The role of automation in streamlining workflow

Have you ever considered how much time your team spends on tasks that could be automated? A survey found that 94% of workers perform repetitive, time-consuming manual tasks for at least some portion of their day. These tasks include things like document management, data entry, and copying information from one source to another.

These types of manual tasks can crush overall productivity and cost your organization considerable amounts of money in labor. By automating workflows, you streamline existing processes, improve organizational outcomes, and efficiently scale to meet demand. Let's talk about what workflow automation is, how it can enhance your business processes, and why you'll want to use it.

Why automate your workflow?

Your organization's workflow refers to the set of activities your team must perform to complete a task. Here are three typical examples.

  • HR workflows: A lot of tasks have to happen when each new employee is onboarded — paperwork signing and filing, orientation scheduling, assignment of IT assets, preparing the employee workstation
  • Marketing workflows: Every campaign requires a similar set of intricate steps that often revolve around original content, the management of which is easy to automate
  • Sales workflows: There’s a cadence to nurturing every new lead that can be partially automated in order to follow leads through their customer journey and track any associated data

Workflow automation refers to replacing manual work systems them with automated processes. Essentially, automated workflows shift the performance of creating deliverables, completing tasks, and streamlining signatures from humans to a software program.

Workflow automation removes reliance on manual tasks, helping your team work faster and more efficiently

Workflow automation uses software to complete tasks and activities, like storing documents and managing content, allowing your teams to work faster, easier, and more consistently. Automation also optimizes your work-related activities and aligns them with your pre-defined organizational rules and preferences.

Here are some other examples of what workflow automation can do:

  • Streamline business processes
  • Gather e-signatures
  • Remind team members to complete unfinished tasks
  • Provide visibility into organizational key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Lessen delays in project timelines
  • Reduce human error and achieve task efficiency

The main goal of workflow automation is to reduce your organization's need for manual work and repetitive tasks, such as approvals, but it also aims to make your information more secure. Manual approaches often leave your organization vulnerable to errors, which can impact both the quality and outcomes of your deliverables.

The convenience of workflow automation frees up your team's time so team members can focus on value-adding activities to improve everyday accuracy and productivity. When you complete one step in workflow automation, the next step is automatically triggered, enabling you to complete tasks more efficiently and deliver higher-quality work. Once you define the rules, the software uses logic to perform a series of tasks needed to complete the activity, like onboarding, sending emails, and triggering marketing campaigns.

Workflow automation also enables you to securely and seamlessly collaborate and share content between departments in your organization. Your team can access data, information, and documents faster while reducing errors and increasing performance efficiency. A workflow automation solution may be the right choice for your business if you want to speed up internal processes across departments and reduce your employees' dependency on IT teams.

The advantages of workflow automation

Enterprises that rely on manual tasks may struggle to improve operational efficiency and waste valuable time that teams could instead spend on high-value activities. Workflow automation streamlines your business processes to eliminate common hassles and enable you to complete tasks faster. Implementing the right technology solutions allows you to reap these advantages of an automated workflow.

Speed

Technology has advanced to help businesses move along more quickly without waiting on human input at every step. Software programs that enable workflow automation reduce time gaps, breakdowns, and delays, meaning you can complete project tasks without having to physically contact the next team member in the workflow chain. This speed is particularly useful for organizations with hybrid and remote teams.

Accuracy

Automation minimizes the opportunity for human error by reducing or eliminating unnecessary manual inputs, like file version control or data entry. With the right technology solution, your team members can keep track of who edits, deletes, creates, and shares content, enabling you to accurately track your documents from creation to removal.

Improving accuracy also leads to improved accountability, meaning your team members don't have to wait to be told what to do. When everyone has access to a single, accurate source, it's easier to keep the workflow moving.

Efficiency

Automated workflows let teams spend time on more valuable tasks

Every organization strives for efficiency. The longer it takes your team to complete tasks that can be automated, the more labor and time you're using that could be put toward a more valuable process. Automating your workflow empowers you to use fewer resources on time-consuming business tasks.

Automation as a whole is designed to reduce human touchpoints and prevent them from needing to be performed over and over due to inconsistencies or inaccuracies. Your previously arduous, disorganized business functions become part of a sleek, streamlined operation.

Productivity

Manual processes hurt your business by taking up more of your team's time. Instead of spending time drafting emails, manually managing content, and scheduling meetings, your people can focus on strategizing, solving problems, and generating value for your organization.

Removing repetitive tasks results in your team members completing more work on a daily basis. Your people will transform from performing many low-value tasks to high-value, business-critical assignments. This increased productivity enables your business to deliver higher-quality output.

Reducing errors

With improved accuracy, automation also supports your organization by reducing the potential for mistakes. Any time a team member completes a task manually, there's room for error. When you automate workflow processes, you minimize the risk of someone inputting the wrong information or uploading content with illegible handwriting.

Reducing and preventing operational errors also keeps you from spending money fixing up your mistakes. Because this type of software allows you to identify errors and correct them before it's too late, your business can also stay compliant.

Visibility

As a manager, leader, or executive of your organization, you're likely unable to see the progress of every single task and project in your team's workflow. Project management often becomes a headache without the right tools.

With the right solution, you gain the visibility you need to identify issues, see which tasks are assigned to which team members, and track the progress of each specific task. Automating your workflow gives you a top-down, interconnected view of each team member's workflow so you can spot ways to remove redundancies that drain your resources and time.

