Emilia Dunaj
Emilia Dunaj
Head of Technology Insights
November 2023, 18 min. read

Customers are increasingly expecting quick services and perfection at every point. Businesses that recognize automation as a multiplier of efficiency, accuracy, collaboration, and growth perform at a higher level and meet the market’s evolving needs. In response to these demands, workflow automation plays a major role. This technology streamlines workflow processes for better productivity, meeting the need for both rapid service and high-quality outcomes.

This comprehensive guide will equip you with the insights and methods needed to put in place and optimize workflow automation within your organization. So, keep reading if you recognize that workflow automation is what your business needs. 

What are the core concepts and benefits of workflow automation?

But what is workflow automation? In short, workflow automation is a technology that streamlines business processes. It optimizes tasks, documents, and information flow in work activities. The processes function independently while adhering to established business rules.

Without automation, employees dedicate almost 60% of their day to ‘work about work.’ This includes searching for information, communicating about tasks, switching between apps, handling changing priorities, and seeking status updates. 

Process automation tools help to reduce ‘work about work’ time

Workflow automation can significantly reduce this figure. It replaces manual tasks with automated sequences that perform functions more efficiently and accurately. As a result, businesses gain from improved efficiency, reduced manual errors, cost savings, and increased productivity. 

The transition from legacy to automated workflows is a move aligned with the demands of modern business. In Microsoft’s 2022 survey, over 66% of executives said that improving employees’ digital experience directly improves the customer experience. 

Legacy workflows are traditional, manual processes often riddled with inefficiencies, delays, and errors. Automated workflows use software and technology to replace human intervention in a process. Investing in automation makes processes more efficient, faster, and accurate.

Let’s assume your company uses manual processes to manage customer orders. This usually involves an employee entering order details into a spreadsheet. In the next phase, they manually check with the inventory department to confirm availability. Further in the process, someone else creates an invoice using spreadsheet data.

Manual purchase order process without workflow automation

All these business processes are error-prone due to mistakes in data entry or communication. While errors can lead to incorrect orders or delays, the manual effort required at each step slows down the entire process. Additionally, it isn’t easy to provide real-time updates to customers. And the limited scalability makes it hard to manage a large volume of orders simultaneously.

But, if the company decided to use workflow automation, the system would automate these tasks. With automation in place, customers can place orders through an online portal. The order details will be automatically entered into the system. The software instantly checks inventory, confirms availability, generates an invoice, and sends it to the customer. Also, employees and customers can check real-time order status updates at any point.

automated workflows with software tools

Automated workflows vs traditional spreadsheets

Traditional spreadsheets and automated workflows serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. Here’s a comparison:

AttributeTraditional SpreadsheetsAutomated Workflows
EfficiencyTime-consumingHighly efficient
CollaborationLimited collaborationEnables real-time collaboration
Error ProbabilityProne to human errorsLow error rate
ScalabilityDifficult to scaleEasily scalable
Integration with Other SystemsOften lacks integrationSeamless integration

The limitations of spreadsheets are obvious. The inability to handle complex processes, difficulty in maintaining data integrity, and lack of real-time collaboration are the main problems that stand out.

Workflow automation brings advantages to organizations of all sizes. But, it’s the large enterprises that often reap the most substantial rewards. By relying heavily on custom workflow management, these organizations can simplify operations, enhance collaboration, and maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly complex business landscape.

How to recognize the business processes that need workflow automation?

The transformation towards workflow automation solution is a strategic initiative, and not all processes within an organization are equally suited for automation. Recognizing the areas that need automation is the first step in leveraging its benefits. 

