While choosing the digital workflow solutions consider the following points.
* Is technical expertise required to understand and operate the software?
* Is it designed exclusively for workflow automation or are there additional features?
* Does it offer solutions for multiple business areas?
* Can the solution scale up to future business needs?
3.2) Set performance evaluation criteria – what can be measured can be improved. The main reason why we go for digitization is to improve process outcomes. In addition to improving process outcomes, you should set specific KPIs you would use to track the new digital workflow process performance. Defining these KPIs clearly helps measure the right metrics and convey these metrics to the team. Some of the popular KPIs are cost savings, productivity levels, and data accuracy.
3.3) Run a beta test – even before you officially roll out the digital workflow solution, try it out on a smaller group/scale. Gather feedback on the performance of the beta test and fine-tune the final rollout of the solution based on the feedback.
3.4) Final rollout – the final version of the solution should include all the corrections identified during the beta test run. Once the digital workflow software is rolled out, it is important to communicate the changes to the team and run workshops or training sessions to help the team ease into the new process.
Evaluation of roll-out –
the digitization journey only begins with the first process automation. Based on the success of process digitization, you might want to digitize other processes as well. The learning derived from the first process of digitization must be applied to subsequent digitizations. Analyze the KPIs to understand what worked and what didn’t, what could be changed, what could be improved, and whether the objective was achieved. Repeating the automation for other processes can be done by evaluating the first rollout.
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Value Addition of Digital Workflows
We have covered the efficiency part of implementing digital workflows in the preceding sections. Let us now delve into the key benefits of digital workflow automation:
Eliminating the scope for human error: Automating business processes reduces human intervention to a negligible fraction. The more people are involved in the business process, the more the margin of error and inconsistency. Digital workflows eliminate these issues.
Save time and costs – centralizing all tasks into a single place allows the team to have more time to focus on other high-value tasks. Saving time by automating repetitive steps also saves the costs associated with these steps.
Cutting out redundancy: Digital workflows cut off extraneous and redundant processes to ensure an optimized workflow. As a result, work gets done faster and more efficiently.
Promotes transparency – a digital workflow process provides transparency and visibility into the status of each task in the workflow. The updates on due dates, priorities, and request status are readily available to the entire team. Moreover, digitization improves accountability among team members, as roles and responsibilities are clearly assigned to team members. Automated workflows are not just fast, but more transparent and accountable.
Record of results – digital workflow tools provide a complete record of all the team’s activities at all times. The software also allows team members to report results, store important data, and streamline audits.
Enable data-based decisions – digital workflow automation enables accurate and updated documentation of user data and performance reports. This data is readily available for the management to make decisions on performance.
Reducing the carbon footprint: There is minimal or zero paperwork involved in digital workflows. Online form submissions, online inventory management, and online feedback forms are some of the ways digital workflow automation cuts down on the carbon footprint of the business.
The Flip Side of Digital Automation
The benefits of digital transformation have been discussed already. Being the Devil’s advocate here – is this seemingly efficient transition devoid of any drawbacks? Here are some of the drawbacks of digital workflow automation.
Initial investment –
becoming a fully digitized company may require huge investments in the long run. The initial costs of setting up a fully digital process are the main reason companies might reconsider the digitization move. Companies need to focus on the return on investment from the digital workflow solution before taking the plunge.
Reliant on technology –
once the transition to digital workflow is complete, the process is completely dependent on technology. Technical glitches or outages in the software hampers the performance of the process, which in turn affects the overall business productivity. Moreover, the team members may feel underutilized as some of their work activities are automated. This affects overall employee morale. Some employees may also feel intimidated by technology replacing them at work.
Training costs –
as with any organizational change, digital transformation too requires a good amount of training to be organized for the employees. For automation software that involves technical aspects, extended training needs to be given to employees. Any upgrade to the software will also require training down the line.
Employee morale –
the initial enthusiasm that employees have when the automation software is introduced slowly turns into apprehension about being replaced. Automating certain tasks in the business process increases fear in the employee’s minds that they might lose their jobs. Moreover, employees might feel intimidated by the technical skills for working on the software. Uncertainty in learning the skills required to work on the software is always there in the minds of employees.
Use Cases of Digital Workflow Automation
There are several business workflows that can be automated for better speed and efficiency. The use cases for digital workflow automation are potentially unlimited. Let us consider some of the digital workflow examples.
Employee Onboarding – a smooth onboarding process is the best way to impress the new hire. Every step of the employee onboarding process is important, starting with the initial intake of the employee. The onboarding process must be seamless and compliant with the organizational and legal requirements. Typically, this process requires a great deal of back-and-forth between stakeholders, approvals, and notifications. After joining the organization, the new hire goes through standard background checks. Normally, background verification is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Digital onboarding simplifies and accelerates the background verification and approval process in employee onboarding. Depending on the result of the background checks, the approval notification is automatically sent to the hiring manager.
