How workflow automation is driving process optimization across a range of industries

Workflow automation is changing the approach to process improvement and replacing traditional workflow management tools

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Adam Jeffs

With the rate of digital transformation rapidly accelerating and the increasing advances being made around technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, many organizations are beginning to look to process automation to facilitate optimization of their workflows. This relatively new technique, dubbed ‘workflow automation’, allows the replacement of manual or paper-based processes with digital tools, typically managed by a centralized workflow platform, integrating business systems and controls.

This technique is gaining traction and prevalence, with many industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, finance and retail having implemented workflow automation platforms to facilitate a more agile and reliable approach to workflow optimization. There is huge potential for automation, with McKinsey estimating that more than 20 per cent of a CEO’s time is being spent working on tasks that could be automated. However, not every process can be automated, and it is important to understand how and where workflow automation can be applied.

Automation generally requires rigid, structured data as machines are not yet capable of handling analog and unstructured data as humans do. As such, application of workflow automation is limited, although a number of tasks are generally accepted as good candidates for automation. These tasks include rote and repetitive tasks such as assembly work, sensor-based tracking, document management and back office IT processes.

The rise in the prevalence of workflow automation can be explained by the clear and demonstrable benefits that the technique offers. For years traditional workflow management tools such as whiteboards, spreadsheets and post-it notes have dominated in most organizations. The problem with these tools is that they often rely largely on human memory and decision-making and are poor tools for collaboration or providing visibility to decision-makers.

With the implementation of a workflow automation platform, organizations place far less reliance on fallible human memory and decision-making, instead shifting this responsibility onto machines with infallible memory and decision-making that is backed by data and not influenced by emotion.

Workflow automation does not initially require sophisticated tools and technologies like machine learning or artificial intelligence. Organizations can start small by simply mapping out the workflow of any given process and looking to reduce inefficiencies or redundancies. It is not wise to begin by attempting to automate the critical tasks, that might never be automated anyway. Instead, practitioners should look to identify predictable and repetitive tasks as candidates for automation, and work to gradually shave time and costs by optimizing and automating these processes.

Workflow automation represents an opportunity for businesses to place themselves at the forefront of process optimization development and offers a significant competitive advantage over those who have not yet looked to automation.

To find out more about the latest workplace management techniques and solutions, sign up to attend PEX Network’s upcoming Workflow Automation 2020 online event on 10 November.