Workflow automation is a common buzzword these days, but what exactly does it mean? Typically, when business stakeholders are speaking of automating workflows, they are also simultaneously talking about workflow digitization. So, what exactly is workflow digitization?
Digitization is all about taking manual processes, especially ones involving paper, and making them digital. It is distinct from digitalization, which is a related term that refers to a more holistic view of creating a comprehensive digital landscape for your business.
Digitalization is necessary for optimal workflow automation. We could certainly find ways to improve workflow management that does not involve digitization per se. But for the most benefits, full workflow digitization – not just workflow automation – is better.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your company is sending out paper invoices to customers, who send checks manually back to your business to be processed. We could certainly find ways to automate parts of the invoicing workflow, such as using a mail merge function to print out envelope addresses, but this wouldn’t be full automation of the process.
To fully automate this process, it would be better to digitize it. This means taking a paper-based process and making it fully digital. Thus, invoices would be sent out digitally and payments would be made virtually. No paper would be involved whatsoever.
When done properly, digitization can enable digital transformation, which is all about improving processes, enhancing efficiencies, and enabling teams to succeed through a bottom-to-top operational shift.
How Do Digital Workflows Lead to Digital Transformation?
Workflow digitization can be completely transformative for your business, no matter how new or small. There are many benefits, including the following:
1. Digital Workflows Facilitate the Automation and Streamlining of Workflows
As we’ve already explained, workflow digitization is a foundational piece of true workflow automation. Workflow digitization also fosters efficiency, enabling staff to focus on core tasks as opposed to repetitive, menial work. This streamlining of processes can also speed up workflows.
2. Workflow Digitization Adds Security for Data and Processes
Let’s say you want to improve workflow management of inventory. Through digitization, your business can enable added security and accountability in its processes. Inventory could be tagged and tracked much more easily through digitization, making inventory control much more robust and secure.
3. Digital Workflows Reduce Human Error and Other Process Errors Found in Manual Workflows
Human errors are inevitable when people are managing processes. Good human workflow systems try to account for and reduce these errors, but they may not be 100%. Workflow automation can go one step further and take the human error out of the equation completely.
Manual workflows also have other potentially vulnerable areas. In the example above, where checks are collected by mail from customers, any number of things can go wrong down the pipeline. The human error component may be that the wrong information is written on the check. Process errors could include problems outside anyone’s control, such as a cup of coffee getting accidentally spilled on a pile of incoming accounts receivable.
Workflow Automation and Digitization: Where Do You Start?
In beginning your workflow digitization campaign, your operations team will need to do a thorough assessment of existing processes and workflows. These could include anything from handling sales quotes to customer complaint management. Don’t forget HR-related processes such as employee onboarding, timesheets, and payroll.
Assess each process or workflow and find out if it has any manual or human components that might be better done digitally. For example, if the sales team is keeping independent records of client leads (some in a paper file and some in their own Excel spreadsheet), it is way past time to get all of this information together in a CRM (customer relationship management software). From there, new workflows can be planned that take advantage of available technologies and workflow management software packages.
If Your Business Needs Workflow Automation, Consider Workflow Digitization
For businesses who have been “stuck in old ways” for many years, engaging on a mass digitization project may seem overwhelming or perhaps even not doable. However, these fears are unfounded. With the right digitization strategy, workflow automation can become quite doable and achievable with fewer overhead costs than you might imagine. In the long run, your business will save money while becoming more agile and prepared to deal with changing market conditions and other challenges. In short, the investment in workflow digitization and automation is well worth it.
Edwards Business Systems offers expert workflow solutions, including support for digitization. To find out more about how we can help your company streamline workflows, contact us today.