- Workflow automation is technology that automates time-consuming manual work like data entry or lead nurturing.
- Workflow automation software uses rule-based logic to automate manual work such as sending follow-up emails.
- The benefits of workflow automation include streamlined communication, empowered employees, and higher efficiency and productivity.
- This article is for small business owners or marketers who want to learn what workflow automation is and the benefits it offers small businesses.
Workflow automation is an easy way to save money, boost productivity and improve your employees' work experience by eliminating tedious, time-consuming tasks. For your business to get the most out of workflow automation, it is important to understand exactly what it is, how it works and the benefits it offers.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation technology automates manual tasks that can be time-consuming, like data entry. The aim is to improve and speed up your everyday business tasks, as well as to minimize the chances of errors.
What's more, research by CMO Council found that businesses lose up to $1 trillion each year as a result of mismanaged tasks. This is one reason using workflow automation software can help your business save time and money.
"Workflow automation software is a product that allows you to organize the work that needs to be done by you and your team, while automating several aspects of those workflows, such as creating reminders, updating task assignees based on certain conditions, and sending emails to clients," said Abir Syed, CPA at UpCounting.
Key takeaway: Workflow automation software handles certain time-consuming tasks within your business, such as lead nurturing.
How does workflow automation work?
Workflow automation software uses rule-based logic to automate many common business processes, including those within the finance, marketing and human resources departments.
One of the most popular uses of workflow management software is in conjunction with email marketing. It can automate several components of the marketing process, such as follow-up emails, lead nurturing, confirmation emails, contact management and drip campaigns. [Read related article: How to Create Triggered Emails]
In human resources, workflow automation software can input employee information into payroll systems, insurance policies, expense accounts and any other official systems you use for HR tasks. Automation eliminates a lot of the time required to conduct these tasks, as well as the chance for error in the entry of sensitive information.
Workflow automation can also make it easier to share information between team members, ensure compliance, and streamline important processes like hiring and onboarding to make them faster and more efficient.
Since it also leaves little room for error and often deals with tedious processes and lots of information, accounting is another popular use for workflow automation. You can automate things like reimbursement requests, expense processing, travel requests, and invoice reconciliation to save time and reduce employee frustration.
Key takeaway: Workflow automation uses rule-based logic to automate various types of manual work. It's particularly popular for marketing, accounting and HR-related tasks.
What are the benefits of workflow automation?
When used correctly, workflow automation software can benefit your business in many ways.
Workflow automation can significantly improve communication between your team members. Since employees often cite stress due to poor communication as a reason for leaving an employer, this type of software could help you reduce turnover. Workflow automation improves communication by eliminating the need for team members to remind each other when something needs to be done; they'll receive those reminders automatically.
By automating your workflow, you can assign responsibility to a team member for every part of the process, reducing the chances of something slipping through the cracks. Each step of the process is assigned to someone. This not only helps ensure all of the work gets done, but can also reveal inefficiencies or weak spots in your process.
Workplace automation could save your business money by eliminating costly errors and streamlining your processes to help employees complete them more efficiently. It might also allow you to save money on administrative labor, since repetitive, time-consuming tasks will be done automatically.
Because workflow automation conveys to employees their exact role in the process and the tasks they are responsible for, they can manage their work more effectively and take accountability for anything that goes wrong. Thus, managers do not need to oversee every step of the process or check in on employees.
Workflow automation software makes it very easy to assign roles, space out tasks and grant approval responsibilities to appropriate team members. This speeds up processes that previously required manager intervention. [Read related article: Machine Learning vs. Automation]
Dorna Moini, CEO of document automation software provider Documate, said workflow automation allows employees to devote their time to higher-value assignments. "In client-facing industries like law, finance, and insurance, this can lead to serving more clients in a shorter amount of time with higher profit margins."
When employees have more time for the important work they care about and were hired for, and with the software handling the more mundane and human-error-prone tasks, you're bound to see more quality output from your team.
