If your customer base doubled or tripled in the next month would you be able to support the influx?
If the answer is no due to a human resource bottleneck, then workflow automation may be something to look into.
What is Workflow Automation?
Workflow automation is a commonly used term in many industries and can function differently across the board. We are experienced in workflow automation for the benefit of accrediting organizations and similar industries involved heavily in compliance and regulation, so that’s what I’ll focus on for this article.
Put simply, workflow automation takes a string of tasks and automates them through the use of computers.
Start to think about the operations that allow your business to run smoothly, the tasks that must be completed to reach a goal. More specifically, the tasks that rely on humans to complete or take action. There is an opportunity to transform these numerous, manual steps that are contingent upon the success of a company, and automate them.
This is done through workflow automation.
As an example, we will use an accrediting organization to dive deeper into the possibilities of workflow automation. This organization, let’s call it ABC, is responsible for going into drug store pharmacies every year and making sure they are in compliance with federal and state regulations. Once they pass an assessment, they get a certificate that must be displayed in their pharmacy in order to continue serving the public.
Steps and Tasks at ABC
Say a new pharmacy, called QRX, wants to get accredited by ABC. Below are the steps that need to take place.
- Pharmacy QRX submits an application to be accredited with ABC
- Denice at ABC checks a system daily for new application submissions
- She sees QRX’s application and sends Tom an email with it attached
- Tom reviews the application and notices that it is not fully completed
- Tom reaches out to QRX letting them know that they are missing required information
- QRX completes the application and re-submits it
- Denice sees that an application was submitted and emails it to Tom to review it again
- Tom reviews it and determines it is completed correctly
- Tom files the application with the accreditation committee at ABC to process payments
- The accreditation committee tries to process QRX’s credit card number but the zip code is incorrect
- The committee reaches out to QRX’s accounting department to get the correct zip code
- Payment is processed with the correct zip code and now ABC is ready to schedule QRX’s onsite assessment for accreditation
This is just one piece of ABC’s daily tasks that must be completed in order to continue accrediting existing pharmacies and onboard new facilities for certification. The goal of ABC is to accredit as many pharmacies as possible while still upholding their standard of excellence and ensuring the safety of pharmacy customers. But what if Tom is sick on Tuesday and Denice is on vacation from Wednesday to Friday? Tom catches up on his application submissions but no one is there to reach out for inconsistencies.
An issue arises when we rely on manual labor to accomplish tasks that are imperative for a business goal to be achieved. While it is almost always unintentional, these processes get delayed due to absence, forgetfulness, and overload – everyone has too much on their plate. This is where we look to computers to help us with automation. Each step taken in the above scenario can be automated and completed more efficiently by a computer system.
The Argument against Automation
When introducing this concept to large compliance organizations, we most often hear two things:
- This is how we have always done it so that is what we do
- Our processes are too complex for a computer to automate
This is how We’ve Always Done It…
Rarely do people take a step back and analyze the things they do every day to help reach business goals. When introducing this concept of workflow automation, we sit down with teams and ask “what do each of you do to get to ____?” Whether it’s issuing a certificate of compliance, onboarding a new client, or completing a risk assessment. We then map this out to get a better sense of these activities.
After hashing through each step taken to complete a goal, it is common to see time-consuming and disconnected steps between employees that, while intended to be taken in a certain timeframe, can extend past deadlines due to the aforementioned absence, forgetfulness and overload. We ask…”why do you use three different methods of communication to complete this?” and hear “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.” It’s beneficial for any organization to map out this flow of tasks and begin to challenge why we do this…and is there a better way? Imagine how much more time you’d have to focus on new company initiatives without having to send Tom an email every time an application is submitted.
Our Processes are too Complex for a Computer…
While workflow automation is great for manual tasks being completed by humans, we are not claiming to take over all company operations and automate them. There is a human element in compliance and regulation that involves discretion and expert opinions. We are focused on having a system take care of the string of emails, reminders, reviews, submissions etc. If an employee needs to review applications for subjective answers, then the workflow automation will make sure the application is in front of them as soon as possible, regardless if Denice is sick.
A Closer Look at Alerts
While workflows are completing complex tasks in the background, alerts are simply triggers. The system is constantly querying the database and asking…Did anything change? No. Did anything change? No. Did anything change? Yes. Okay, send this notification here, here and here.
Alerts can let you know when something has happened, an error, a change, a looming deadline. It is near impossible for an employee to monitor all of the information they need to be aware of, whether its a customer changing their personnel information, a payment is a day late, or a facility is on a path towards losing their accreditation. With alerts tied to workflows, this information is put in front of the employee as it happens.
Is Workflow Automation Beneficial to You?
I recommend first, defining processes that are key to your organization. For ABC, it is accrediting a new pharmacy. Now gather everyone who is involved in this process in a room and collectively go over each step taken to complete this, no matter how small. Map it out with specifics on how information is communicated and what systems, tools, or processes are used. Now evaluate this map and highlight which areas are reliant upon human action taken and determine if it is a routine task or a subjective one. If you find many routine tasks, contingent on human intervention, it is beneficial to look into workflow automation.