Workflow Automation: A Comprehensive Guide, Including Automation Tools, ROI, and Example Use-Cases

Workflow automation amplifies human productivity.

By tapping into the extraordinary processing and storage power of computers, humans can augment their own abilities and improve their productivity. -West, Darrel M. The Future of Work (pp. 19-20). Brookings Institution Press. Kindle Edition. 

Pop cultural dialogue around automation tends to focus on anthropomorphic robotics- machines like Toyota’s humanoid T-HR3 robot, or industrial robot “arms” that simulate the biomechanics of a human arm. These types of robots are built to look like people and complete tasks by the same set of mechanical actions that people do. However, information-based tasks are automated not by simulating the biomechanics of the human body, but by powering the flow of information between databases and applications with workflow automation tools. Workflow automation powers the modern enterprise.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation uses API connectors to connect the many SaaS applications and microservices that businesses use to complete work, and “trigger events” that cue the automation to make the next step in the workflow, to power the flow of information through a business process automatically. A human worker may be involved in the process to complete steps of the workflow, for example, approving an IT request or making a hiring decision with a job applicant, or the automation may complete the workflow without human intervention. Workflow automations can be designed and adjusted to suit the unique needs of a given business process. It can be used for HR automation like employee onboarding, financial automation like real-time reporting, marketing/sales automation like lead enrichment and routing, and much more. 

Why is workflow automation important today? 

Modern organizations have a sizeable tech stack of applications to perform or facilitate a wide range of functions. Specialized applications like Salesforce for sales, Workday for HR, and Zendesk for support, facilitate the completion of work within individual lines of business. Each app in the stack serves as a point solution for a business problem, or a hub for a specific line of business. While valuable, and the industry standard, these apps eventually create data silos. Business users work within their set of applications everyday, with little transparency across the enterprise. 

Furthermore, many business processes span across several applications regardless of department and therefore, without workflow automation, manual work will be involved to complete a full process. Manual data entry is error-prone and inefficient, lending to the common phrase: “Garbage in, garbage out.” 

When your company can integrate those specialized tools and orchestrate them to work together to complete processes, you realize the potential of enterprise automation. Enterprise-scale workflow automation orchestrates the flow of information across disparately designed SaaS or on-premise applications, databases, and microservices. 

Integration is the first step toward workflow automation

Integration is like the fascia that unites the body of a company’s tech stack; it’s the connectivity that unites the disparate parts. Automation is the orchestration of movement and processes, like the nervous system that tells the heart to keep beating and the limbs to move in unison. You need a foundation of integration in order to create workflow automations.

For younger companies and high-growth companies that haven’t invested in enterprise application integration yet, the lack of integration may be a significant roadblock to realizing the full power of both your people power and your tech stack. Companies have several options for integrating applications to create workflow automations. However, many tools are outdated. You want to find a tool that can perform both enterprise application integration and business process automation at an enterprise scale.  

For companies that haven’t invested in enterprise application integration yet, the lack of integration may be a significant roadblock to realizing the full power of both your people power and your tech stack. Click To Tweet

What workflow automation tools are available? 

There have been many types of workflow automation, and there are currently a lot of choices on the market for workflow automation tools. 

Task Automation

Task automation tools or “iSaaS” tools (integration Software as a Service), offer less security and governance than traditional iPaaS or enterprise automation, but they can be used by individuals to automate small daily tasks between applications. 


Traditional iPaaS

Traditional iPaaS tools require technical savvy and are run by an organization’s IT department. Traditional iPaaS tools are more likely to have on-premise deployment and use scheduled batch operations, rather than operating in real-time like modern cloud-based enterprise automation does.

Built-in process builders within SaaS apps

Some major hub SaaS applications such as Slack and Salesforce include built-in process builders. These built-in tools, such as Workday Journeys, ServiceNow Flow, Slack Workflow Builder, and Salesforce Process Builder let users link together a series of tasks within the application, and even pull data from outside sources. However, at a certain point users may find the platform limiting, since it is centralized in one application. These tools are more helpful for the automation of individuals’ tasks than for automation across an enterprise. 

