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Workflow Automation Guide

Workflow automation uses technology within business processes to replace or complement manual effort to deliver
“better, faster, cheaper” operations and outcomes.

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Oded Moshe

min read

What Is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation allows business processes to operate without any human intervention other than at the points (in the process) where it’s truly needed.

It uses rule-based logic and potentially artificial intelligence (AI)-delivered capabilities to invoke tasks at points within any given process.

In some ways, enterprise workflow automation can be viewed as the continued evolution of business operations that started with the Industrial Revolution and “machinery” and continued with computing capabilities being introduced to business offices.

Now, workflow automation tools allow organizations to free employees from high-volume, low-value tasks – with the technology freeing them up to undertake higher-value-adding and more motivating work.

Importantly, everyone wins with the best workflow automation software – work flows more quickly; employees and customers have better experiences and outcomes; and businesses benefit from reduced operational costs (cannot imagine anyone having an interest in all that).

Enterprise workflow automation tools transform business processes and their outcomes, reducing the need for manual tasks not only in IT but across the entire organization.

It’s the digital transformation that most organizations and their business functions have been waiting on for the last decade.

It’s important to note that workflow process automation isn’t confined to individual business systems. Instead, service automation – often called “service orchestration” – is available in workflow orchestration tools to invoke the capabilities of third-party systems and tools that allow end-to-end workflows to be automated.

Why Is Workflow Automation Used?

The right workflow automation technology is cheaper and faster than humans (sorry, humans).
It’s more consistent and accurate.

Plus, IT never takes breaks, sleeps, or falls ill.

Organizations can’t just keep adding more employees into the mix to meet growing business needs to add new capabilities or scale operations due to resource availability and cost limitations.

So, in addition to delivering “better, faster, cheaper” operations and outcomes, workflow automation tools are also a ready-made solution for your organization’s need to do or deliver more.

For example, in an IT service desk scenario, an automation-enabled workflow capability for ticket handling, i.e. for the end-to-end progressing of end-user issues and requests, will deliver across all three of being “better, faster, and cheaper.”

  • Better – The end-user experience is improved, in part thanks to speed improvements, as is the service desk analyst role with high-volume, low-value tasks replaced with more stimulating and personally fulfilling work.
  • Faster – Tickets are dealt with more quickly, not only thanks to the avoidance of human-based delays, whether caused by resource limitations or error, but also because the workflow automation tools and workflow orchestration tools can work more swiftly than people.
  • Cheaper – Workflow automation software reduces operational costs thanks to both the increased speed and the replacement of manual tasks with far-cheaper automated capabilities.

In more generic terms, organizations employ workflow process automation to receive one or more of the advantages below.

1) Better Quality Services

In addition to better end-user experiences, a workflow automation platform improves the quality of delivered services.

This improvement could relate to various areas that include service availability, speed, accuracy, usability, or something else.

Ultimately, the improved quality that the best workflow automation software delivers will likely be perceived differently by various business stakeholders, but most, if not all, will see it as better.

2) Improved Process and Employee Efficiency

Workflow automation platforms offer increased process execution speed – not only because automation is quicker than humans and people-related delays are avoided, but because automation delivers 24×7 operations (the hustle, indeed, is real).

In IT use cases, this makes for faster service delivery and support – for example, the meantime to resolution (MTTR) for incidents, and the associated business impact, is dramatically reduced.

Another workflow automation example is extending or enhancing human capabilities, increasing both employee and process efficiency.

This improvement can include machine learning to allow automated decisions that further reduce human intervention in business processes.
Plus, self-service capabilities for end users can also increase the efficiency-based benefits of workflow process automation.

3) Lower-Cost Service and Support Capabilities

Workflow automation, as with other flavors of automation, reduces operational costs.

The cost reductions usually manifest in two key ways:

First, workflow automation tools are cheaper than employing people to undertake the now-automated tasks (cue the $-sign eyes).

Second, the increased speed offered by workflow automation platforms means that operational activities are executed more swiftly with the cost benefits this brings.

In addition to these direct cost savings, indirect cost savings exist too – for example, avoiding the rework costs caused by the need to “make good” after human errors.

4) Improved Operational and Employee Productivity

The introduction of enterprise workflow automation helps an organization optimize its processes.

This optimization starts with introducing workflow automation capabilities, where improvements to the status quo can be identified and addressed.

The automation capabilities themselves then help to increase process-based productivity and ensure consistency of execution.

Employee productivity increases too.

