Is your business mired in archaic processes? If your answer is yes, you’re far from alone. Tedious manual tasks, cumbersome workflows, communication breakdowns—these issues can be major thorns in the side of any company.
Burdensome tasks lower the ceiling on a company’s potential productivity, aggravate employees, and often nudge customers to look elsewhere. However, in recent years, enterprise technology developers have made gargantuan strides in helping organizations improve efficiency by automating entire workflows from top to bottom.
What is workflow automation?
In short, workflow automation is using software to organize and automate complex business processes. Competitive workflow automation offerings often use visual design tools, which allow users to “sketch” their workflows, almost as if drawing a flowchart. Along this drawn workflow, users can place nodes that automate various tasks—like logging data—to easily integrate systems, data, and people across all areas of the organization. This makes it much simpler for people to work efficiently and dedicate their time to worthy, substantive tasks rather than monotonous (and often mindless) ones. Industry-leading tools go even further with features like AI-powered recommendations for workflow optimization, easy integration with other enterprise software, intelligent document processing, and more.
Once workflow automation has been implemented, companies begin to see serious transformation take place. Let’s take a closer look at five key benefits of workflow automation.
Workflow automation benefit #1: cost savings.
Saving money is critical for businesses—but according to Gartner Research, a mere 43% of business leaders achieve the level of savings they set out to in their first year of cost reduction. Gartner notes that this is largely due to poor planning and budget cuts that don’t provide near-term (and at times long-term) returns.¹ There are a few other causes, notably that just 6% of companies manage to consistently invest in growth without adding complexity to operations and burdening the company. ² This is where automation can prove to be an incredible asset by simultaneously encouraging growth and reducing complexity.
Automation-induced cost-savings take shape in a few ways. First, with the right workflow automation, companies simply become more productive. They are able to scale up operations or better serve existing customers. A Forrester study noted that when implementing a broader low-code and business process management solution, which included workflow automation capabilities, companies enjoyed a 389% ROI.³
Second, the ability to weave multiple applications together in a streamlined workflow often enables companies to bypass legacy solutions. Eliminating old solutions helps companies simplify their tech portfolios. In fact, application portfolio costs have been reduced by as much as 50% when automated workflows are put in place. ⁴ When legacy systems cannot be replaced or removed, some sophisticated automation products are capable of integrating with them, meaning the business won’t lose out on prior investments.
And third, low-code visual design tools help organizations create custom applications in a simple, intuitive fashion. Reusable, pre-configured components allow businesses to quickly create the exact app they need, when they need it, without spending an excessive amount of money on an off-the-shelf solution. According to Forrester, much like portfolio costs, development costs can be cut in half by using low-code workflow automation tools.⁵
Workflow automation benefit #2: time savings.
Money isn’t the only thing wasted because of inefficient processes. Employee hours are often consumed by repetitive, automatable work. Here’s an example: In a special report, Gartner estimated 30% of manual accounting rework performed to fix errors before a financial close could be avoided by using automation—according to an estimate by a Gartner finance practice leader, for an accounting team with 40 full-time employees, that’s equivalent to a staggering 25,000 hours of work that could be saved through automation.⁶
Similar trends hold true across many other business functions. Simply put, manual processes and tedious tasks are unnecessarily time-consuming and a detriment to any company. It’s no surprise, then, that Gartner predicts 69% of routine work done by managers will be fully automated by 2024.⁷
Fortunately, automation can help. With workflow automation, employees can ditch monotonous tasks, like data entry or manually assigning work, and instead focus on innovative projects that help the company grow. For example, consider an important, common task, like paper- or document-based invoicing. Employees usually have to perform approvals, manual checks, and some level of data extraction. The leading automation offerings include valuable tools like intelligent document processing (IDP), which uses a combination of AI and software. IDP can reduce human error, transforming a laborious task into a rapid, automated process, and freeing up employee time for more creative, higher level cognitive work.
With the right solution in place, companies can improve employee efficiency by 7,800 hours annually. ⁸ These clear benefits are driving increased adoption—since the start of the pandemic, 67% of companies have accelerated their automation efforts. ⁹ Companies that don’t do the same may find it hard to stay competitive.
Workflow automation benefit #3: governance, risk, and compliance.