How to automate workflows

Implementing automated workflows looks different for every organization. The software solutions you choose may vary depending on the size of your organization, your everyday functions, and what specific tasks you'd like to automate. To help you map out your workflows and identify these automation opportunities, follow these steps:

1. Define each workflow

Before you can create an automated workflow, break it down to determine where it starts and stops. For instance, what tasks initiate a project workflow, and when is it complete? Defining your workflow and mapping out the process before implementing your solution helps you identify exactly what you want to automate, prioritize your workflow, and produce measurable outputs.

2. Identify everyone in the workflow

Larger enterprises have many different teams and departments. Perhaps you also have hybrid and remote teams. If so, it's wise to connect all team members to a certain point in your workflow. For example, who begins the task on a certain project? Who do they pass it along to for review? Who is the last team member to approve the project and account for all items? Be sure to note the roles and responsibilities of each team member.

3. List all tools, systems, and applications

To get a better idea of what you need to automate, make a list of all the tools, systems, and apps you currently use and how they impact your work. Does your organization have any shared inboxes, databases, or legacy systems? Do your teams collaborate in an outdated shared document? Making a list of your work tools enables you to clearly see what you can remove and consolidate.

4. List all input channels

Your organization may rely on data silos or a variety of sources for your information. Create a list of where you keep key data and what it captures. Visualizing all the input channels you use makes it easier to see where you need to narrow down your sources.

5. Monitor task responsibility

Task accountability is important when trying to keep track of your projects and deadlines. If your project is being handed off to multiple people without a clear workflow, it can lead to many problems like miscommunication and confusion about who is supposed to handle the item next. These issues create bottlenecks in your workflow, resulting in follow-up emails and delays in your deliverables.

6. Create an automation wishlist

Think about why you're adopting workflow automation, whether you want to enhance communication or improve collaboration

Now that you've created a workflow blueprint and have identified existing processes, it's time to list the specific activities and tasks you want to automate. Do you want to enhance communication? Ensure seamless collaboration? Use this wishlist as a way to define new, automated business processes that will help you reach your operational goals. Consult with your team to prioritize this wishlist and ensure you find a solution that meets your needs.

7. Research and choose your automation workflow software

Now, you're ready to create your automated workflow with the technology solution of your choice. While there are many capable software programs out there, be sure to conduct research and see how they compare. Your organization can benefit the most from a secure cloud content management platform that provides a wide range of services, such as removing data silos, replacing outdated tools, and streamlining workflows.

8. Test your new workflow

Before launching your new program, take some time to test it out with your team and ensure there are no issues or delays. When transferring from outdated, manual processes to efficient software, it may take some time to move your content and get everything running smoothly. If you have hybrid and remote teams, test out various features with them to ensure the output meets your intended goals.

9. Teach your team

If your test run is successful, start teaching your team members how to use the new program. For example, if some employees are used to taking handwritten notes and scanning them, show them how they can collaborate on a single document with multiple members of your organization.

Prepare your people to use the new tools and get familiar with the system. Once they understand their new tools, they'll be confident in executing their new automated workflows.

10. Deploy the software and drive continuous improvement

Once you've given your team members the green light to start using their new automated workflows, you can begin monitoring the software. Gathering feedback from your team, combined with measuring KPIs, can help improve your team's experience and overall workflows.

When should you use workflow automation?

An important aspect of transforming your manual processes to automated workflows is determining what parts of your business require such automation. In the steps above, you've created a list of your ideal automated wishlist. Now, it's time to review that list and determine if it covers all your business needs.

Workflow automation helps organizations boost productivity, increase efficiency, and minimize data entry errors

If you're still unsure about what aspects of your organization will benefit from using a workflow automation system, here are some common reasons why companies seek and implement such technology:

  • Give team members more time to focus on strategic tasks
  • Reduce time spent on low-value tasks
  • Increase efficiency
  • Reduce data entry errors
  • Boost organizational productivity
  • Speed up processes

Aside from these reasons, you may also identify the need for workflow automation in your organization when you notice that certain daily tasks are repetitive, could be achieved more accurately without human error, or could be completed faster.

Examples and use cases

To help you visualize how you might streamline your workflow, here are some examples of how workflow automation fits into various departments within your organization:

  • Sales: Collaborate on sales decks, leverage document workflow automation to route contracts for review, and speed up sales ramp-up
  • Marketing: Manage agency collaboration, product launches, press releases, and content review procedures
  • Legal: Use business workflow automation to streamline patent and contract reviews and policy approvals
  • HR: Review new organizational policies and procedures, approve time-off requests, and simplify onboarding
  • Finance: Streamline forecasting, expedite invoice approvals, and develop consistent quarterly checkpoints
  • Admin: Enhance organizational security and compliance, make content more accessible, and improve admin processes

While workflow automation is often used to handle simple, repeatable tasks, it also enhances sophisticated processes. With the right solution, you and your team can keep track of every workflow with the ability to export audit history. You can track and optimize your business processes, from internal emails to sharing external contracts to synchronizing important content.

Remember: If a task is frequent, repetitive, predictable, or scheduled, it can be automated.

Discover the power of the Content Cloud

With a single secure platform for all your content, Box enables you to manage the entire content lifecycle: file creation, co-editing, sharing, e-signature, classification, retention, and so much more. We make it easy for you to collaborate on content with anyone, both inside and outside your organization. Frictionless, enterprise-grade security and compliance are built into our DNA, so you get total peace of mind that your content is protected. And with 1,500+ seamless integrations — as well as a range of native capabilities, like Box Sign — the Content Cloud provides a single content layer that ensures your teams can work the way they want.

The Content Cloud is a game changer for the entire organization, streamlining workflows and boosting productivity across every team. Contact us today, and explore what you can do with Box.

Streamline workflows with the Content Cloud

**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blogpost is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.

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