What is Workflow Automation?

July 20, 2023
July 19, 2023
min read
What is Workflow Automation?

Many people tend to think of SaaS automation as a singular technology category. But in fact, there are different kinds of automation software. As there are different ways of automating workflows with technology. And it’s important to understand the differences between them, because they matter when you’re trying to understand what tools and technologies you need in your organization—and what benefits you can expect as a result.

Automation, generally, should reduce or minimize human input, effort, assistance, or intervention. It should make work easier and faster, and it should reduce the need for manual work. Sometimes this involves the use of AI, but it often doesn’t. Fundamentally, all you need is technology that can execute when/do commands; that is, when a particular thing happens, it needs to do something specific. Some automation tools require deep technical expertise. A lot of the technology is low-code or no-code software, which typically offers graphical user interfaces and drag-and-drop features that allow users to create automations they need without relying on IT or dev teams to do much, if anything. 

The truth is, there are lots of categories of automation. One critical category is workflow automation. 

Workflow automation is the process of automating tasks and actions that follow the same logic and that are conducted in conjunction with one another.

But why is this kind of automation important? And what sets it apart?

Workflow automation: many steps, multiple tasks

Often, a workflow will involve multiple automation tools, like iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) or RPA (robotic process automation), at points throughout. 

Sometimes, automating a "workflow" is really just about filling out forms.

But workflow automation is more about a slightly bigger picture—not just automating individual tasks within the workflow, but the entirety of the workflow. At least, that's when it begins to return real value.

Because workflows in most organizations involve multiple people, teams, or departments, workflow automation also includes notifying or pulling in the right people at the right times. For example, if you need to execute a contract, the workflow may include:

  • A requestor asking for the correct form 
  • Sending that person the form
  • Having them fill it out and return it
  • Sending it to an in-house lawyer for review
  • Getting a C-level employee to countersign
  • Returning copies of the signed contract to all parties
  • Storing the data in your CRM
  • Updating task management programs

With the right kind of workflow automation software, you can automate the execution and orchestration of all of this.

That's what makes workflow automation so valuable of an investment, in particular for functions such as legal and procurement, and in particular if the workflow automation solution in question is infused with AI, or can help you facilitate true process orchestration (more on that below).

Speaking of which, where does workflow automation fit into the larger landscape of SaaS automation? 

Some software vendors will claim the mantle of workflow automation, even though what they're automating is not very complex, and really falls more into the category of task automation, or is focused purely on forms, as opposed to true workflow automation.

It pays to know the difference, in particular if you're in legal or procurement, and you're shopping for automation solutions now

How is workflow automation different from task automation?

You can think of the various types of automation as components of a larger whole. 

Task automation is the act of automatically completing very specific, singular, and typically simple tasks. There are numerous types of task automation tools—like RPA, for example.   

Because workflows are composed of multiple tasks, there can be multiple automated tasks within an automated workflow. Thus, workflow automation encompasses task automation. 

(Then, there’s process orchestration. A process orchestration platform can execute, monitor, and manage entire business processes across systems and teams. You can think of sets of business processes as sections of an orchestra, and the process orchestration platform is the conductor. Any process orchestration tool worth its salt will automate workflows for you.)

Tonkean workflow automation

What are the benefits of workflow automation? 

But okay, why do you really want to considering investing in workflow automation software?

Workflow automation is important to organizations because processes are core to your business operations. Workflow automation software helps you manage your processes and your operations more broadly with more intelligence.

Certainly it increases your efficiency. “Manual” and “menial” don’t necessarily equate to “unimportant.” Those tasks may entail maintaining communication across departments or with external clients, collecting leads, managing invoices, making sure policies are being followed, chasing down this or that party for a signature or approval, and so on.

Because workflow automation by definition replaces manual tasks and processes, it increases efficiency and productivity while saving labor costs (and freeing up skilled employees to do work that requires their creativity and expertise). 

It also enables you to standardize processes across your organization, which helps ensure process adoption. That leads to less human error, and when automation tools offer visibility into automated processes, it also promotes accountability and compliance and thereby reduces risk.  

Workflow automation is a key part of a process experience platform like Tonkean. Tonkean gives organizations a way to combine elements of other automation functionalities to orchestrate, monitor, and execute complex business processes.

Tonkean seamlessly wraps around your existing policies and systems, allowing you to do more with what you already have. And there’s no change management, and no code required.

Workflow automation capabilities matter to your organization for broader reasons, as well. They’re instrumental to improving your operations at the process level. When it comes to your operations, your processes are everything. They’re the means by which you scale efforts to improve performance, implement innovative technology, and mitigate risk. Making them faster, easier, more accurate, and more efficient will have significant positive impact on your organization 

Learn more about how Tonkean uses workflow automation to solve business process challenges, or begin a free trial and check it out for yourself. 

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