Key takeaway: Workflow automation software can help you streamline communication, save money, increase efficiency, and empower employees with accountability and the time to focus on what matters.
What are the key features of workflow automation software?
When choosing workflow automation software, you should look for several important features:
- An easy-to-use builder: You want all of your workflow automation processes to begin with an intuitive builder or design tool that allows you to create, edit and share your workflows. Look for a builder that makes the software easy for anyone to use and allows for quick edits and previews.
- Access control: One of the best ways to ensure data remains accurate within your workflow automation software is to use a service with an access control option. This allows you to assign steps to specific users and control who can view and edit which portions of the workflow.
- Participant alerts: To maximize efficiency in your workflow, look for software that allows you to send alerts to team members when it's their turn to complete a task.
- Integrations: Look for software that lets you fully automate your workflow with relevant integrations. You want a tool that will seamlessly integrate with other platforms you might use, such as CRM software, an email marketing service or Google Analytics.
- Progress trackers: One of the benefits of workflow automation software is that it can track your progress and pinpoint where you could improve efficiency. A tracking feature shows you at a glance how your projects are coming along.
- Data security: With data breaches constantly on the rise, it's important to choose software that has strong security measures in place. Look for providers with browser security, encryption and password-protected files.
- KPI reports: Reports on your key performance indicators let you see any productivity bottlenecks immediately and give you the information you need to quickly fix the problem.
Key takeaway: Features to look for in workflow automation software include data security measures, access control options, progress trackers and an easy-to-use interface.
Popular workflow automation software
Here are some popular workflow automation software options and the reasons why small businesses are using them.
UiPath specializes in hyperautomation that saves businesses time and effort, improves the employee experience, and helps ensure compliance across several industries.
"[I like] UiPath as it has a sizable user base, and its basic version is free," said Michael Sena, spreadsheet automation consultant at Senacea. "Moreover, it could be used without programming, but at the same time allows you to augment its use with code. UiPath StudioX is also great for small and microbusinesses that want to test simple RPA (robotic process automation) solutions using predefined building blocks."
ClickUp is designed to be an all-in-one productivity app that combines the functions of task management, word processing, chat, goal management and more into one product.
Syed said ClickUp is the best workflow automation software he has come across. "This is mostly due to its vast number of integrations, high level of customization and automation, and an extremely generous free tier. Of course, depending on your organization, it may not meet your needs, as it's a software meant for the masses."
Integrify is a low-code workflow automation platform that offers an easy-to-use builder, flexible customization, multiple pricing options and dedicated customer support.
"Not all workflow automation software can address the complex needs of businesses," said Allan Borch, founder of Dotcom Dollar. "[Integrify] has all the necessary features that can fit the needs of those businesses in various fields. Furthermore, it uses a service-based approach, including support and consulting for best practices and process improvements. Most of all, it offers great convenience, as you can access it through a browser and even on mobile."
Pardot is the workflow automation software created by Salesforce. It is a flexible platform that comes with all the support and innovation you'd expect from a large company like Salesforce.
"Here I also build lead-capture forms and nurture campaigns, which automatically updates our CRM," he said. "Our automated scoring system helps our sales team stay informed on what leads are actively engaged, helping them convert prospects faster."
Zapier is an automation tool that automatically shares information between your web apps, making it easy to connect all the programs you use on a daily basis and speed up your productivity.
Ian Kelly, vice president of operations for NuLeaf Naturals, said he likes the simplicity of Zapier. "In fact, it almost reminds me of playing The Sims, because you are able to intuitively build workflows for common but tedious tasks. For example, if you always want a duplicate of every message, you can set up that workflow instead of manually duplicating and occasionally forgetting to do this. Zapier is also compatible with Facebook, QuickBooks, and Google Drive, so you can apply workflow automation to social media, marketing, and bookkeeping in addition to daily work."
Key takeaway: Some of the most popular workflow automation providers are Zapier, Pardot, Integrify, ClickUp and UiPath. Small business owners we spoke to like them for their ease of use and various useful business functions.