Client onboarding – similar to new employee onboarding, new client employee onboarding is important for the brand. A seamless client onboarding process elevates the customer experience and lifetime customer value. Traditional paper-based onboarding involves a representative meeting with a client, gathering information, passing information to the next party for review, and following up with the client. In a digital workflow, the client can input information into a customized digital form. The information is automatically routed to the designated party for review. The information is reviewed and approved/rejected based on the correctness and authenticity of the information. Once approved, the welcome package is automatically sent to the client. Automating client onboarding has eliminated several steps and freed employees to focus on high-value tasks.
Capex Requests – improper tracking and evaluation of capital expenditure requests lead to the failure of businesses. Workflow automation plays a pivotal role in the early stages of the CapEx process by providing a consistent, compliant, and measurable method for tracking and managing CapEx requests. The process starts with an employee completing a form designed to capture all the necessary data points to initiate a capital expenditure request. The submitted request is routed through a basic business rule based on the size of the request. The Finance approver will be assigned depending on the business rule. The requestor is automatically notified once the request is approved or rejected.
Contract Approvals – approval of duplicate or erroneous contracts could be a nightmare for a business. Long-term contracts that are improperly approved remain a nightmare for years. Building digital workflows for vetting contracts according to organizational business rules saves organizations from legal and financial issues. Automated contract approval workflows first route the contract to the department head. Once the department head reviews and approves the contract it is sent to Finance for review. If the contract is within the budget and acceptable, the Finance department sends it to the Legal department for review and approval. Once the Legal department approves the contract, the original contract is stored in the Contract Database in PDF format. The contract approval process ends with this step.
Support Requests – IT support requests are common in most organizations. IT support systems are required in large organizations for resolving IT support issues. Managing these requests efficiently is important for establishing strong customer relationships and customer engagement. Digital workflow management is the backbone of IT request management systems. Advanced rules can automatically route requests based on the type, severity, department, etc. Users can also track IT requests and managers can report on the performance.
Marketing Collateral Requests – irrespective of whether you are handling a handful of marketing collateral requests or running a brand management portal for clients, having an automated process for handling marketing collateral requests is very helpful for the business. Automated request management systems are a one-stop solution for providing sales, channel management, and field marketing employees. The marketing team is equipped with a digital solution for managing marketing content that gives a consistent, automated, and auditable process.
Complaint Management – complaint management is one of the most challenging processes that an organization handles on a daily basis. There are several important steps in complaint management, starting from capturing information to closing the loop with customers. The other steps are: alerting stakeholders, assessing the situation, involving quality assurance, investigating root causes, taking corrective action, handling refunds, and managing sign-offs and approvals. Automating the intake, routing, assignment, and tracking of complaint-generated activities contribute to improving customer satisfaction. Whether you are a global pharmaceutical company or a healthcare provider trying to improve patient outcomes, you need a consistent, automated, auditable customer complaint management system.
Employee Offboarding – the employee offboarding process needs to focus on safety, security, and compliance. Employee offboarding is a systematic way for organizations to manage the departure of an employee. A consistent employee offboarding process reduces the risk to the organization. Handling such an important process when done using loose manual processes like emails or phone calls or private conversations can put the organization at great risk. Some of the risks associated with improperly managed employee onboarding are ex-employees having access to critical business systems and information; improper termination and legal hassles; ex-employees possessing the company’s assets, and improper knowledge transfer. Automating the employee offboarding process plugs the loopholes in the process and ensures safe, secure, and compliant offboarding.
System access requests – employees sending system access requests via email, phone, and other channels create chaos and risk. IT support systems need to manually evaluate and forward the requests to the correct group, and also deal with the administrative hassle of follow-ups and check-ins. When system access request management is manually managed, the IT team must deal with the fact that each location and department has a unique set of services, and It requests. An automated system access request management solution enables users to submit requests via web browser. The system routes the request automatically to the proper approval channel. Digital system access workflows can be used by IT teams to audit all the activities related to current and past access requests and see the entire trail of the request.
Candidate screening – screening hundreds of candidate profiles for job requirements is a tedious process for the recruitment team. Manual candidate screening processes are not only time-consuming but are not effective in screening candidates. Automating this process accelerates candidate selection and ensures that the right profile is chosen for the job requirement. Pre-employment skill assessment software is used for automating the candidate screening process. These skill assessments can be customized according to the requirements of the role. These tests combine technical evaluations with soft skill evaluations for a holistic hiring process. Using pre-employment skill assessments saves time and effort in candidate screening. The hiring team is freed from tedious screening work so that they can focus on more important aspects of hiring.
Choosing the Right Digital Workflow Software
The decision to digitize your business workflow is only half the battle won, the actual success depends on the choice of workflow software. Here are a few tips to help you choose the best fit for your business:
* Does the software have an intuitive user interface?
* What are the control features for security?
* Does it provide tracking and reporting features?
* Is there flexibility to customize according to your business?
* Are the payment plans flexible?
Run the potential digital workflow solutions by these questions before you make a decision. One of the digital workflow automation solutions that provide all the above features is Cflow.
Cflow is cloud-based workflow software that helps you automate your business processes quickly and efficiently. It provides you with tools to identify process bottlenecks, improve productivity, and optimize business operations.
At Cflow we believe in leveraging technology for better business outcomes. To see how quickly and efficiently you can automate your workflow, request a demo today.
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