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What is Workflow Automation? Why It Matters and Why You Need It

While it's absolutely true that a lot of your business processes are important, they also expose your organization to a wide range of potential issues that you may not even realize.

Every manual process performed by one of your actual human employee leaves open the possibility for productivity bottlenecks. Things are getting done, but they're just not getting done as quickly as they should. It also creates the potential for miscommunications — two people involved in the same process just weren't on the same page and now they've suffered a major setback because of it. The mishandling of information, low employee morale, you name it — these are the hidden costs of those tedious manual processes.

But the good news is that it is possible to make sure that all of this work gets done in a way that allows you to avoid every one of the issues outlined above. It's called workflow automation and if your organization hasn't already begun to explore its wide range of benefits, now would be an excellent time to start.

What is Workflow Automation? An Overview

At its core, workflow automation involves both the digitization and automation of business processes, all in an effort to reduce the amount of manual labor required by your employees as much as possible.

All told, there are a wide range of different types of workflows that are prime candidates for automation. These include but are certainly not limited to ones like:

  • Filing or making changes to documents with a consistent structure.
  • Reviewing and approving changes that have been made to documents.
  • Notifying people (like team leaders) when a change to a document has been made by an employee.
  • Processing accounts payable or similar administrative functions.
  • The management of records retention and document storage.
  • Executing process management reports.
  • And much, much more.

With an intelligent document management solution like M-Files, for example, you can make sure that documents are always routed to the correct person when they're created or when certain status changes have been made. If you have a single document that needs to be approved by 10 team leaders before it can make its way to a client, for example, the employee who created that document shouldn't have to spend time chasing down every single one of them to keep things moving. With workflow automation, each of those team leaders can be instantly notified that there is a document that needs to be signed off on and once they do, it continues to move further and further down the line.

Likewise, many workflow automation solutions allow you to monitor, report on and even analyze your current business processes — all to help capitalize on opportunities for improvement on an ongoing basis. Many provide reporting dashboards, for example, that allow process managers to view each step of a particular business workflow in fine detail. This puts them in a better position to eliminate the types of performance bottlenecks that cost time and money, thus improving those processes in meaningful ways.

They even offer the ability to show users a full history of all business process steps, confirming beyond the shadow of a doubt that automation software is getting the job done in a way far more efficient than humans could on their own.

In a larger sense, workflow automation also makes it easier for employees to communicate with one another — which itself is a great way to empower their ability to collaborate. A lot of the workflow automation solutions you would be using include built-in communication tools that make sharing documents and other important project-related data easier than ever. When you make it easier for your employees to work together, you increase the chances that they do — thus improving employee morale and improving the quality of work that they're able to do in the first place. 

In the end, workflow automation is more than just another IT trend or passing fad. It's an opportunity to optimize processes across all departments in a way that eliminates human error, gets rid of performance bottlenecks and that improves the quality of work you're able to do with your clients. It improves the speed at which your organization can move because it frees up the valuable time of your human employees so that they can focus on those matters that truly need them.

It's also a way to save valuable resources while improving both internal and external transparency, which for many businesses may very well be the most important benefit of all.