Here’s how to identify those crucial areas:

  • Repetitive tasks. If a task frequently requires the same, repeatable set of actions, it’s a prime candidate for automation. Dull and routine tasks can significantly drain employee productivity. Automation can handle these low-value activities without losing essential human insights.
  • Time-consuming tasks. Processes that consume excessive time and can benefit from streamlining through automation belong to this category. If a job consumes disproportionate time relative to its value, automating it can free employees to focus on more meaningful work.
  • Prone to human error. Tasks involving complex calculations, data entry, or meticulous details are often prone to human error. Custom software can precisely perform these tasks, reducing mistakes. This minimizes the risk of financial loss or a damaged reputation.
  • Delays in project timelines or service delivery. Delays in projects or service delivery are often symptoms of inefficient processes. If certain tasks consistently cause bottlenecks, then automating those parts of the workflow can smooth the process and ensure timely delivery.
  • High volume, low complexity tasks. Tasks that occur frequently and don’t need specialized human judgment are ripe for automation. These often include data processing, report generation, and similar routine activities.
  • Lack of compliance or standardization. Processes that require strict adherence to regulatory guidelines or internal standards can benefit from automation. A developer can program your software to comply with exact protocols, ensuring compliance and standardization.
  • Processes with clear rules and decision points. When a task has a clear set of rules with well-defined inputs and outputs, you can easily automate it. Automation software can mimic human logic if the decision-making process is rule-based.
  • Integration with other automated systems. Tasks that interact with other automated tools, such as  Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms, are often more easily automated. The integration capabilities of custom-made workflow tools make them suitable for these scenarios.

Recognizing these signs within your company’s workflow can help you identify which processes would profit most from automating workflow tasks. Automating is not about replacing all human activity but rather optimizing the workflow to allow your teams to focus on what they do best. 

What are the use cases of workflow automation software?

Automation transcends across various business functions and industries. Let’s explore specific workflow automation use cases where the modern system can bring especially noble profits.

Sales workflow automation

Workflow software can enhance sales processes by simplifying various stages in the sales cycle. It automates repetitive tasks like product configuration and quote creation. This allows your sales teams to concentrate on engaging with customers and securing deals.

For instance, a business that sells electrical wire installations might employ an automated lead management system that captures information from online inquiries. The program classifies the lead when it receives the query. At the same time, it tags it using specific criteria, like business size or the nature of the inquiry. Following that, the system assigns the prospect to the appropriate sales team member, who receives an instant notification. 

Moreover, it can send follow-up emails at regular intervals. This helps to keep the potential client engaged and informed. These are just a few examples of the capabilities. Sales automation software offers multiple benefits to manufacturing companies, as well as to other industries, enhancing their overall efficiency and customer engagement.

The best workflow automation software can help to ease seamless information flow, reduce errors, and enable quicker decision-making between tools like:

Integrating these tools can offer a personalized customer experience, improved response times, and enhanced collaboration among your sales teams. As a result, your sales agents can achieve sales targets with more precision and speed.

Product development and management workflow automation

Product data is essential in product development, holding details, specifications, and related information. Flexible workflow automation helps centralize and manage this vital data. It ensures all stakeholders access accurate and consistent details. Tools like the Product Information Management system, or PIM, can organize and synchronize product data across various channels.

Consider the process of design approval in product development. Without workflow automation, getting approvals might require manually sending emails, tracking responses, and collating feedback, leading to delays and potential errors.

Everyday business operations without business workflow solutions - illustration

In an automated workflow, the creator uploads their design to a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system. The stakeholders get automatic notifications to review the job and approve or suggest changes. The process becomes more streamlined, transparent, and accountable. Ultimately, a business saves valuable time and ensures everyone works from the latest design version.

Cloud-based workflow automation systems easily integrate with tools like Product Data Management (PDM) systems. This integration aids seamless communication between departments in product development. When product specifications change, these adjustments are automatically updated across all platforms. Automation maintains consistency for all participants.

HR and employee onboarding automation

Back-office tasks like Human Resource processes are often administrative and lengthy. Tech is changing how HR departments work. Workflow automation in HR uses technology to simplify complex processes. This reduces administrative burdens, letting HR professionals concentrate on strategic tasks. Automation can manage application screenings, schedule interviews, and gather feedback during recruitment.

Automating the onboarding process is an excellent example of how your HR department can utilize workflow automation. It involves the systematic orientation and integration of new hires into the organization. Back office automation ensures that each step is meticulously planned and executed, offering a seamless experience for both the new hire and the HR team.

Consider the typical onboarding process, which includes tasks like document submission, equipment provisioning, training schedule creation, and more. Without automation, these tasks can be cumbersome, slow, and prone to mistakes.

Going further, when a new hire accepts an offer using an automated onboarding strategy, it triggers a workflow process. This process sends welcome emails, requests necessary documents, schedules orientation sessions, and handles other tasks without manual intervention.