For IT personnel, productivity increases by automation taking on the high-volume, low-value tasks and augmenting their capabilities – for example, allowing service desk analysts to reboot a server via the click of a button from within an incident ticket (a moment of silence for all manual printer resets).

Finally, the productivity of end users is increased too – with automated resolutions and request provisioning meaning that employees lose less productivity to their IT service and support interactions.

5) Greater Accuracy

Workflow automation tools, thanks to logic-based rules (and perhaps machine-learning-based patterns), offer higher accuracy in the execution of processes and tasks.

Plus, because the best workflow automation software minimizes the need for human intervention, the probability and levels of human error are reduced too.

The higher level of accuracy is important not only in terms of hitting service level agreement (SLA) targets but also because fewer errors mean lower error-correction costs and better end-user experiences.

6) Increased Governance

The governance-based drivers for a workflow automation platform start with the fact that automation delivers consistency within processes and outcomes, which also offers consistency in employee or end-user experience terms.

This consistency is vital to governance needs. In particular, because there’s an audit trail (or log), it’s easier to demonstrate what has been done, when, and by whom (or what).

7) Improved Accountability

The best workflow automation software helps to create accountability within teams.

This accountability starts with structuring end-to-end processes to facilitate automation use in line with the responsibilities of those involved.

Then the workflow’s automation elements can help ensure that automated triggers and reminders prompt responsible individuals or roles.

Enterprise workflow automation reporting and analytics can also provide insight – for example, if someone’s inactivity delays an outcome.

8) Increased Job Satisfaction

Industry surveys show that IT professionals think that working in IT will get more difficult over the next three years.

The same is true for other corporate service and support personnel too.

It’s not surprising, given that both workloads and end-user expectations are rising.

Workflow automation platforms help organizations ease the pressure associated with these challenges.

Not only are staff freed up from the burden of handling repetitive low-value tasks, they’re also able to undertake more stimulating and worthwhile work as a result.

These increase job satisfaction, lower absenteeism, and raise employee retention levels (no more burnouts).

Benefits of Workflow Automation Over Manual Processes

While the above list of workflow automation drivers is helpful, specific workflow automation examples of how workflow automation is superior to manual tasks and processes add an extra dimension of insight.

There is, as a result, some overlap between these benefits and the reasons why organizations use enterprise workflow automation tools.

1) Improved Control and Compliance

An audit trail of what has been done, when, and by whom (or what) is created by the automated logging of workflow automation actions and the manual tasks between them.

Organizations can use this audit trail to fulfill the control, governance, and compliance needs of internal auditors, external auditors, and regulatory bodies.

The consistency of workflow automation helps with policy and process compliance too – which can be difficult when people interpret what’s needed differently or actively choose to “do things their way” rather than following the agreed way of working (you know who you are).

There are also indirect control and compliance benefits too.

For example, the automation of roles and/or privileges assignment where policy adherence restricts unauthorized activity and improves governance and compliance.

2) Reduced Process Cycles

While the previous section calls out the increased process and employee efficiency, some might view these processes as operating more quickly rather than from an outcome perspective.

The latter is an important benefit of workflow automation software because the speed of operation is not always the same as the speed of outcome achievement.

For example, in an IT support scenario, an end user no longer needs to wait for a service desk analyst to help them.

Instead, they can engage a self-service capability or a chatbot where, through the use of workflow process automation and a knowledge base, if appropriate, the end user can get to their desired outcome more swiftly.

3) Reduced Manual Effort

The opportunity of enterprise workflow automation is often a case of “If the technology can do what’s needed as good as a human being, then why not?”

Of course, the term “as good” needs to be well defined.

For example, workflow process automation being cheaper is not enough (nor is it being faster).
The key criteria should be quality-based, likely related to the end-user or employee experience.

For example, in terms of the daily tasks of an IT service desk analyst, how many of these tasks could become an automated part of the incident management or service request management workflow?

Again, we think of the high-volume, low-value tasks that, once automated, free analysts up to do more rewarding work.

Automation doesn’t mean the absence of people in processes, simply that they, and their manual efforts, are applied to the tasks where they can add the most value.

4) Improved Visibility

As already mentioned, the best workflow automation software records the activities undertaken within a process in audit logs.

This means that there’s greater insight into what was done, when, and by whom (or what).

But this is the “after the fact” view of what happened.

An additional benefit of workflow automation tools, and the visibility it provides into operations and activities, is the status of the process flow.

For example, people can quickly see the progress of an incident ticket.

