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Understand why workflow automation and workflow software are essential for companies

Workflow automation is one of the latest trends in business development because it combines functions previously spread across multiple apps and services into one easily-accessible platform. Workflow management streamlines the way you approach business processes

You’ve probably heard the term workflow automation thrown around a few times already, and for good reason. Businesses in all industries are discovering how useful it can be, with 94% of corporate executives looking to integrate their apps and processes into one single workflow management platform. This centralization is beneficial in a lot of different ways, and it’s exactly what workflow automation is about.

What is workflow automation?

Defining workflow automation means defining the concept of a workflow and of automation. Automation is easy to define; it’s just the practice of a process or task happening automatically as opposed to manually. Automated tasks are usually triggered by a previous action; for example, when a customer joins your email list, they receive an automated welcome email.

Workflows are sets of steps or tasks that repeat in order to form processes. A process is the overall goal you are trying to accomplish (like converting a sales lead or producing a product), and workflows are the steps you need to take in order to meet that goal. Those steps are what workflow automation software automates.

Workflows can either be static or dynamic. A static workflow does not change no matter what, meaning the steps and their order are the same every time. Dynamic workflows, on the other hand, are like a choice between a selection of different next steps. When dealing with dynamic workflows, your workflow management system will use a precoded schema to decide which of the possible steps should be the next step in a process.

How does workflow automation work?

Man wearing earphones, goggles, and a hard hat during an equipment inspection

A workflow automation process has seven general steps, which are somewhat designed to be repeatable and re-assessed, since workflow automation is a method of continuous improvement. These are:

  1. Identify tasks that make sense to automate: Workflow automation makes the most sense when you deal with processes that are made up of repetitive tasks
  2. Map out your process: Design all the workflows (separate steps) involved in completing the process you’re trying to optimize, so you can see where you’re able to automate things
  3. Define your business goals: Make sure to understand and be able to clearly state your goals as the first step to knowing how workflow software helps achieve them
  4. Research your options for workflow automation software so you can choose a platform that best fits your business
  5. Train your employees so they’re able to understand and use your chosen workflow management software in their daily work
  6. Establish KPIs that you can use to measure how effective the new automated approach is
  7. Continue to optimize processes by collecting feedback from employees and measuring your KPIs for a complete picture of workflow automation’s effect

You can see that workflow automation is very generally applicable, since individual workflows are everywhere in a business. Single tasks like data entry or more comprehensive assignments like risk assessments are equally suited to automation. The best types of workflows to automate are:

How workflow automation benefits businesses

 

Workflow automation is embraced across the board because no matter your industry, implementing workflow software drives operational excellence. As well as improving your existing processes, workflow automation enables your business to develop new processes from the ground up. One key reason for this is that workflow automation platforms usually include data analysis that your organization can draw on to introduce new ways of working.

 

Workflow automation benefits companies by:

 

  • Reducing errors
  • Increasing speed and efficiency
  • Allowing businesses to scale

Fewer errors

Human error is one of the biggest causes of workplace accidents. Industries involving heavy or potentially dangerous equipment are particularly prone to unsafe behaviors. Workflow automation avoids this in two ways. First, if risky tasks are automated instead of performed manually, there’s no longer any danger to workers.

Second, even when workflows cannot be automated, workflow automation makes work safer by defining specific processes for employees to follow. This way, you can clarify how tasks are supposed to be performed. Implementing checklists to guide workers greatly lowers the chance that tasks will be performed incorrectly or unsafely.

Increased speed and efficiency

Man taking notes on a tablet while inspecting a production line

Automating workflows speeds up day-to-day work by making processes faster and cutting down on time wasted. Fully automated tasks are carried out instantly, allowing processes to proceed with much less oversight. And without having to worry about the low-effort, often less stimulating tasks that easily clutter up a workday, your employees have time to focus on big-picture and creative work.

Following the seven steps of workflow automation makes processes more efficient overall by ensuring processes are all mapped out ahead of time and you know everyone’s role at every point. This way, you can avoid having your workers be idle as they wait for previous steps to finish. And in the same way that checklists reduce human error, they also represent the most effective and thorough way of performing tasks.

Scalability

A common issue when businesses grow is that serving more customers and producing more products means hiring extra staff, which you may not have the money for just yet. Workflow automation helps you avoid this problem, since automated tasks don’t require additional labor to complete. Instead of having several people answering emails or entering data, for example, it’s one program.

Over 80% of small businesses say that workflow automation allows them to compete with larger businesses. That’s because they use workflow software to speed up their processes, spend less time on unnecessary work, don’t have to devote additional time to correcting errors, and can offer better customer service.

