Mastering workflow applications for automated processes
Explore workflow applications: Understand what workflow applications are, how they function, who uses them, and key buying factors.
The right workflow application can have a significant impact on your business. It can:
- Improve the time-to-completion for specific workflows
- Reduce redundancies and the likelihood of mistakes
- Automate tedious tasks, allowing your employees to focus on work that matters
What is a workflow application?
A workflow application is software that partially automates a business process.
When people refer to workflow apps, they either mean an app created to address a workflow on a business process management (BPM) platform (e.g., software for employee onboarding) or workflow management software that lets you create workflows without hassle.
Back in the day, workflow management was a lot more complicated. You had to pick a BPM suite (that cost 6 figs just to set up) and onboard your dev team to use it to create workflow applications.
Now, you just pick a workflow application, choose a workflow you want to automate, and you’re good to go—no needless expenses (or coding) required.
How workflow applications work
More often than not, businesses use workflow applications for their automation capabilities, which are twofold:
- Automating process execution: The software keeps track of chosen processes and ensures they get fully executed.
- Task automation: The software automates tasks like sending an email, transferring data from a form to a database, or pinging a particular employee with specific information.
To better understand how this works, let’s cover a typical workflow automation example: employee onboarding.
Workflow application example
Let’s say that your onboarding process is as follows:
- The newly hired employee receives and fills out paperwork from HR
- HR manager manually enters new hire’s data into their platform
- HR manager manually notifies IT to prepare employee’s workstation
- It creates relevant accounts for new hire
- IT manually notifies HR, new hires, and relevant managers that the process is complete
By using a workflow application, the process becomes:
- The newly hired employee enters personal information into a form generated by the workflow app
- The app automatically transfers new hire data to HR’s platform
- The app automatically notifies IT to prepare the employee’s workstation (with a set deadline)
- The app creates relevant accounts for new hire
- The app automatically notifies HR, new hires, and relevant managers that the process is complete
See the difference?
Without the workflow app, chances are greater that someone forgets or takes too long to complete a step, which can mess up or delay the onboarding process. Manual processes also require much more busy work, which most people don’t particularly enjoy.
With a workflow app, software enforces the timely completion of all tasks based on preset deadlines, so delays in the process are much less likely. It also eliminates redundant work, allowing employees to focus on more critical tasks.
Manual vs. automated workflows
The difference between manual and automated workflows couldn’t be more stark from an operational standpoint.
A human being must complete every aspect of the process in a manual workflow, which has traditionally been the standard model. Automated workflows use software platforms (workflow applications) to complete some or all aspects of the workflow automatically. Fully automated processes don’t require human intervention at all.
Most processes end up being somewhere in the middle. You can use workflow automation to automate repetitive tasks that suck time but don’t need the human touch and free up your people to be involved where needed.
The obvious benefits of automated workflows are that they are faster (because deadlines are monitored automatically), more cost-effective (because they don’t require human labor), and less likely to contain mistakes (because humans simply make more errors).
However, their drawback is that they are rule-based systems that aren’t always particularly “intelligent.”
While this is shifting as AI develops and becomes more integrated into the workplace, most companies still use fairly rudimentary automation recipes, which may not always be sufficient to answer to the complexities of modern work.
Who uses workflow apps?
You might wonder which processes you can automate with a workflow application.
Some of the most common ones are:
- HR processes
- Finance processes
- Other processes, such as marketing, customer support, etc.
Let’s look at each department and how they might use a workflow application to streamline their processes.
1. HR processes
A lot of HR processes are very systematic and bureaucratic. You can automate a good chunk of them using workflow applications, including:
Applicant tracking – You can use a workflow app to track all job applicants from start to finish. Whenever a candidate sends you an application, a workflow is kicked off to vet the potential hire and, if relevant, get them to attend an interview.
Employee onboarding – It’s unsurprising that employee onboarding is one of the best use cases for a workflow app. A smooth and streamlined onboarding process helps get new employees up to speed faster, leaving a good impression that translates into better employee retention rates.
Attendance management – You can use a workflow application to track employee attendance by having employees log onto the workflow app and check in when they get to work. The software automatically gives the management a calendar view of everyone’s attendance and absences.
