There’s a difference between digitizing a paper-based process and devising a process that is wholly, natively digital.
And that difference lies at the heart of what makes the new category of Workflow and Content Automation (WCA) so powerful.
WCA is a consolidation of workflow automation and content generation, pioneered by a new generation of integrated, cloud-based apps and programs. It has many advantages, from analytics and cross-application integration to predictive intelligence. And because of those advantages, industry analyst firm Aragon Research has identified WCA as a major piece of the digital transformation that businesses should undergo if they want to remain relevant and competitive.
First Step: Put Paper in the Trash
Email is a great example of a paper-based process that has been digitized. Rather than writing and following its own rules, email adheres closely to the rules of its analog ancestor. (We’ll forgive it; it’s from a different era.) Thus, it doesn’t rise above some of paper’s annoyances and inefficiencies—and, as Aragon puts it, businesses can’t be content with eliminating paperwork.
They need to eliminate paper thinking.
So, in terms of communication, that means apps like Slack, which aren’t based on any single process in the paper world. They approach digital as a unique domain, with unique possibilities. As a result, they have unique value and capabilities.
How does this look in the world of workflow and content? Well, we had the old way of getting documents approved and signed: couriers, signatures, etc. We’ve had the digital translation of that process, which hastens some steps but still involves quite a bit of manual input and coordination of different applications.
And now we’re getting born-digital, automated solutions, where the applications interact with each other to do all the heavy lifting, and all a person should do is sign and hit send. That’s where smart businesses want to be.
WCA and Digital Transformation
Digital transformation means more than automation. However, Aragon identified five trends defining the “fully digital business,” and WCA is a strategy that touches on every one.
In general, running processes on the cloud allows businesses to be more efficient and agile — turning up computing power when it’s needed, and drawing it down when it’s not. But another advantage of the cloud is how it’s changed the way products and services are designed and distributed. Rather than a single version of the product, with a fixed design and array of features, cloud-based services are increasingly customizable. That’s how the best WCA solutions are provided: as building blocks that you don’t have to be a programmer to arrange.
Line of business (LOB) managers — that is, the people who know the workflows and content at hand — can assemble the blocks themselves. That’s a huge weight off IT’s shoulders and a huge benefit to everyone who will end up using the WCA solution.
Another huge benefit of cloud-based services is interoperability. When companies started offering services via the cloud, they also started providing APIs, so that customers could make these new services work in their own computing environments. And that gave other companies the means to develop add-ons and integrations with those services.
WCA takes full advantage of this putting the power of integration at the fingertips of business and IT users, who can easily integrate workflows with CRM, ECM and other cloud-based applications. It’s about automating processes to improve how we all work together.
So much vital business activity happens on mobile now. Everyone in a company, from those who facilitate orders to those who sign off on them, needs to be able to perform their duties on a phone or tablet. This is a whole other domain of APIs and interoperability, and the most effective WCA solutions are ahead of the curve. Where other applications should be retrofitted, or reinvented to have more functionality on mobile, next-generation WCA solutions are designed with mobile integration in mind.
It just makes sense: If an automated process screeches to a halt as soon as it hits your phone, it isn’t improving your workflow, is it?
One of the great things about digital tech is that, in addition to performing tasks, it can measure its own performance. A digitized workflow process (i.e., a digital imitation of a paper-based process) could collect and produce all sorts of data about how it’s used, but it tends not to, because it wasn’t built with that in mind. Today’s WCA solutions are built with the full capabilities of digital in mind — which means tracking and reporting on frequency, participants, content utilized, impact, efficiency and other metrics.
Since the whole point of WCA is to iron out kinks and make operations smoother, metrics like these are indispensable. They show you where you still have room to optimize.
Machine learning is another talent of digital tech.
We see it a lot in lifestyle applications, evaluating your shopping patterns or other habits to anticipate your future needs and desires. Well, nothing in the working world relies on patterns and sequences like business processes: sales, billing, provisioning, etc. Workflows are uniquely poised to benefit from machine learning, and WCA will incorporate it more and more.
For example, if you create a particular form every time a manager rejects a document, the application will pick up on it; the next time a manager rejects a document, the form will offer itself automatically.
Why WCA and Why Now?
IT is overwhelmingly burdened.
As business pressures continue to rise and the need to outpace competition becomes even more crucial, they’re tasked with being strategic and contributing in a meaningful way to the business’ growth and edge. At the same time, IT staff should create and update a growing number of applications, which is incredibly time-consuming and eats up valuable company resources.
WCA relieves the burden by putting the LOB manager in charge of their own workflows. People work better together as a result, workflows leverage content in disparate systems, and business users and IT teams can move faster.
But the most compelling benefit of WCA is also the most basic: The automation of simple to sophisticated actions and the ability to work across systems for better collaboration. Inefficient manual components waste human resources. Staff should be free to handle exceptions to the rule. That’s where their talents and flexibility are most valuable.
All the activity that follows the pattern can — and should — be left to the tech.
A world-class WCA platform can be a key part of a company’s digital transformation. Users can act more independently, and IT departments can focus on more critical business problems.
Processes become much easier and faster, and you’ll be able to trim down a lot of unnecessary costs associated with the traditional workflows and the manual assembly of documents.
Learn more by downloading a complimentary copy of the September 2016 Aragon Research note “Workflow and Content Automation: The Smart Way Forward.”