Finance and accounting automation

Finance and accounting automation is not just about replacing manual tasks with software. It’s about transforming the entire financial management approach. Managing cash flow, ensuring compliance, and reporting financial results are tasks that can be repetitive. When handled manually, these tasks become error-prone. Workflow automation in finance and accounting brings efficiency, accuracy, and scalability.

Take the payroll process as an example. It’s a routine yet complex task that involves calculating wages, deducting taxes, processing benefits, and disbursing salaries. Manual handling of payroll takes time and is fraught with the risk of errors.

A customized solution calculates salaries, deductions, and bonuses using predefined rules. The software processes payroll for all employees at once. Above all, this approach offers significant time savings. It also delivers immediate reports and insights into payroll data. 

Workflow automation streamlines finance operations, including accounts payable/receivable, compliance checks, expense approvals, and budgeting. Modern digital solutions foster better decision-making, compliance, and business growth. They also help to align the finance function with the organization’s strategic goals.

Inventory and supply chain automation

Logistics like inventory management and shipping are areas where workflow automation significantly impacts. Workflow automation software designed for these tasks promotes efficiency and accuracy.

Automation in supply chain and inventory management is about improving accuracy and speed. It facilitates real-time tracking, data synchronization, process optimization, and more. This results in better customer satisfaction and operational excellence.

For retailers and wholesalers managing several warehouses with thousands of products, manually tracking inventory levels can be challenging. Reordering supplies, coordinating with suppliers, and ensuring timely deliveries add to the complexity.

With software automation, the merchant can benefit from real-time inventory tracking processes that automatically monitor stock levels, eliminating manual counting. When inventory falls below a set threshold, the program triggers automatic reordering. Custom software can even integrate with supplier systems for timely procurement and reduced lead times.

Workflow tools can automate order confirmations, packing, shipping, and invoicing. Automation also ensures timely delivery of products to the correct location. Through these applications, businesses achieve a more efficient, agile, and responsive supply chain.

How to automate workflows

Automating workflows is a systematic process that requires careful planning, selection, and implementation. Read our comprehensive guide on how to automate workflows in seven steps.

In a nutshell, you need to start with understanding your current workflow. It’ll allow you to identify bottlenecks, which are choke points that slow down your processes and lead to inefficiencies. Create a map of the entire flow to visualize the dependencies. 

Study the workflow to understand how tasks move from one stage to the next. Pinpoint where the delays occur, what causes them, and how they affect the overall process. You also need to define the process owners and identify other participants in the workflow to align everyone.

A thorough analysis of your existing workflow allows for highlighting improvement areas and setting clear automation objectives.

As already mentioned, only some processes are candidates for automation. Selecting the right processes will ensure that the automation aligns with your business needs and delivers tangible benefits. When seeking suitable ones, focus on repetitive tasks that follow a consistent pattern. Processes that handle a large volume of tasks can benefit from workflow automation. Identify those tedious tasks that are especially prone to human errors.

Workflow automation integration and compatibility

Workflow automation is not an isolated aspect of a business. It interacts with various existing management software. Therefore, it must seamlessly integrate into your current technological framework.

For example, it interacts with your existing software like CRM and ERP. This integration ensures effortless data flow between various departments. As a result, everyone in the organization has access to the same and up-to-date source of truth.

Security and data privacy are always top concerns. Yet, these concerns amplify during the integration process. It’s essential to integrate workflow automation tools securely with existing systems to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information. Businesses need to secure data both when it’s stored and during transmission. Additionally, adhering to relevant data protection regulations, like GDPR, is a critical priority.

Interoperability with existing systems is often the most complex part of the implementation. Using a custom software development service takes this burden off you. The developers will ensure your new software integrates with all your existing mechanisms.

Successful workflow automation examples

There’s no better way to grasp the transformative power of workflow automation than by studying some real-world examples. Let’s explore some successful custom workflow applications developed by Right Information.

Sales automation solutions for a car dealership network

A recognized brand in the automotive industry was looking to simplify its sales process in the Polish dealership network. Right Information developed and implemented a set of bespoke digital solutions for the brand, including a PIM system. This software works as a central hub for managing diverse aspects. For example, it allows all sales agents to access the same basic information, photos, technical parameters, and various other components integral to car configurations.

