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Blogs > What is a Workflow? – A Guide to Workflow Automation

What is a Workflow? - A Guide to Workflow Automation

Evan Wong (CEO & Co-Founder)    Aug 17, 2022   19 min read

Every business process can be defined by different types of workflows. Workflows are sequences of industrial, administrative or other processes through which a piece of work passes from incomplete to complete. Put simply, a workflow is a series of sequential tasks that process data to complete an activity. Workflows can involve a variety of activities from new employee onboarding, contract signing, document approvals, billing and invoicing, customer intake, payroll management and much more.
Having a well-structured workflow system allows for businesses and organizations to streamline their day-to-day processes while delivering high quality results across every department that boost efficiency, scale their service delivery, and ensure compliance.

What are the different types of workflows

Workflows exist throughout a business; they exist anywhere where data must move from one task to the next. While some workflows are very structured, with clear paths and directions, others are loose, requiring users to structure the workflow as they go. Here are the three workflows that exist:

Process Workflow

Process workflows are the most used workflows in business. These workflows occur when a set of tasks is predictable and repetitive. The user knows what path an item should take before it starts the workflow.

Case Workflow

Document Management Systems help store, file and search for documents electronically. This software is also capable of email management which ensures file documents and conversations are stored under relevant folders.

Project Workflow

Project workflows have a structured path, like a process workflow, however, there is more room for flexibility. With these workflows, a user can accurately predict the sequence of tasks required to complete a project. These workflows are only suitable for use on one item and may not be achieved on other tasks or projects.

What are the components of a workflow?

All workflows are comprised of three basic components. These components are fundamental to the functionality of a workflow and remain unchanged, regardless of the type of workflow. They are:

  1. Input :This is the primary component of all workflows. This part of the workflow starts a workflow phase. Inputs gather the information in the form of data, documents or requests.
  2. Transformation :Transformation refers to the direction or rule by which input is received and what happens after the rule is received.
  3. Output :Output is the final product of a workflow process and is the result of transformation. An output can also function as the input for the sequential step in a workflow.
compoents of a workflow
Example: Workflow components that make up a simple HR Onboarding workflow

What are Workflow Solutions?

The goal of any workflow is to get users from Point A to Point B. There are three types of workflows that business users can build using workflow management tools. The way each workflow operates is dependent on the needs of the team, company or project. Here are three workflow solutions that users can implement:

Sequential Workflow

Sequential workflows are linear and progressive, like a flowchart. These workflows operate in a step-by-step, chronological sequence. The way these workflows operate is that the user moves from one step to the next, without regressing to previous steps, with the next step being dependent on the previous one. These workflows are best for processes where each step remains the same.

State Machine Workflow

State machine workflows follow the actual state of the product or service at each step rather than following a sequential series of tasks. Unlike sequential flow, state machine workflows allow users to go back to previous steps if necessary. These workflows are commonly seen in software development, where the “state” of the application is subject to change depending on new developments.

Rules Driven Workflow

Rules-driven workflows are based on sequential workflows. These workflows allow organizations to incorporate business logic into their workflows versus forcing organizations to mold their workflows into a software’s pre-defined steps. With rules-driven workflows, the activity opens, closes and assigns roles and tasks based on the rules of the organization. These workflows are often seen in applications that have clearly defined goals but vary in terms of rules.

What are workflow examples across different departments?

The current legal workflow landscape is evolving for both law firms and in-house legal teams, and we are seeing an increase amongst different organizations adopting legal workflow automation to optimize and improve efficiency. Here are some examples: 

  1. Automated Claims Workflows: Extract data from documents for data analysis to validate claims and streamline the adjudication process.  
  2. Contract Negotiation Workflows: Generating, managing and storing for legal contract negotiations  
  3. Approval Workflows: Digitize and facilitate approvals for document execution, contract review and delegation of authority (DoA).
  4. NDA Workflows: Use conditional functionality with a self-service tool to generate compliant documents. 
  5. Intake & Triage Workflows: Create a legal services request gateway that enables self-service and standardized automated triage. 

