What is workflow automation: A detailed guide

what is workflow automation

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We all have experienced at least this level of automation in our life. You have contacted a company’s customer support and received an acknowledgment email immediately. It is the result of workflow automation.

Ever wondered how much of our daily tasks could be made easier with a little help from technology? 

Well, here’s a fascinating stat to start with: Gartner predicts that by 2024, 69% of all managerial work will be automated. 

But what exactly is automated workflows? 

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore this revolutionary concept, unraveling its ins and outs, and discovering how it’s reshaping the way we work.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the process of automating a series of repeatable tasks in a workflow using simple rule-based logic. It involves the use of software and tools to automate repetitive, manual, or routine tasks that are part of a larger workflow or business process.

What are the benefits of automated workflow?

According to Deloitte’s annual global survey of executives, 73% of organizations have started using intelligent automation to automate workflows and business processes.

Automated workflows offer unmatchable benefits to organizations. 

Here are some of the most important direct benefits:    

1. Saves time to invest in high-value tasks

Automation saves plenty of time on low-value but urgent tasks by automating these manual and repetitive tasks. This saved time can be used by employees to do high-value tasks.   

For example, sending an email to 50 participants for a meeting and sending a reminder to all for a meeting can easily consume your time and space in your mind. 

With automated scheduling software, you just have to set up a workflow and trigger the workflow. The software will automatically send the emails to all the recipients, find common availability, send a reminder, and perform some other actions as designed in the workflow.            

This will save you hours and you can use this saved time on other high-value tasks such as strategizing for the sales team, content development for the website, and managing the work of teams.        

2. Improved productivity and quality 

86% of employees believe automation will help them do their work more efficiently.

Automation of workflow helps you improve productivity and efficiency by saving time and energy on manual tasks. You take fewer breaks and have more energy to focus on core tasks. This also results in improved work quality with fewer tasks on the plate and more time & energy to focus on those tasks.  

3. Fewer errors

Automation eliminates the chances of human errors with accurate rule-based logic. This helps in the effective implementation of the workflow, improves the quality of the product or service, and ensures your business process adheres to all the compliance rules and regulations.  

4. Lower operational costs 

65% of customer service tasks are automated resulting in saving time and money.   

Automation of workflow reduces the need for manual labor to perform repetitive operations. It results in cost savings. 

Not just in operations, it also makes scaling cost-effective for organizations without raising the labor cost manifolds. 

The customer support department is the best example of cost-saving with automation of workflow.  

5. Enhanced visibility and streamlined operations 

Automation streamlines business operations by implementing every step of the workflow accurately. Every team member is notified when they need to take action. This results in improved quality and increased accountability. 

The increased visibility and tracking of every step in the workflow makes it easy to monitor the progress and identify bottlenecks if any. This helps you in improving business processes and efficiency.  

What are the workflow automation best practices?

To produce effective results, you need to design automated workflows appropriately. Here are the five best practices:         

1. Define measurable outcomes and involve internal stakeholders 

You make the best out of workflow automation when you exactly know what you want to achieve from the automation and have decided on measurable targets. Involves internal stakeholders in defining the purpose of the workflow automation, deciding processes to be automated, and setting measurable goals.    

2. Map out your workflow 

There are different types of workflows sequential, parallel, approval based, and state machine workflow. The best way to design a workflow is to visualize or map it in a flowchart. It will help you gain a clear understanding of all the steps in a workflow, the responsibilities of each individual at a given step, and the tools to be used in a workflow. This results in designing error-free automated workflows.     

3. Choose a capable workflow automation tool  

Not all automation software comes with equal capabilities. Choose the software that aligns with your business requirements. Consider factors like user-friendliness, integration capabilities, and scalability in the account.     

4. Scale gradually 

In the early stage of automation of your company, do not immediately scale organization-wide across business processes simultaneously. Run pilot projects and scale gradually. Evaluate how the workforce responds to automation, assess the automated workflow, and gather feedback to make improvements. 