In addition, the data structured by the PIM system facilitated the development of an online car configurator for the brand. Dealers access the product configurator from inside the network while customers use it externally. Using this highly responsive web application, users can customize their preferred cars. After configuration, they can then forward a proposal request to their selected dealer.

YouTube video
Online Car Configurator

Moreover, the system saves each configuration. Thus, the dealers can retrieve it in their CRM using a unique number. This smart feature enables customers to configure cars independently. It also assists the dealers, who can initiate the sales process without complex training.

As a result, the client’s sales force now works more efficiently. The improved customer engagement saves agents time and boosts customer satisfaction, which can result in more car sales.

Product management automation for BAKS

BAKS is an East-European leader in cable management tray systems. A few years back, the brand aspired to broaden its operations internationally. But, faced challenges with an unstructured product portfolio and dispersed product-related data. The company needed a comprehensive rehaul of its software environment.

Right Information recognized these needs. We proposed a new product hierarchy and designed bespoke software for product development, production, and sales operations. Our software also enabled product selection based on Finite Element Method (FEM) simulations to calculate load and strength conditions.

Features of an online product catalog and selection software

We have been collaborating with BAKS for over a decade. During this time, we developed and implemented an industry-specific planning system, PIM, online catalog, and selection software. These solutions have revolutionized BAKS’ operations and enhanced efficiency throughout their business.

Supply chain automation for a logistics provider in the UAE

Right Information addressed a critical issue for an established logistics provider in the United Arab Emirates. The company was facing problems with stolen and damaged shipments and a lack of transparency during the delivery stages. It needed a custom logistics tracking system to apply within its structures.

We developed a custom Cargo Tracking Platform using hardware container trackers for continuous container shipment tracking. The platform also offers ETA forecasting by considering real-time road traffic conditions.

The platform’s innovation came from integrating hardware devices connected to a cloud solution. The new system monitors the container’s location. It also records the object’s conditions, such as door status, temperature, and humidity. 

This IoT-based tracking platform has transformed the logistics provider’s operations. It offers improved traceability, control, and a faster response to unexpected events. As a result, the custom automation solution mitigated risks and improved the efficiency of the client’s supply chain and logistics operations.

Marketing activities planning system for a car dealer

Our automotive client faced complexity in marketing activities across their dealership network. In the old workflow, the local headquarters would send a draft marketing plan to each dealer at the fiscal year’s start. Then, the plan needed evaluation and acceptance. This traditional method proved to be inefficient and lacked transparency. It needed a new approach to manage the planning process.

Right Information recognized the need to modernize this process. We designed a new planning system rooted in the client’s legacy Excel sheets. 

With the introduction of marketing automation, the transparency of the planning process increased. Efficiency also saw significant improvement. Automating the previously manual and inefficient workflow allowed the client to plan their marketing activities better. They can now track, test, and manage every aspect with ease and precision.

It’s worth considering in which direction business workflow automation is heading.

As technologies continue to advance, they become increasingly complex and interconnected. Workflow automation will not only be growing but evolving with new trends that will define its future. 

Here’s a look at some emerging trends that are shaping the next phase of workflow automation:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in automation

In workflow automation, AI and ML enable more intelligent and adaptive systems. AI can analyze vast amounts of data to make predictions or decisions. ML algorithms can learn and adapt from experience, becoming more effective over time. AI can predict equipment failure in manufacturing before it occurs, allowing for timely repairs.

graph showing the human intelligence vs ai

An emerging aspect of this is the use of Generative AI in workflow automation, which can create new content, design products, and even automate decision-making processes. Technologies like GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) are enabling businesses to automate complex decision-making processes, create new content, and design innovative products. 

At the same time, the rise of custom AI agents that can think and act independently can transform business processes within multiple industries. We’re already seeing use cases of AI agents in workflow automation, proving their versatility and efficiency. 

As a result, workflow automation will become more dynamic and responsive. It’ll be capable of handling complex tasks and adapting to new situations.

Automation in the Era of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 represents the next phase of the industrial revolution, with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) at its core. Industry 4.0 solutions integrate advanced technologies like IoT, cloud computing, and intelligent manufacturing into an interconnected ecosystem. This enables higher levels of automation, real-time monitoring, and control over manufacturing processes.