Organizations can employ proactive visibility measures to monitor progress, highlighting and addressing any issues.

This increased visibility can take the form of notification-based reminders or the use of SLA-based alerts that inform selected personnel of the need for intervention.

The important thing is that the workflow automation tools deliver the visibility needed to ensure quality and service-level targets are met (no more broken telephone over resolving a ticket).

5) Increased Employee Satisfaction

Employees want to be treated well (yeah, mind=blown).

They also want speedy service and support.

For example, in IT, automated capabilities for user-provisioning, software distribution, and password resetting all deliver faster service and help to ensure that employees can be more productive.

Plus, automation will help get employees effective from day one when applied to new employee onboarding.

The increased employee satisfaction also relates to service and support staff, with workflow automation able to increase their motivation by freeing up time to work on more challenging jobs such that they feel they are contributing to organizational goals.

6) Continual Improvement

Workflow automation software does more than just help to improve existing business processes – whether in IT, HR, Facilities, or any other business function – through its native capabilities.
The introduction of workflow process automation is also a great opportunity to do more than a like-for-like replacement of the old manual practices.

For example, when organizations understand how introducing new technology, such as workflow orchestration tools, can bring about new ways of working – perhaps even providing the ability to do things previously impossible.

The new capabilities offered by AI-enabled intelligent automation are a good example of this. It’s also important not to look at workflow automation only delivering speed-related improvements.

Instead, workflow automation tools offer opportunities related to various areas, including scalability and growth, cost reductions, improved employee experience, improved customer experience, and 24×7 operations.

7) Better Workload Management

Workflow automation platforms empower employees – allowing them to get more work done more accurately.

Plus, they can scale work operations more quickly while maintaining employee and customer experience.

The cause of these and many other benefits is that workflow process automation tools help to bring order to processes, in addition to task-based automation, such that work and workloads are better managed.

Plus, of course, the use of automation for high-volume, low-value tasks, in particular, allows employees to focus on what’s most important.

For example, an IT service desk analyst can deliver exceptional service while resolving technical issues as quickly as possible, rather than wasting time on “admin” tasks such as manually logging tickets or assigning roles (“Yay, more password resets!” – said no one ever).

8) Reduced Human Error

Human errors, even simple ones, can be expensive – whether this is the business impact on operations and outcomes or the costs of “making good” post-error.

In IT, this could be the human action of an infrastructure change that goes wrong and prevents work from getting done – perhaps both internally and at the customer interface (such as retail stores).

Whereas, when organizations use workflow automation software, perhaps in conjunction with workflow orchestration tools, the increased accuracy reduces the error level – ideally to zero.

When the worst does happen – with this still likely caused by human error somewhere in the workflow – fixes can also be undertaken using workflow orchestration tools, potentially at the click of a button.

How Can Workflow Automation Help Your Business?

It’s important to remember that workflow automation isn’t just for the IT department.

Your organization may call this approach various names, such as:

  • Enterprise workflow automation
  • Digital transformation
  • Enterprise service management
  • Digital enablement
  • Or something else

Whatever name they call it, workflow process automations across IT, HR, Facilities, Finance, Procurement, and other business functions are how the needed optimization of business operations and outcomes is best achieved.

Advanced enterprise workflow automation tools also provide business function personnel, rather than IT professionals, with the ability to create automated workflows.

The use of drag-and-drop capabilities, in particular, facilitates faster creation by business function employees in HR, Finance, and the other workflow automation examples listed below.

1) IT

Before detailing some of the non-IT use cases of workflow automation, it would be remiss not to call out some of the key IT use cases (of which there are many more):

  • Automated password resets
  • The automated triaging of emails – incidents and requests – to the IT service desk
  • Incidents, problem, and change management/enablement process automation
  • Automated service request fulfillment from a service catalog
  • The escalation of SLA breaches – both pre and post-breach
  • Automated collection and reconciliation of asset data
  • Automated deployment of services/applications or patches
  • The automated collection of compliance data for audit purposes
  • Automated remediation, such as what has been termed “self-healing infrastructure”

2) Human Resources

While HR might handle the successful employment of people, and the IT department handles the technology, there are many similarities in how they both work – handling employee requests for help, service, information, and change.

It’s why HR has long been a primary use case for enterprise service management and the extension of ITSM capabilities, including the ITSM tool.

Hence, as with the IT service desk, the HR help desk, contact center, or whatever your organization calls it, is ripe to benefit from workflow automation.

With various workflow automation and workflow orchestration tool capabilities available to help keep work moving efficiently and effectively.

