Emilia Dunaj
Emilia Dunaj
B2B Content Creator
November 2023, 8 min. read

Workflow automation uses software to automate certain tasks and processes to minimize or even eliminate the need for human input. This technology enables the creation of a series of automated, rule-based actions for tasks within a business process. By digitizing and refining traditionally paper-based business processes, a workflow automation system saves time and significantly reduces errors. 

As technology evolves, more and more companies are integrating automation into their workflows, reaping its substantial benefits. This growing trend is reshaping the market for workflow automation tools, promising a future where businesses operate in streamlined and efficient ways. 

How does workflow automation work?

A diagram showing blank example workflow that can be automated

Workflow automation is all about automating repetitive tasks in a business process using predefined rules. These rules guide the software on what actions to take under specific conditions, often based on ‘if-then’ logic.

There are two primary types of workflow automation:

Static workflows are predefined and don’t change often. They follow a set pattern and are ideal for processes that are consistent and predictable.

Dynamic workflows adapt to varying conditions. They can change based on different inputs or situations, making them suitable for processes that require flexibility and customization.

In a complex workflow like invoice management, imagine a scenario where invoices are processed differently based on amount, department, and vendor. Invoices under $1,000 are auto-approved and audited monthly, while those between $1,000 and $5,000 need department head approval, and amounts over $5,000 require finance department clearance. 

Additionally, invoices from high-priority vendors trigger an expedited process. Automated workflow solutions manage this by classifying and routing invoices accordingly, flagging high-priority items for immediate review, and scheduling audits for smaller transactions, thereby enhancing efficiency, transparency, and compliance.

So, how do you know if you need a workflow automation system? It’s essential to recognize the signs. Tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming, processes that frequently experience delays or errors, and employees spending more time on administrative tasks than core work are all indicators that workflow automation tools might profit your business.

Benefits of workflow automation software

Workflow software brings a multitude of benefits to businesses, revolutionizing how tasks and processes are managed. Here are some key advantages:

  • Increased efficiency and productivity: Automating routine tasks lets employees focus on more complex and strategic work. This speeds up processes and enhances the team’s output and productivity.
  • Error reduction: Manual processes are prone to errors, but workflow automation software ensures tasks are performed consistently and accurately. This reliability is crucial in maintaining quality and compliance standards.
  • Cost savings: Automation reduces the need for manual labor, which in turn can lower operational costs. Additionally, if you minimize human errors and redundancies, you save on costs associated with correcting mistakes.
  • Improved employee satisfaction: Employees often find repetitive tasks monotonous and unfulfilling. Automation takes these tasks off their hands, allowing them to engage in more meaningful and satisfying work.
  • Enriched customer experience: With faster and more accurate processes, businesses can respond more quickly to customer needs and inquiries, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Better communication: Workflow automation helps close communication gaps. It sends emails, feedback requests, notifications, and alerts automatically, keeping everyone informed and connected.
  • Enhanced visibility: It allows managers to monitor task progress, identify who is working on what, and manage deadlines effectively, ensuring smoother operations.
  • Flexibility: Custom workflow software is adaptable to the changing needs of a business. It can easily be scaled up or down. This flexibility is vital for growth and expansion.
  • Data insights and analytics: Automated workflow solutions generate valuable data that can be analyzed to gain insights into process efficiency, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement.

It’s clear that business workflow automation is a strategic enabler. In fact, McKinsey estimated that 60% of employees could save 30% of their time with workflow automation. By leveraging its benefits, companies of all sizes can level the playing field, competing effectively even with larger enterprises.

Use case examples of workflow automation

To illustrate the versatility and impact of automated flows, let’s explore some common workflow automation use cases from different sectors:

Manufacturing

In manufacturing, workflow automation is crucial for product lifecycle management. From design and production to distribution and maintenance, automation ensures seamless coordination of each stage, raising efficiency and reducing time-to-market. Additionally, automating the production line management optimizes the manufacturing process, from assembly line operations to quality checks, ensuring consistency and minimizing downtime.

Retail

Retail businesses automate their supply chain, particularly in inventory management. Real-time tracking of stock levels and automatic reordering of products prevent stockouts and maintain optimal inventory, crucial for meeting customer demands.

Finance

Financial departments leverage back office automation for tasks like invoice processing. The software automates the verification of invoices, matches them with purchase orders, and routes them for payment, streamlining the financial workflow.

Legal

Automation tools manage document workflows, ensure compliance with legal requirements, and expedite contract approval processes, streamlining legal operations and reducing the risk of errors.

Healthcare

Healthcare providers implement workflow automation in patient scheduling. Automated reminders, rescheduling of missed appointments, and managing waitlists upgrade patient experience and operational efficiency.

Sales and Marketing

Automating sales processes, especially in lead nurturing, helps maintain engagement with potential customers. Depending on customer interactions, automated systems send tailored emails, offering relevant content or special offers, guiding them through the sales funnel.

Human Resources

HR departments use workflow automation software to streamline employee onboarding. Automated tasks include setting up accounts, scheduling training, and processing documentation, ensuring a smooth start for new hires.

Cybersecurity

Automated systems monitor for threats, execute security checks, and initiate rapid response actions in case of potential breaches, improving the overall security posture of an organization.