Employee offboarding – Offboarding is just as important as onboarding. The use case here is the same as the onboarding example: The workflow app ensures employees don’t miss any essential steps.
Leave management approvals – Without workflow software, leave management can be extremely hectic. It usually involves extensive back-and-forth emailing between your employee, HR, and the team lead.
Using a workflow app streamlines the entire process. Employees simply log in and enter their requests into a form. The software then automatically routes the form through HR and management for approval.
2. Finance processes
As with HR, there are a ton of bureaucratic processes in finance, including:
Budget approvals – Even simple approvals can demand that your finance team chase down specific employees for more information. Approvals can get even more hectic when several departments work together on more complex requests.
With the right workflow application, you can make budget approvals as easy as 1-2-3. The employee fills in the relevant form, and the software routes it to all the relevant people, whether in finance or management.
Purchase orders – The typical purchase order workflow follows these steps:
- A purchase order is created
- The purchase order is verified by the relevant parties
- A purchase order is sent to the vendor
- The vendor delivers the goods
- Buyer performs three-way match between purchase request, purchase order, and invoice
- If all documents match, the purchase order is closed
As you probably know, this requires a lot of back-and-forth between several employees, particularly when following a software purchase process that includes several data security compliance audits.
The process becomes much easier if you use the right workflow app. An effective app routes all tasks and presents the relevant three-way matching data in one place.
Vendor approvals – If your employees need a new tool, chances are good that they need it now—not in several weeks. Thus your vendor approvals need to be as efficient as possible.
3. Other processes
Some other processes that work best with a workflow app include:
Content marketing process – The content marketing process is a lot more complex than you’d think. Usually, it involves cooperation between several team members. Take this example:
- SEO specialist picks a keyword they want to rank for
- The writer creates an article based on the keyword
- An editor polishes the writer’s piece
- The graphic designer creates relevant images for the article
- The writer uploads the article to the CMS
- The outreach specialist promotes the article
And often, if you’re working on several articles simultaneously, someone will miss a step or two and derail the content calendar.
Using a workflow application to route the process to completion ensures everyone is on top of their tasks and deadlines.
Client onboarding – Starting to work with a new client is always an exciting opportunity. However, making a good impression from the beginning is crucial for building a positive and long-lasting relationship. That is why streamlining the onboarding process is essential. By doing so, you can focus on getting to know your client's needs and goals and start creating a personalized strategy that will help them achieve success.
You can use a workflow application to:
- Send out a confirmation of the pricing agreement
- Align customer contact details in your CRM and accounts payable tools
- Communicate new order details to the operations team
As with the employee onboarding process, you can use a workflow app to execute client onboarding and ensure it’s done precisely each time.
Standard features of workflow apps
No-code automation builder
The best workflow automation tools make it easy to build custom workflows with a no-code, drag-and-drop style interface.
This allows anyone on your team to automate tasks without requiring a deep understanding of using APIs (application programming interfaces) and other coding tools, thus removing bottlenecks from the automated workflow development process.
Ideally, you’ll also be able to build workflow processes using mobile apps for iOS or Android.
Built-in templates are an essential feature to look for in a workflow application since they help you get off the ground quickly.
For instance, begin with a standard task management workflow that connects your digital workspace with Slack and provides an automated reminder when a task is overdue.
Notifications, reminders, and escalations
A standard feature among workflow applications is the ability to program reminders and notifications across platforms.
For instance, say you’re working on a project management tool set up as a Kanban board. When a task moves to the final stage (Complete), the workflow app automatically sends a notification email to the supervisor to check the task off on their checklist.
Security and access control
A tremendous cloud-based workflow application allows IT teams to customize access control so only approved employees can create or edit automated workflows.
Most companies use a bunch of tools in their tech stack and want to be able to connect them all to design more complex workflows. To achieve this, find a workflow management tool with diverse integrations.
For instance, connect your project management software platform (such as Asana, ClickUp, or Trello) with Microsoft tools like Excel or Docs.
Lastly, prioritize a workflow application that allows you to build customizable dashboards that provide real-time performance data.
For example, find one that allows customized report routing and sends an email roundup of your most essential reports in time for your weekly management meeting.
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