A good example is the onboarding and offboarding of employees – where HR needs to receive approvals from the hiring manager and finance before making an offer.

The workflow then triggers many tasks and workflows, such as the need for the security team to provide physical access capabilities of the Facilities team to provide a suitable desk, chair, and personal storage (either at home or in an office building).

Or intelligent automation in the form of RPA robots can also be applied to recruitment – automating the aggregation of candidate information from various sources.

There are many other HR use cases for automated workflows related to business-as-usual employee management, too, such as affecting benefits changes, processing timesheets, and handling vacation requests.

3) Finance

The Finance department is a business area where workflow automation speeds up processes, reduces operational costs, and – importantly – reduces human errors.

Especially when workload volumes and deadlines necessitate speedier operations, that might cause data input errors or people to miss inaccuracies.

There are many opportunities to employ workflow automation in finance work activities.

Good workflow automation examples are:

  • Month-end processes
  • Automated invoice reconciliation and payments
  • Automated travel request approval based on policies
  • Onboarding new suppliers
  • Automated expenses reimbursement

Intelligent automation can also help Finance teams. For example, organizations can use RPA robots to undertake bank reconciliations, flagging exceptions for human attention.

4) Marketing

Marketing teams can automate many of the most repetitive and potentially soul-destroying marketing tasks (if we in fact acknowledge that marketers have a soul).

For example, with email marketing, an automated “drip campaign” can provide prospects with regular insights – perhaps a mix of best practices and product information – to help maintain interest and build trust after their contact details are captured via the download of an online resource.

Workflow automation software can also move leads through the sales pipeline as they take specific actions.

At the point of sale, for online retail scenarios, workflow automation software can be used to remind website visitors that they still have unpurchased items in their shopping cart.

After a sale, a welcome email that includes product/service-related guidance can be automatically sent to the customer.

Marketing workflow automation opportunities aren’t only related to email management, though – for example, an organization can merge duplicate prospect/customer records, or leads can be deleted or archived if they have gone “cold.”

Intelligent automation also offers additional workflow automation opportunities – for example, collecting and analyzing marketing data from various marketing and non-marketing systems to create more complete pictures.

5) Sales

Workflow automation allows sales personnel to rise above administration tasks to concentrate on (wait for it) selling.

Workflow automation helps salespeople with lead and prospect-related tasks, such as by sending automated emails when leads interact with the corporate website, e.g. by downloading a piece of collateral.

It can also automatically move leads through the sales pipeline when they take specific actions, including policy-based actions related to inactivity. Deal details can also be updated automatically.

For example, once a salesperson arranges a meeting – with related tasks for both the salesperson, others are automatically created too.

A workflow automation platform can also be used at the deal-closure stage – for example, in seeking approval for quotes and when offering discounts.

Intelligent automation can also add to automated workflows – for example, RPA robots can help with customer onboarding by collating data from various customer-related documents to automatically create a new customer record.

6) Facilities

Again, as with HR, Facilities teams have a similar need to the IT service desk to ensure that they swiftly route incoming issues and requests to the right personnel for action.

Workflow automation tools help teams consistently meet agreed service-level targets, and repetitive tasks can be automated via workflow orchestration tools.

The possible use cases are wide and varied – from handling day-to-day issues such as fixing a broken telephone port (perhaps by automatically routing the issue to the third-party telecoms service provider for resolution), to assisting with large facilities projects such as office relocations.

Changes are another great workflow automation use case.

For example, in taking a change request – perhaps for additional access or a desk move – through the required approval process and scheduling the required resources to deliver against the need.

7) Customer Service

Customer service or external customer support scenarios are also very similar to those of internal IT support – again making workflow automation a powerful addition to operations.

An organization can use a workflow automation tool as a first line of email-channel support by sending out suitable email responses and creating appropriate tasks.

At the end of a customer engagement, it can send out customer satisfaction or customer experience surveys and create tasks based on the customer response.

Intelligent automation is increasingly helping with customer service workflow automation.

A good workflow automation example is the use of machine learning to triage cases or tickets – from understanding the issues, through categorization and prioritization, to routing tickets to the most appropriate team.

Workflow orchestration tools can also be used to provide resolution.

What to Look for When Choosing Your Workflow Automation Software?

When selecting workflow automation software, there are both functional and non-functional capabilities to consider.

While the latter are common across most technologies, i.e. performance, scalability, upgradeability, security, integrations, and the total cost of ownership (TCO), others are specific to workflow automation tools and similar solutions.