People & HR Workflows

People and HR teams currently manage and conduct their tasks using inefficient and manual processes that hinder them from contributing to valuable people-centric work. As a result, People and HR teams are evolving their day-to-day responsibilities with HR workflow automation. Here are some examples of how HR is using workflow automation:

  1. Onboarding Workflows: Collect document signatures and background checks by creating a simple process that is compliant with organizational and legal requirements.
  2. People-based Workflows: Facilitate the movement of work, tasks, and documents between managers and employees or staff between different departments. 
  3. Bulk Processing Workflows: Process high-volume work, and approvals that are specific to each employee in bulk. 
  4. Document Generation Workflows: Generate standard documents like HR documents & employment letters with signature workflow.

Procurement Workflows

Procurement processes have been growing in complexity over the years and now rely on a myriad of policy documents, controls and people to ensure that they are properly interpreted and followed. To help improve accuracy and adoption of policies and processes, procurement workflow automation is growing amongst procurement teams. Below are some use-cases for implementing workflow automation: 

  1. Document Generation Workflows: Generate tailored documents such as NDAs and service agreements that are ready for signature or review.
  2. Approval Workflows: Facilitate and triage the approval workflow to stakeholders who are only included when relevant and track all interactions digitally and centrally. 
  3. Integrated Data Workflows: Populate, validate and update data throughout the workflow from systems of record such as vendor management systems.
  4. Vendor Risk Assessments Workflows: Direct vendors to questions specific to their goods and services, ensuring they are only presented with applicable questions. 
  5. Vendor Agreements Workflows: Codify complex document execution frameworks and delegation of authority to facilitate the approval process with a digital audit trail. 
  6. Modern Slavery Risk Assessments: Assess suppliers against modern slavery standards and policies to arrive at a risk rating and overall compliance score. 

Finance & Accounting Workflows

Organizations are modernizing their finance operations with financial workflow automation. Here are some examples of how finance teams can improve their service delivery:  

  1. Payroll Management Workflows: Administer and implement payroll functions across an organization, including managing staff financial reports
  2. Expense Request Workflows: Monitor and optimize company spending to raise an organization’s profit margin 
  3. Invoice Approvals Workflows: Review and approve invoices prior to payment processing.

Risk & Compliance Workflows

Using compliance workflow automation reduces the need for ad-hoc manual communications and deploying solutions by allowing compliance teams to increase efficiency and quality of work. Here are some examples of how risk and compliance teams can deploy compliance workflow automation:

  1. Approval Workflows: Use forms to capture required information to submit requests.
  2. Audit Workflows: Audit processes from end to end, such as a CTP Open or Closed file review.  
  3. Risk Management Workflows: Identify potential risks, the probability that they will occur and assess their impact across the project or organization.  
  4. Vendor Audits Workflows: Integrate with 3rd party systems to automatically retrieve data.
  5. Claim Audits Workflows: Capture claim information automatically for the auditor to generate a score for generating a bespoke report with all audit findings.  

What is Workflow Automation Software?

Workflow automation is taking over most business processes. Gartner even reported that by 2024, 69% of all managerial work will be automated. Workflow automation software is a tool that allows users to create customized and automated workflows that cater to their unique business needs. Unlike automated workflows, manual workflows require human intervention by pushing one item from one part of a task to another. For manual workflows, this could mean passing paper forms from one person to the next or sending an email directly to the target user. Forms and workflow software eliminate the back and forth that comes with manual workflows, allowing business users to complete significant tasks in a fraction of the time.

Workflow automation software is typically low-code which requires some level of technical knowledge to implement efficiently, where Checkbox is a no-code solution that uses simple drag and drop functionalities to create an application. No-code workflow software allows business users to create automated workflows without having to write a single line of code, meaning that any business user from any department can review digital workflows without having technical knowledge. Organizations are adopting these platforms as they are rapidly becoming a popular alternative to more traditional and manual methods of creating workflows. 

Identifying and Creating an Automated Workflow

Within an organization, there are numerous tasks that are ready for automation. Virtually, any tedious, high-volume, standardized task presents an opportunity for automation. A common example of a task that is ripe for automation is any sort of document gathering. 