Operations

Operations departments automate supply chain logistics, manage facility operations, and coordinate between different departments, thereby increasing operational efficiency and reducing manual oversight.

IT

Automated systems handle routine IT tasks, such as deploying software patches or routing helpdesk tickets to appropriate personnel, ensuring timely resolution of issues.

What are AI automated workflows?

AI workflow automation represents the next level in the evolution of business process management. It integrates artificial intelligence into workflow automation, enabling the program to follow predefined rules and learn and adapt over time.

Here are some key features of AI workflow automation:

  • Learning from data: AI in workflow automation can analyze historical data to identify patterns and make informed decisions. For instance, it might prioritize tasks based on past completion times or suggest process improvements.
  • Adaptive decision-making: Unlike traditional automation that relies solely on static rules, AI-powered tools can adjust their actions based on changing conditions and new information. This adaptability makes processes more efficient and responsive.
  • Predictive analytics: AI workflow systems can forecast future trends or issues, like predicting inventory shortages or identifying potential bottlenecks in a process. This foresight allows businesses to be proactive rather than reactive.
  • Enhanced efficiency and accuracy: By automating complex decision-making processes, AI enhances both the efficiency and accuracy of workflows. It reduces the likelihood of errors that can occur with manual intervention.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): AI can interpret and respond to human language, enabling smoother interactions between humans and automated systems. This is particularly useful in customer service automation, where AI-powered chatbots can understand and process customer inquiries.
  • Generative AI (GenAI): Generative AI models can generate new content or data patterns based on existing information. This capability is particularly useful in creative problem-solving, content generation, and developing new products and business strategies.

AI workflow automation offers a smarter way to automate, capable of handling complexity and variability in a way traditional automation cannot. As businesses continue to generate more data and face increasingly complex challenges, AI implementation is becoming an indispensable way to stay competitive and agile.

Differences between workflow automation and robotic process automation

RPA is a key component in business process optimization, closely related to workflow automation. The primary aim of RPA workflow is to free human workers from monotonous tasks, allowing them to dedicate more time to strategic and creative work. But what is robotic process automation (RPA)? 

Using software robots, or ‘bots,’ RPA automates repetitive manual tasks within digital systems. Unlike broader workflow automation that encompasses a range of processes, RPA is specialized in automating specific, rule-based tasks that don’t necessitate changes to existing infrastructure. It works seamlessly atop existing platforms.

RPA is particularly effective in scenarios where tasks are rule-based, consistent, and high in volume. It’s a key tool for companies looking to top efficiency, accuracy, and speed in their operations.

Benefits of integrating Robotic Process Automation workflows - chart

While RPA plays a vital role in automating specific tasks, it’s important to understand how it differs from and complements broader workflow automation strategies. Each has its unique strengths and applications in business process optimization. To gain a deeper understanding of the two technologies and determine which approach best suits your business needs, refer to our dedicated RPA vs. workflow automation article.

Summary

Workflow automation is a transformative technology that streamlines business processes, boosts efficiency, and reduces manual effort across various departments and industries. Investing in custom software development solutions and RPA consulting is a strategic move towards more productive, agile, and data-driven operations. These tailored solutions ensure your business keeps pace with technological advancements and stays at the forefront of innovation.

If you see your company needing new technologies to improve your workflows, processes, or services, automation is the ideal solution. Take the first step in transforming your business processes today, and contact our experts to learn what we can do for you. 

The future of business is automated–and the time to act is now.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What is automated workflow?
    An automated workflow is a series of automated steps within a business process. It uses technology to execute tasks without human intervention based on predefined rules and conditions, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing errors.
  2. What is workflow automation definition?
    Workflow automation definition refers to the technology-driven process of automating business tasks and workflows. It involves using software to create and execute a series of actions automatically to complete business processes efficiently.
  3. What are the best workflow automation tools?
    The best workflow automation tools are surely the ones that are custom-made to fit specific business needs. Custom tools are tailored to align perfectly with an organization’s unique processes and requirements, ensuring seamless integration and maximized efficiency. They offer flexibility and scalability that off-the-shelf solutions may not, allowing for adjustments and enhancements as business needs evolve. This bespoke approach ensures that every aspect of the workflow is optimized for the specific operational context of the business.
  4. Is automation and workflow the same thing?
    No, automation and workflow are not the same, but they are closely linked. Automation refers to the broader concept of using technology to perform tasks without human intervention. Workflow, on the other hand, specifically relates to the sequence and execution of business processes, which can be automated. And, while all workflows can be automated, not all automation is specifically workflow-oriented.
  5. What is AI workflow automation?
    AI workflow automation combines traditional workflow automation solutions with artificial intelligence. It automates tasks and incorporates AI capabilities like learning from data, adaptive decision-making, and predictive analytics, making processes smarter and more efficient.
  6. What is an example of workflow automation?
    A car manufacturer’s operations department might use effective workflow automation for quality control processes. For example, sensors on the assembly line can automatically detect and report any discrepancies in car parts. This information triggers an automated workflow that halts production, alerts technicians, and logs the issue for further analysis, ensuring quality standards are consistently met without manual monitoring.