1) Ease of Use

For an organization to get the maximum benefit from workflow automation software, there’s a need for it to be easy to use. Not only by IT professionals but also by business function employees with limited IT knowledge and experience (aka those that are “not as good with computers”).

There are several key attributes to look out for here:

  • A consumer-like and intuitive user interface (UI) – that’s easy for anyone to use
  • No-code capabilities – which means that no coding is needed to create or amend automated workflows (although there will likely be low-code capabilities too where more significant change and complexity is required)
  • Drag-and-drop design capabilities – that allow employees with limited technical skills to create, amend, and test automated workflows quickly (muttering off “weeee” as you drag-and-drop items is optional)

2) Choice of Delivery Model

Many organizations now have “cloud-first” strategies – based on various cloud-based benefits that include flexibility, improved interoperability with other systems and tools, and subscription-based pricing.

While some might prefer, or be required, to use on-premises workflow automation software. This need for the choice of delivery model might relate to the location of corporate data and its security in particular.

3) Ease of Integration

Workflow automation software will need to exchange data with other corporate, and potentially third-party systems and tools to be effective.

Therefore, your organization must ensure that its choice of workflow automation tool offers pre-built integrations or connectors for popular software solutions (both vendor and third-party created), open APIs, webhooks, and compatibility with integration-enabling solutions.

4) Ease of Configuration

Workflow automation software needs to be easily configurable to ensure that it can fully enable your organization’s business processes – even where they are complex.

Ideally, the workflow automation tool or system should bend to the needs of the using organization rather than the reverse (in short, we rule the machines, not vice versa).

The need for customization should be minimized to avoid future headaches related to changing business needs and issues caused by future software upgrades/updates.

5) Reporting and Analytics Capabilities

While procuring organizations might see reporting and analytics capabilities as an add-on to the core tool or system functionality, they are also vital to workflow automation software solutions.

First, they provide insight into how well the workflow automation is performing, by highlighting transaction-based exceptions or identifying unexpected delays or bottlenecks.

Second, they provide the platform for improvement – to address any highlighted issues and allow for the continual assessment of incremental changes that are experimenting with the status quo to drive greater workflow efficiencies.

6) Mobile Capabilities

Your organization’s choice of workflow automation platform needs to reflect the ways employees work – especially given the greater uptake of work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategies where employees might be engaging with workflows while “on the move,” via their mobile devices.

Employing a workflow automation software solution that lacks mobile capabilities will severely limit your organization’s ability to fully benefit from the tight-knit coupling of people and automation in delivering superior business operations and outcomes.

7) TCO

While the cost of workflow automation software is important, it might not be the most important criteria when selecting a preferred solution – with the cost weighed against the perceived value of different products/services.

However, your organization must consider the TCO of the workflow automation software, not just the purchase price or annual subscription costs.

Some of the additional costs for your organization to consider in the financial assessment of different workflow automation tools include:

  • Implementation costs (including professional services and potentially third-party consultancy)
  • Support and maintenance (if on-premises software)
  • Additional operational costs caused by how the software is used

For example, a dollar saved in the purchase price might cause an extra ten dollars of operating costs per annum (insert Keanu Reeves “Woahh!” face).

Examples of Workflow Automations

As already mentioned before, make no mistake. Service management works better with workflow and automation capabilities. That’s a fact.

Check out this short video to see how you can benefit.

Workflow Designer gives you the power to easily build and modify workflows in order to drive business impact across more areas of your organization.

Here are 3 real-world examples for your departments:

 

Start Your Workflow Automation Today with SysAid

Since 2002, SysAid has been developing automation solutions that eliminate barriers to a smooth workflow.

We take the tedious manual tasks out of the equation by replacing them with automatic digital processes (the employees can start actually working on what’s important, imagine that).

Our products will improve your organization’s IT capabilities, daily routines, and customer service.

We take a scalable approach to automation, and we can match you with a solution that will meet your current needs and help you reach your future goals.

If you’re ready to embrace workflow process automation as a business tool, our team will make IT happen.

When you implement SysAid software, you will quickly reap the benefits of higher efficiency and happier employees.

For more information, advice, and a free custom demo, contact us today.

About

the Author

Oded Moshe
Oded Moshe

Oded has been leading product development at SysAid for 13 years and is currently spearheading strategic product partnerships. He’s a seasoned product and IT management executive with over 18 years of experience. He is passionate about building and delivering innovative products that solve real-world problems.

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