RPA

RPA (robotic process automation) is UI-based automation for tasks like manual data entry. However, RPA does not handle UI changes well. API-based automation is better for the SaaS applications that businesses use today than RPA is. 

Enterprise Automation

Enterprise automation uses API connections to integrate disparate applications and scale workflow automation for business processes across an enterprise. Enterprise automation is unique in offering both enterprise application integration and business process automation at an enterprise scale. 

What to expect in terms of ROI for workflow automation

A good way to assess your ROI for a given workflow automation is to compare the annual cost of your current operation to the cost of automation. Integration platforms (iPaaS) and enterprise automation tools are generally offered on an annual subscription basis. The benefits of workflow automation may echo outward and affect your business operations and corporate culture in ways which are multifaceted, and in some ways, beyond simple quantification. 

Your ROI for an automation may include:

  • Increased operational efficiency
  • Reduction or elimination of data silos
  • Improved customer and employee experience
  • Operating your business process(es) in real-time rather than on scheduled daily or weekly data syncs
  • Improved data accuracy
  • Redirecting human resources toward core business functions such as strategy and innovation

To get a more accurate picture of what the ROI can be for workflow automation, let’s take a look at some examples of real-world use-cases from specific businesses.

Example use-cases for workflow automation using enterprise automation

Fintelligent

Fintelligent is a company that offers outsourced financial and accounting services for businesses. For example, if you sell consumer packaged goods or run a small e-commerce business that’s starting to grow, Fintelligent can be your “virtual CFO” to help the business grow. Fintelligent uses workflow automation to expedite financial reporting. Without workflow automation, Fintelligent would manually set up a batch import from a CSV every week. Now, they automatically import data from their sales and invoice repository (BrickFTP) into Intacct. 

Their ROI for workflow automation using an enterprise automation platform:

  • Workflow automation saved 6-7 hours per week (28 per month)
  • Allowed employees to refocus on higher-value work
  • Offers clients real-time insights into financials (an improvement over weekly insights)
  • Reduced human error

Nutanix

Nutanix is an enterprise, cloud computing software company that leads the market in hyperconverged infrastructure. Nutanix used workflow automation to centralize work processes in Slack, rather than have their employees logging in and out of a range of applications to complete processes. They use this for ServiceNow ticket triaging and for VM provisioning. 

Employees handle VM provisioning now through the Slack interface. In the new VM provisioning process, an engineer requests a VM in Slack. Then, the workflow automation creates a new ServiceNow ticket to request the VM, and assesses the engineer’s VM usage. If it’s a standard request, it’s automatically approved and sent back through Slack. The automation also optimizes VM provisioning by choosing which cluster would be most optimal to provision the VM from. If the request requires a manual review, the reviewer handles it from Slack. Additionally, employees receive Slack notifications for new ServiceNow tickets, and tickets can be assigned through Slack. 

Their ROI for workflow automation using an enterprise automation platform:

  • Accelerates time to value by provisioning VMs more quickly
  • VM requesters can acquire new VM in 10 minutes or less
  • Saves 6 hours per week for VM approvers
  • Brought ServiceNow ticket assignment rate to 100%
  • Ticket assignment is 2x faster


Customer data-driven automated marketing campaigns 

Edible Blooms, an Australian fruit bouquet and gift company, worked with consultants at Hoosh Marketing to create an automated marketing system using Marketo and Magento. Many of their customers send their edible bouquets for events like birthdays or anniversaries, that occur each year on the same calendar date. So, Hoosh used an enterprise automation platform to automate the process. Each day, the automation scans their customer data in Magento for customers who made a purchase 1 year + 10 days ago, so, 375 days ago. Then, the automation adds those customers to a new Marketo campaign and sends an email. In another 8 days, the automation sends an additional email as a follow-up. Edible Blooms has seen a 20% ROI in their investment in workflow automation. “Simple and genius,” is how Fab Capodicasa, founder of Hoosh Marketing, describes the automated solution.

How to implement enterprise automation at your organization

Workato is an enterprise automation platform that can be used to integrate applications and implement workflow automation at your organization. Workato serves customers including Nutanix, Edible Blooms, and Fintelligent, among many others. To learn more about implementing workflow automation at your organization, request a demo from our team. 

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