5. Communicate effectively  

Your business processes are as good as the people who are implementing it. Therefore, it is important you effectively communicate to all the stakeholders how the automation of workflow is going to impact their roles. This will help you in the effective adoption and implementation of workflow automation.     

How to automate workflow?

To automate a workflow, certain components need to be there. First of all, you need a business process that is made of a series of repetitive and manual tasks.

Second, you need workflow management software that supports automation. 

Third, you need in-depth knowledge of the business process to design automated workflows and define the business goals you want to achieve. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to automate a workflow:

Step 1: Define the workflow and its elements 

Define all the steps involved in the workflow. This may require input from team members who are working on day-to-day functions in workflow.

You can use the workflow diagram to visualize how different tasks are connected. Decide the starting point and ending point of the workflow. 

While defining the workflow, add other elements involved in the workflow. It includes mentioning the person or position of the team member in the workflow who needs to be notified and the tools and systems to be used for a particular action.       

Once you have figured out the key steps in the workflow and identified the key players and systems, establish logic. 

Step 2: Establish the logic 

Workflow automation is based on simple rule-based logic. “If” this happens, “then” do this. To do so, you need a low-code or no-code automation workflow management system.

Most of the software allows you to create a workflow and automate it using simple if-then statements. You can easily create the logic without writing codes in a normal conversation language.  

Step 3: Test the workflow

Before launching the automated workflows in business processes organization-wide, test it. The purpose of testing is to ensure a workflow functions appropriately as designed, all the apps support the workflow (if there are multiple apps involved), and there is no workflow leakage or breakage. 

Step 4: Train the employees

Before automating the workflow, employees are used to manual ways of working on each task in a workflow. Train your employees for the change management that comes with new workflow and workflow management software. Tell them how it has impacted and changed their responsibilities and where to use the saved time. 

Step 5: Monitor and optimize workflow

The successful implementation of workflow automation includes continuous monitoring, evaluation, and improvement. The best way to track performance is to set the measurable goals you want to achieve from the automation of the workflow and define the KPI to achieve those goals.

Track and monitor the performance of workflow automation and compare the progress against the set goals and KPIs. Based on the data collected, make adjustments and optimize your workflow to meet the goals.

Evaluate your workflow from time to time for better efficiency and productivity.

What are the different types of automated workflows?

Workflow automation is primarily of two types: business process automation and robotic process automation

Business process automation is the use of software to automate multiple business processes with minimal human intervention. It is similar to the automation of workflows but spans across multiple business departments.

Robotic process automation is the use of technology to perform tasks that a human does. A robot mimics the human in robotic automation. Chatbots are a popular example of robotic process automation.

Workflow automation vs. RPA (Robotic Process Automation)

The main difference between the two is automated workflow focuses on automating activities within a workflow whereas robotic process automation focuses on automating an individual’s work activities.          

Workflow automation examples

Automated workflows should be adopted wherever possible. Here are some popular examples of business workflow automation to have a better understanding:

1. Marketing automation

51% of companies use marketing automation. 

Automation of workflow is used by marketing teams for running a drip campaign for the users who subscribed to your website, segmentation of target audience for an automated email program, and managing the operations of a marketing team.    

2. Human resources

Automatic workflows are used by the human resource department to segment the candidates based on various filters, manage recruiting and hiring tasks, resource management, and onboard candidates. 

For example, an HR can set rules to send the onboarding material to the candidate when they accept the offer letter, set up IT credentials, and create a bank account.                    

3. Customer support

57% of business professionals focus on improving the customer experience using workflow automation in the next two years. 

Customer support teams across the globe use workflow automation for better customer relationship management. It is used to create a ticket when someone reaches out to support using social media, email, or any other channel, sending an auto-generated email, and notifying the customer representative that a ticket has been generated.       

4. Sales team

Sales professionals can use workflow automation to schedule meetings with prospective clients. Automated scheduling software finds the common availability, books appointments, sends appointment emails, makes data entry into the CRM, notifies the salesperson, and sends reminders without any human intervention. 