Organizations are frequently beholden to multiple auditors, be they governments, clients, partners, or others. In today’s globally connected world, many organizations work across borders and with countless partners and customer bases. Given the myriad regulations in place, compliance can seem like a costly endeavor. However, the cost of noncompliance is far more severe. The average cost to organizations experiencing regulatory non-compliance is $9.4 million—this is almost triple the average cost of maintaining compliance in the first place.¹⁰
In addition to compliance concerns, factor in the cost of meeting security standards, and most companies will feel some strain. But meeting these standards is crucial—Security Magazine found that 80% of global organizations expect to experience a security breach that impacts customer data within the next year.¹¹
There is good news, though. With the right automation tool, concerns around security and compliance can be put to rest. Working through a single automation platform that automatically logs actions means you can easily record and review critical data. This vastly improves auditability and helps ensure that each step of your process—built with the platform’s tools—is fully compliant with current regulations.
The best platforms will offer automatic, easy-to-read process analytics, as well. These will not only help continuously optimize workflows but vastly simplify ongoing compliance efforts. Similarly, automating processes through a single platform that meets existing security standards means users can feel safe in the knowledge that the platform is actively reducing cybersecurity risk.
Workflow automation benefit #4: simplified, improved communication.
It should go without saying, but poor collaboration will lead to an inflexible company that struggles to compete. The benefits of collaboration impact more than just competitiveness, though—75% of companies with high levels of intentional collaboration also report having high levels of innovation.¹²
Workflow automation improves collaboration by providing simplified visual design tools that let you bring employees from different teams into the same process seamlessly. With automated notification systems and clearly designed workflows, team members are tagged in only when they’re needed, and they immediately understand what they need to do. Implementing this style of automation, and working through a single platform where everything is streamlined, can tremendously improve collaboration at any company. For example, leading automation platforms employ powerful decision design tools that vastly simplify workflows. These tools allow users to easily configure and automate decisions along a given business process and enable power users from different departments and teams to communicate clearly and collaborate effectively.
Workflow automation benefit #5: automation across the board.
The fifth benefit of workflow automation really speaks to the reach of each previous benefit. Workflow automation is flexible, and each of the first four benefits discussed can impact the entire company. When done right, automation can hugely simplify any business process, including some more complex processes that require human thought. With automation, employees in all departments can use their unique skill sets for more rewarding work, while automation takes care of the onerous, repetitive tasks.
Employees ought to have their time (and talents) respected. This means allowing them, when possible, to devote their energy to innovative work that requires emotional judgement or higher level cognition. When workers get too bogged down in repetitive tasks that could easily be handled by a simple bot, their work quality suffers and, most importantly, their risk of burnout increases. In the tech industry, one recent survey found that 83% of developers have experienced burnout, with 47% of those developers blaming heavy workloads and another 31% blaming inefficient processes.¹³ Weaving automation into the fabric of company processes can solve these problems by both reducing workloads and smoothing out inefficient processes.
The future of business is automated.
Between the remarkable growth of the automation marketplace, increasing adoption rates, and the impressive benefits to both companies and individuals, it’s clear that automation is here to stay. And businesses that want to stay competitive need to find the right partner to help them automate.
Buyers should look for a single platform with a polished interface, visual design tools, and multiple, powerful automation abilities. Also look for a platform that includes native RPA to easily build and deploy bots—many platforms don’t have this capability, but in order to fully experience the benefits of automation, choose one that does.. With the right automation tool in place, any company will enjoy a boost in productivity, impressive cost savings, reliable compliance features, and more efficient communications.
For more information on how to execute a successful automation project, download the eBook: Five Best Practices for RPA Success.
¹Brian Michelotti, “7 Cost-Reduction Mistakes to Avoid in Your 2021 Strategy,” Gartner, January 2021.
²Michelotti, “7 Cost-Reduction Mistakes.”
³“The Total Economic Impact of Appian,” Forrester, June 2021.
⁴“Total Economic Impact,” Forrester.
⁵Total Economic Impact,” Forrester.
⁶“Finance’s New Digital Workforce: CFO Magazine special report on robotic process automation (RPA),” Gartner, September 2018.
⁷“Gartner Predicts 69% of Routine Work Currently Done by Managers will be Fully Automated by 2024,” Gartner, January 2020.
⁸ “Total Economic Impact,” Forrester.
⁹ André Dua et al., “What 800 executives envision for the post pandemic workforce,” McKinsey, September 2020.
¹⁰Linda Coniglio. “So, You Think Privacy Compliance is Costly?” JD Supra, LLC, August 2021.
¹¹ “80% of Global Businesses Expect a Breach of Customer Records in the Next Year,” Security Magazine, August 2021.
¹³Junade Ali, “Study to Understand the Impact of COVID-19 on Software Engineers,” Haystack Analytics, June 2021.