Workflow automation applied to specific industries

A Black man in a neon work vest and safety PPE in a factory

The general benefits of workflow automation present themselves in specific ways depending which industry is involved. Examples of industries that get the most out of workflow automation software include:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Gastronomy
  • Retail
  • Healthcare

These are all fields where day-to-day operations involve lots of repetitive tasks as well as tasks which need to be done very specifically, both to maintain quality and to ensure worker safety. This makes them excellent candidates for workflow automation.

Workflow automation in construction

 

Construction businesses work faster, more safely, and more profitably when they use workflow automation software. On a construction site, there are many tasks happening at the same time and it’s important to take the appropriate safety measures before each one. For example, you can use your workflow software to codify the equipment maintenance necessary before your workers operate heavy machinery.

 

Workflow management software is key to making sure your workers all have their tasks and roles clearly defined, making it easy for them to see each other’s schedules and coordinate, and keeping to an often tight project schedule. You can also use it to streamline the way you approach hazard assessments and improve compliance with applicable (especially OSHA) regulations.

 

Finally, workflow software is useful for managing contracts and billing. With several people on a construction crew and potentially changing project requirements, you’ll be processing requests and ordering materials a lot. Workflow automation enables you to generate templates you can use to digitize all this paperwork, so it’s easier to manage and store. And this way, you won’t miss any payments.

 

Workflow automation in manufacturing

 

Manufacturing business benefit heavily from workflow automation as a form of quality control. Digitally generated checklists that standardize the way your workers perform tasks and inspect products make finding defects much simpler and help you flag issues before production is complete. The same administrative functions that help you manage construction workers help you stick to a quality management plan.

 

Manufacturing is also highly specific work, and automated systems help make sure that parts are used correctly and efficiently. Not having to throw out or replace parts that were used incorrectly means less waste, which means more production and revenue.

 

Workflow automation in gastronomy

 

Like construction and manufacturing, gastronomy businesses are subject to lots of regulations, particularly since they serve customers. That means they need to pay attention to food safety as well as workplace safety.

 

Workflow automation helps your food business assign and track food safety measures and measure the condition of essential equipment like freezers and refrigeration units. Ensure your workers don’t forget to wear their PPE before handling food by including this in your food safety checklist.

 

Performing al these inspections with workflow automation software instead of manually doesn’t just make the process faster, it gives you an easy means of documenting everything, since data is saved automatically. Documentation is important for process improvement, but also for legal proof that you adhere to safety guidelines.

 

Workflow automation in retail

The specific benefits of workflow automation in retail come through in inventory management and online sales. Sales workflows are perfect for automation because it’s generally a repeated cycle where customers place orders, the order is processed, and then the order is confirmed.

Instead of manually checking for and responding to orders, put workflows in place that alert you whenever an order is placed and send confirmations to customers. Then you can automate further updates to customers which trigger once products ship and are delivered.

Workflow software also streamlines inventory management for retail businesses. By conducting inventory checks and providing your workflow platform with data, you can set thresholds for automatic reorders, ensuring you never have to tell customers “sorry, we’re out of that”. Inventory management software that reacts automatically to changes in your stock helps you maintain product availability without over-ordering.

Workflow automation in healthcare

Workflow management software streamlines a lot of administration in healthcare and helps you care for patients more efficiently. From booking and scheduling appointments to the hospital experience, patients appreciate the convenience that automated services provide.

For example, online appointment booking is a simple feature that makes 68% of patients more likely to set up an appointment with you. Online appointments are also easier for your business to keep a record of.

When it comes to interacting with patients, there can be a lot of paperwork involved. You need to make sure that doctors and medical professionals cover everything when they’re speaking with patients, which is why it’s not a good idea to rely on individual styles of record-keeping. These can be inconsistent and they cannot be reused.

Instead, pre-generated templates that follow the SOAP note format ensure you remember to ask all the important questions. It presents one standardized format that all your employees use, so it introduces consistency in record-keeping. And unlike a paper form, you can reuse these templates as many times as you have new patients, as well as easily find their data for subsequent visits.

Lumiform’s workflow automation platform takes your business to the next level by giving you a simple, seamless way to standardize and continuously improve key business functions. Simply design a custom checklist reflecting your chosen workflow or choose from one of over 12,000 pre-made templates, and use that as the basis for performing tasks.

You can configure checklists to automatically report an issue if something returns the wrong response, and you can cycle through workflows easily by setting checklists to activate one after another. Collected data is stored automatically and converted into analysis reports you can use to design still more efficient processes.

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