Our Workflow Basics series aims to explore the concept of ‘workflow automation’ and its role in transforming manual, paper-based business processes into efficient, effective digital solutions.
Ask anyone to define “workflow” and they’ll each give you a different answer. That’s because workflow means different things to different people.
VP of Gartner Research, Janelle Hill, gives us this definition:
“Workflow is a form of flow management technology that coordinates interactions between people and software systems. It coordinates the flow, the interaction patterns across manual and systematized tasks.”
To put it in simpler terms, workflow is a sequence of related steps or logic that is necessary to complete a particular process. Often referred to as a business process, a workflow is a way to automatically move a task from one stage to the next until the job is complete.
What Does Workflow Look Like?
Workflow looks different in every instance, but the concept is always the same – a process moves from stage to stage and, if you work in a team, often from person to person. Everyone interacts with many types of workflow on a daily basis, because life (and business) happens in stages, phases, steps, cycles and any other combination of events.
One example of workflow is creating a contract to purchase a home.
In order to buy a home, you need a contract between the seller and the buyer, and often the bank, real estate agents, etc. Completing a contract requires multiple steps, lots of data input, negotiations and, finally, signatures everywhere.
Traditionally, whenever someone – say the bank – made a change to the contract, they would have to alter and save the master copy before sending it to the next person. This method is slow and prone to errors.
If the bank sends the wrong version of the contract to the seller, it might be days or weeks before anyone notices a problem. Small errors like this could delay the closing date on the house or ultimately lead to the termination of the contract. A lose-lose for all involved.
Multiple people working on the same version of the contract can also be a hassle when trying to ensure updates are captured and managed appropriately. When work requires collaboration, like in the home-buying scenario, there are many contact points, often making it difficult to track, manage and audit effectively.
Workflow automation can make it easier.
What Is Workflow Automation?
Workflow automation involves using technology to increase the efficiency of a process and make that process repeatable.
With workflow automation, you reduce the number of manual steps that a user has to perform. Using our example of the home buying contract, the normal process would include manually printing and hand delivering the contract from buyer to inspector, to mortgage lender and then seller. That’s a lot of trees, gas and time wasted.
With workflow automation, you can use software to generate the contract, email it to each participant automatically, and track the changes to ensure everyone is working on the correct version. Everyone involved can interact with the process and get feedback, responses and updates instantly. When one person finishes a step or responds to a task in the process, the workflow notifies the next person in the process so they can begin the next step.
Real-time updates to documents and notifications to the right people at the right time make collaboration progress more smoothly.
How Can Businesses Use Workflow Automation?
Now that we’ve covered what workflows are and workflow automation does, let’s look at our home buying example again, this time using automation and assuming you’re the buyer.
An automated process might look something like this:
- You notify the selling agent that you want to make an offer on their listing, which starts a workflow.
- The selling agent creates a contract via the workflow and sends a copy to you and the seller for review. The workflow monitors the document for changes and captures all edits from each party.
- After final approval of the documents, the workflow contacts the mortgage lender to add the financial information to the package.
- The workflow then notifies the selling agent to compile and submit the final package to you and the seller. You both set a closing date to sign off on the documents, or you can elect to sign them electronically via a secured signing technology like DocuSign or Adobe Sign.
- Once signed, the workflow would ensure that you, the seller, the mortgage lender and the selling agent all received the signed copies and could even order a gift basket to arrive at your new house 30 days later.
In the above scenario, contract generation, document draft and version coordination, email correspondence and even digital signatures can be managed automatically via a workflow process. This makes it repeatable and manageable, and allows the agent to focus on the main task of selling. Meanwhile, the buyer can spend less time worrying about the buying process and more time thinking about the important things, like whether to install a pool or a media room.
Companies like Meritage Homes use Nintex Document Generation and workflow automation in Salesforce to streamline their contract creation processes. Their agents are able to populate document fields automatically, saving hours with each contract.
Workflow automation makes everyday tasks easier by reducing errors and saving time and money.
Start your free trial with Nintex today and see how you can streamline your business.