After identifying a workflow that needs automation, it’s important to take the right steps to create a fully functional, automated workflow. Here are some steps to take: 

  1. Don’t automate everything at once, choose which process is best to automate
  2. Identify who will handle the information in the workflow
  3. Create a workflow diagram
  4. Implement workflows using automation software
  5. Test out the new workflow to look for bugs or errors
  6. Deploy the new workflow and train users
  7. Collect feedback and improve accordingly

Benefits of Workflow Automation

The success of a business can largely depends on the efficiency and outcomes of its workflows. Workflow automation, on the other hand, digitizes tasks within a workflow while tracking workflow performance from end to end. By using workflow automation, organizations can easily see how well they are operating. Here are some primary benefits to adopting a workflow automation system:  

  1. Improve Accuracy – Although it is impossible to operate a business with zero errors, using automated workflow systems dramatically reduces the number of errors. However, when errors do occur, it is much easier to recognize them and their location in the system and work out any issues or discrepancies in the workflow.
  2. Increase Productivity – Within an approval process, employees don’t have to send manual emails and updates to follow up with stakeholders. Within a workflow automation system, they can focus on other pressing matters while automating and tracking the progress of the approval process in the platform. For example, after adopting Checkbox as their automation platform of choice, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners was able to move from drafting documents and collecting signatures manually, to approval workflows. This transition from manual to automatic workflows allowed employees to do more with less.
  3. Increased Transparency – Workflow automation takes the guess work out of completing tasks. In manual workflows, there is often confusion about how a process works, or what the current state of a basic workflow might look like. However, in a workflow automation platform, everything is accessible and out in the open for anyone in the organization to see. When Coca-Cola Europacific Partners adopted Checkbox as their automation platform, they were not only able to automate the document generation aspect, but they were also able to automate the larger business process that crosses functions and departments. The automated documents were able to give Coca-Cola Europacific Partners greater visibility across their organization to enable data-driven decisions.
  4. Reduce Costs – The adoption of workflow automation is having a moment across organizations. A report from McKinsey states that a third of the tasks in two-thirds of current jobs could be automated. This is because automation can reduce the cost of labor hours needed to cover increasing workloads and decreasing headcounts across departments within an organization.

Is Workflow Software the ideal Solution for my Organization?

If you’re looking for a solution that will help streamline your business processes, then it might be time to adopt workflow software. A major sign that it might be time to take on workflow automation software is that your organization’s manual processes are standardized, but menial, taking up too much time. Much of the manual workflows are currently undertaken by expensive, valuable resources, such as lawyers, whose time can be better spent on higher-value, strategic work that requires their specific expertise. 

Another signifier that workflow software will bring great value to your organization depends on how many manual hours are spent per year on a particular workflow and how often it is being used. With business requirements constantly changing, it becomes more difficult for departments to keep up with tracking and managing workflows. Workflow automation platforms can facilitate agility and speed in a business which allows business users to deploy workflows in a fraction of the time they spend on them manually.

Checkbox As a No-Code Workflow Solution

By choosing workflow automation, you are choosing to continuously supply speed, accuracy and scalability to meet your business needs. With Checkbox’s straightforward drag-and-drop interface, teams can design automated workflow applications in a matter of hours, not months, and lay the foundation for gaining fast ROI with every technology tool that follows. The Checkbox platform deploys Expert Process Automation which replicates the exact decisions and actions that an expert would take in creating workflows. 

Request a Checkbox demo, and one of our technology consultants will determine if workflow automation is right for your team. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Workflows are sequences of industrial, administrative or other processes through which a piece of work passes from incomplete to complete.  

An example of workflow automation is with new employee onboarding, where a workflow system will automatically collect document signatures and background checks by creating a simple process that is compliant with organizational and legal requirements. 

Workflow software provides direct insight into the health of an organization. A workflow system allows for businesses and organizations to streamline their day-to-day processes while delivering high quality results across every department that boost efficiency, scale their service delivery and ensure compliance. 

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