We’ll have smart factories with reconfigured production lines on the fly to adapt to changes in demand or material availability.

The future of workflow automation looks very exciting! We will likely see even more integration and intelligence with emerging technologies, like Augmented Reality (AR), 5G, or edge computing. These technology advancements will certainly impact expanding and enhancing workflow automation capabilities.

As AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) progresses, workflow automation tools may become more intuitive and human-like in their interactions. However, this progress may raise worldwide ethical issues. As automation impacts the workforce, job displacement and social responsibility considerations can become increasingly important.

As workflow automation advances, it opens up new possibilities for the future. With the evolution of technology, businesses will also change how they leverage automation.

Conclusion

Workflow automation transforms modern business. Implementing workflow automation is an investment in your organization’s future, creating a foundation for continuous growth and success. To help you make the right choice, let’s recap the main points of this guide.

The importance of business workflow automation:

  • Improved efficiency: streamlines tasks, saving time and effort
  • Reduced manual errors: enhances accuracy across various processes
  • Cost savings: speeds up the workflow and minimizes human labor, leading to financial savings
  • Increased productivity: allows staff to focus on more valuable tasks
  • Essential for big enterprises: a vital tool for scalability and competitiveness

Final thoughts on implementing workflow automation:

  • Audit current workflow: study your processes and select those needing automation
  • Consider your options: choose the right workflow automation software based on unique business requirements and objectives
  • Focus on integration: ensure compatibility with existing software for a cohesive approach
  • Stay current: keep abreast of emerging trends like AI and Industry 4.0 to remain at the forefront of technological advancements

As you can see, workflow automation is a fundamental shift towards operating with increased agility, accuracy, and efficiency. Embrace the tools, strategies, and best practices outlined in this guide and use it as a roadmap to elevate your organization to new heights.

Right Information is here to turn this roadmap into reality. We can build all of the digital solutions mentioned throughout this guide. Let us help you achieve the smooth workflows your company needs.

Ready to Revolutionize Your Workflow?

Let's talk!

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why use workflow automation?
    Workflow automation helps streamline repetitive tasks, increasing efficiency and reducing the potential for human error. By automating routine tasks, businesses can focus on higher-value activities and ensure consistency across operations.
  2. What are examples of workflow processes?
    Various departments and industries use workflow processes to streamline operations and improve efficiency. Workflow automation examples in manufacturing include quality control, inventory and supply chain handling, and product lifecycle management. In other industries, it automates onboarding new employees, processing invoices, handling customer support tickets, and approval processes for documents or projects.
  3. How do you automate a workflow process?
    Workflow automation is the process of using software to remove manual steps from standard business operations. This often allows the creation of workflow templates that a business can reuse for similar tasks or processes in the future.
  4. How do you integrate AI into a workflow?
    You’ll need to integrate AI technologies into your digital solutions. This can include machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, or robotic process automation.

    These technologies enable the analysis of large datasets, automate decision-making processes, and even interact with users in a more human-like manner.

    The integration process also includes training the AI system with relevant data, ensuring it understands and aligns with your specific business context.
  5. Why should I consider custom workflow automation over off-the-shelf solutions?
    Custom workflow automation is specifically designed to meet your business’s unique needs, offering a significant advantage over off-the-shelf solutions. Software developers will program your solution so it fits perfectly with your operational requirements and integrates seamlessly into existing workflows.

    This tailored approach reduces errors and streamlines data flow between systems, improving overall operational coherence.
    Moreover, bespoke software offers unparalleled adaptability and flexibility, easily scaling and evolving with your business. This means long-term cost-effectiveness, as the application stays relevant and efficient over time.

    Additionally, by leveraging a custom solution, your business gains a competitive edge through unique features and processes that set you apart in the market. The initial investment in custom automation pays off by delivering strategic advantages, including better integration, long-term savings, and a stronger market position.
  6. Can I integrate custom workflow automation with my existing software systems?
    Yes! We build custom workflow automation software with integration in mind. Your new solution will link smoothly with your current software infrastructure. This ensures consistency in operations and extends the utility of your existing systems.