Sales professionals can use this saved time to prepare for a product demo or understand a customer’s needs better by spending more time on discovery calls.    

5. Finance

Experts say workflow automation in the finance industry can save up to 90% of operational costs. It is used in financial operations to make accurate entries, generate invoices, send receipts for approval, process payments, and send payment notifications.       

What makes a good workflow automation software?

A good workflow automation software supports different workflow structures, integrates with diverse tools, comes with business analytics, and is easy to use, scalable, and secure. 

How to choose the best workflow automation software?

Do you know that 90% of automation projects fail because of technical issues?

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind while choosing workflow automation software: 

1. Automation needs

There are thousands of workflow automation software available with varying automation capabilities. Some make the process entirely automated while others assist in regular manual and repetitive operations. To find the best automation software for your organization, first, you need to identify your automation needs. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your workflow include using multiple apps?
  • Do you need automation across business departments?  
  • Do you need automation within a single tool for task management?
  • What type of workflow do you want to automate?   

Evaluate your existing processes, find out what extent of automation you need, define which processes make for an ideal candidate for automation, write down your automation needs, and narrow down the software that best suits your needs.     

2. An easy-to-use workflow automation builder 

The common quality of all good workflow automation software is they provide no-code or low-code automation. The purpose behind this is to ensure that everyone in the team including people with non-technical skills can build, create, and use workflows. 

Find software with an intuitive interface and user-friendly workflow builder that allows you to build custom workflows and automation.  

3. Integration with other software       

Most of the time a workflow depends on multiple apps and systems for completion. It can include databases, CRMs, email, calendars, project management software, communication platforms, collaboration tools, and payment apps. Look for software that supports the apps that you use in the workflow.           

4. Security and permissions

Workflow automation usually includes data collection and the sharing of sensitive data over multiple apps. Therefore, the automation software you choose must have industry-standard security. Security measures can include data encryption, restricted IP access, and compliance with industry-standard regulations.

Apart from that, you should have role-based access, audit trails, and authorization to ensure control over access and data integrity.       

5. Dashboards and analytics

To measure the impact and make improvements in the workflow, you need strong reporting and analytics systems that help you in tracking. Choose the software that comes with the extensive tracking of automated workflow. It helps you identify bottlenecks, measure process efficiency, and make improvements.    

6. Performance and support 

You don’t need an automated workflow that sometimes works and sometimes does not. Look for automation software that provides you with error-free, consistent, and reliable workflow automation. Bugs are going to be part of the journey. Look for software providers that offer decent and timely customer support.        

7. Take a free trial 

A software may be the best software in the market but it does not mean it is the best fit for your business. Before making a final decision, take a free trial of the automation software. It will give you a decent idea of the user interface, workflow automation builder, learning curve, and the features of the software. Based on the feedback from the team and internal stakeholders, choose the software that best serves your business needs. 

Unsure which automation workflow software fits your needs? Check out our review of the top 11 in 2024 to find the perfect match for your business!

Workflow automation: Invest in the present and future of the work 

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford

Automated workflows help you save time, improve productivity, eliminate human errors, reduce operational costs, and scale profitably. We all have realized the benefits of automated workflow in work management. The only thing is how effectively we can utilize them. 

Effective implementation to automate workflow requires an in-depth understanding of the process and the use of the right tools and systems. I hope the above guide provides you with the information you need to create and design workflow automation for your business processes. 


What is the difference between workflow automation and BPA (Business Process Automation)?

The main difference between the two is that business process automation spans across multiple departments and includes automation of multiple workflows for business process management whereas workflow automation automates tasks within a single workflow.

What are the best tools available for automation of workflow?

Hundreds of tools are available for making automated workflows, but the top tools include Zapier, ProofHub, Asana, Wrike, and Jira.

What are the pros and cons of using a workflow automation system?

Automated workflow systems improve productivity, enhance work efficiency, reduce human errors, flexibility of immediate scalability, and increase profit margins. On the other hand, the cons of automation include technical errors, security lapses, and technical limitations.

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