Workflow Automation: What It Is and Why It Matters

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We define workflow automation with some common examples, and explain the top benefits and how to get started — no tech background needed.

Workflow automation is changing the way all business units operate — from Legal and Compliance to HR, Marketing, and everything in between.

As our working world becomes more digital, tech-forward departments are seeking ways to optimize their workflows, and traditionally tech-lagging departments are facing a need to catch up to operate at the speed the business demands.

At the same time, workers have more options than ever before, and want to work in an environment where they can focus on strategic, high-value work, and not on tedious, repetitive, administrative tasks.

Enter workflow automation, a key tactic driving the optimization of business processes, allowing teams to spend more time on solving high-value problems and less time on repetitive administrative tasks.

Here, we’ll explain what workflow automation is (along with some common examples), why it’s a must-do for modern businesses, and how you can get started.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the optimization and automation of business workflows — either partially or fully — to minimize manual work, eliminate errors, and operate faster and more efficiently.

The end goal of workflow automation is to make the business more efficient, whether it’s reducing the time it takes to get a contract signed, generating an invoice on-demand, or ensuring decisions are made in compliance with company policies in real-time.

When people hear “automation,” they often think of the replacement of a person with some form of AI or software, but that’s not often the case. In fact, some of the most common and impactful examples of workflow automation have a human expert at the center.

Take a look at the example automated workflow below, a Data Breach Reporting Assistant, which doesn’t replace the business expert, but rather allows them to focus on the most important subjective elements of the issue at hand.

data breach reporting workflow with automation
Click the image above to expand it. This graphic shows an end-to-end example of workflow automation, including the relationship between the expert, the business user, and the automation layer.

How workflow automation works

Workflow automation rests on predetermined rule-based logic. Tasks and files are routed between systems, tools, and people, in line with the predetermined workflow rules.

In the past, workflow automation involved some level of coding and software development, but modern no-code tools like BRYTER make automation possible through a simple visual interface, so anyone in the business can create and manage automated workflows themselves without additional support from IT or a software development firm.

Simply put, you design the rules of the process only once, and each next time, the tools follow those rules, without you having to manually look after them.

For example, think of NDAs automatically generated based on a few input fields from the parties involved, according to a pre-built template, consistent with house style documents, and distributed automatically via email.

On your end, all you have to do is set the workflow in motion, and workflow automation will take care of the rest, from drafting all the way through to final singing and secure storage of the NDA.

Workflow automation versus process automation

The terms “process automation” and “workflow automation” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a notable difference. A workflow is made up of individual processes, so workflow automation is more comprehensive than process automation.

To revisit our NDA example above, there’s a process for collecting the information needed for the NDA, a process for drafting the NDA, and another process for getting it signed. Simply generating an NDA would be considered process automation. Automating the end-to-end workflow of collecting info, generating the NDA, distributing it for signing, and storing it securely is workflow automation.

Examples of workflow automation

Workflow automation has found its way into all essential business functions, across all major departments.

Below are some examples, broken down by department, of commonly automated workflows.

Legal workflow automation

  • Legal intake tool: A legal and compliance front door is a virtual legal assistant where intake is automated and users are routed to the right business expert, or given self-service guidance depending on their unique case.
  • NDA generator: Users can request an NDA in compliance with company policies. After providing basic info, the NDA is drafted, distributed for signing, and stored securely.
  • Data breach reporting: When a data breach occurs, businesses can respond quickly with actionable, compliant reports and risk scores routed directly to the right expert in the business.
  • ESG reporting: Create compliant ESG reports based on centralized performance data collected from databases across the business.
  • Learn more about legal workflow automation.

Compliance workflow automation

  • Gift and hospitality checker: Automatically assess the acceptance of gifts or hospitality offers in accordance with company policy and applicable regulations, then generate a risk score, provide a decision, and document the interaction.
  • Whistleblower Pipeline: A safe and reliable reporting mechanism for employees that ensures compliance with legal whistleblowing requirements, documents every interaction, and generates reports on-demand.
  • Vendor evaluation tool: Evaluate new vendors rigorously with digital tools, including integrated risk scoring. Then, onboard them efficiently with automated handovers and approval notifications.

HR workflow automation

  • HR policy advisor: Make static policy docs interactive and accessible to the entire business on a company intranet, or any other digital environment. An automated policy advisor allows HR departments to provide employees with guided assessments, useful documents and forms, and answers to common policy questions on-demand, with every interaction automatically documented.
  • Employee onboarding assistant: Automate the drafting of an Employment Contract and guide users through the entire signing process, according to applicable laws in their region.

Finance workflow automation

  • Expenses Reimbursement Tool: Automate the process of filing expenses and claiming reimbursement. Employees often have to go through their employer’s reimbursement and expense policies to find out which expenses can be reimbursed, and finance professionals need to provide one-on-one guidance. Instead, the entire workflow from guidance all the way through to submitting expenses and processing claims can be automated based on conditional logic.
  • Share Allotment Letter Generator: Generate share allotment letters for a company incentive program, send them instantly for electronic signature, and store them securely.

More examples of workflow automation in business

Take a look at the graph below for more common workflow automation examples in corporate functions. Click the image to expand it.

workflow automation in business functions
Workflow automation potential for corporate functions, mapped by complexity and frequency.

Benefits of workflow automation

The benefits of workflow automation depend on what you’re automating and how you’re measuring success (more on that in the next section). But in general, the top benefits you can expect are:

  • Time saved and faster work: Some companies are saving as much as 95% of the time previously spent on manual tasks. Automation also allows departments to provide faster services to the rest of the business — on-demand, 24/7.
  • Increased workload capacity: In many functions, workload is rising faster than headcount. Automation can help close that gap, increase individual employees’ capacity, and create space for them to address more complex tasks.
  • Fewer errors: Business documents are highly prone to human error. It’s estimated that 88% of spreadsheets contain errors. With automation, errors are minimized. Once a document workflow is error-free, all documents created in that workflow will also be error-free.
  • Increased employee satisfaction: Tedious, repetitive tasks can be automated to allow employees to focus on the more interesting, higher-value problem-solving. They also benefit from more reasonable workloads, which has a major impact on job satisfaction.
  • Better collaboration: Automation allows for selective interaction and collaboration across departments when it matters most. Individual employees are looped in only where they need to be, allowing them to contribute to relevant tasks when needed, and to focus on other projects when their individual expertise is not needed.
  • Increased agility: Workflows can be easily updated to accommodate shifting regulations, company policies, and business priorities.
  • Data-driven insights: Interactions with workflows can be documented and automatically. Rather than spread across disconnected emails, phone calls, chats, or spreadsheets, those interactions can then be centralized into databases and actionable reports.

Measuring workflow automation impact and KPIs

Intake and self-service apps built with workflow automation allow businesses to measure and improve the efficiency of their processes. As applications built on the BRYTER no-code platform allow for seamless tracking of usage, a team can underpin their operations with structured data and measure the ROI of their work.

In short, many of the benefits of workflow automation listed above become measurable and reportable. So the additional benefits that come with measurable interactions are:

  • Measuring time savings
  • Identifying bottlenecks
  • Documenting of all processes and decisions
  • Revisiting of data and decisions to improve workflows
  • Visualizing structured data to make it actionable

What to look for in workflow automation solutions

As workflow automation tools speed up processes, reduce errors and costs, and allow teams to get more high-impact work done, it’s unsurprising that many teams are eager to implement them straight away.

However, to make the most out of workflow automation solutions, you need a blueprint of what you aim to achieve with these tools. So, first build a tangible use case, with clearly demonstrated value for not just your team, but the company overall. We can help you do this on a free demo and ideation session.

Before you build a case for workflow automation, you need to know what to look for in the features and capabilities of automation tools. As a rule of thumb, your workflow automation solution should be able to:

  • Integrate with your existing systems and infrastructure
  • Allow non-technical domain experts to use it without issues
  • Connect workflows and processes between different departments
  • Adapt to any changes in your workflow, whether it’s a regulatory change, a company policy update, or a new business priority
  • Scale to support company growth across functions

Workflow automation FAQs

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the automation of business workflows to save time, minimize manual work, eliminate errors, and generally operate more efficiently.

What is the difference between workflow automation and process automation?

Workflows are made up of individual processes. Workflow automation involves the full or partial automation of an entire workflow, end-to-end, rather than of one process within the workflow.

What is the difference between workflow automation and RPA?

Put simply, RPA (robotic process automation) is intended to mimic human behavior and in some cases, replace humans with software. By contrast, workflow automation helps human experts work more efficiently and moves work from person to person and system to system in an intelligent, human-defined manner.

What are workflow automation tools?

Workflow automation tools are the software that enables workflow automation. Traditionally, these tools were for those who could code or were especially tech-savvy, but modern no-code automation platforms like BRYTER enable anyone to build custom automations, without coding or IT support.

How do I get started with workflow automation?

It’s best to start with a clear idea of what workflows you want to automate and how you’ll measure success. Whether you already have something in mind, or you need help brainstorming, you can book a demo and ideation session with an automation expert today.

How to get started with workflow automation

Workflow automation is on the rise. Teams that adopt it stand to save time, work more efficiently, reduce errors, and delight their colleagues across the business.

With a modern, visual no-code automation platform like BRYTER, anyone can automate a workflow themselves, without a tech background or reliance on IT.

Ready to experience workflow automation for yourself, or just learn more? Book a demo and ideation session with one of our experts. Or jump right in and take the self-guided approach with a free trial.

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