Workflow automation: what it is, and how it can help you get ahead
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Workflow automation: what it is, and how it can help you get ahead

Learn about workflow automation, its benefits, and how to pick the right workflow automation software.

How have enterprise companies been deploying automation? Gradually, then all at once, as Hemingway once wrote.  

For decades, large companies dabbled in automation, using technology to streamline repeatable processes. Think of processing checks at banks, or claims processing at insurers. But when a global pandemic forced many workers to start dialing in from the couch, large companies had a chance to rethink their workflows. Automation adoption was thrown into overdrive.

A 2021 Everest Group report suggests that enterprise companies will drive a 40-50% jump in the “intelligent process automation” market. Another recent survey of global directors found that 86% of them will invest more in automation technology in the next 12-26 months. While large companies may lead the crowd, the push to automate is happening across industries and in companies of all sizes, as organizations learn that workflow automation can increase employee and customer satisfaction, eliminate bottlenecks, and reduce the number of human errors in any process.

A survey of global directors found 86% of them will invest in automation technology in the next 12-26 months.

But what are the possibilities for workflow automation? And how does it work? Read on for the lowdown, plus pointers on what to look for when you choose workflow automation software.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the practice of replacing repeatable tasks typically performed by people with computerized processes that do not require manual oversight.

Automation reduces paperwork, improves results, and delegates repetitive manual tasks to software, so human talent can be saved for more creative and intellectual purposes. In the end, it speeds up and increases the amount of work that’s getting done.

In any organization, all kinds of processes can be automated to save time, like marketing campaigns and inventory management.  

Conceptually, automation is easy to grasp. It renders work more efficient and economic, while raising the quality of outcomes. Now let’s dive into how workflow automation works.

How does workflow automation work?

Automation is powered by technology. That tech might be a robust software platform, a sorting machine on an assembly line, or some combination of tools that integrate together. Typically, there’s an action that triggers the automation. Here are a few simple automations that can save any team time:

  • Send a recurring weekly email, updating your stakeholders on the progress on a recurring basis
  • Import a CSV—a move that could be helpful for inventory records, customer leads, or an email subscriber list
  • Run, save, or schedule API requests—which can help you import your CRM data, look up stock prices, or run a series of requests

Automated workflows can be simple or highly complex. It's helpful to map out processes inside your company in order to see the potential benefits of automating them.

Benefits of workflow automation

Automating processes will help your team on a number of fronts, even beyond boosting efficiency.

Automation can:

  • Eliminate tedious, menial tasks and duplicate work from areas of human responsibility
  • Greatly reduce manual data-entry errors by removing human typing from the equation
  • Improve overall productivity by making processes much faster
  • Create transparency within workflows
  • Reduce the need for paper documentation

Examples of processes that benefit from automation

The possible use cases for automation inside most companies are endless. But to paint a clearer picture, here are a few specific use cases in two industries: marketing and human resources (HR).

Marketing automation

Automation is incredibly common in marketing initiatives, for two reasons:

  1. Marketing processes tend to be repetitive and are easily scalable, making them prime candidates for automation.
  2. Digital marketing touchpoints are everywhere, creating plenty of opportunities for automation within existing software platforms.

An example: Let’s say you want to streamline PR outreach for your company. You need to organize all the media outlets you might reach out to for press coverage, track successful outreach attempts, and monitor publication dates of articles.

Automating all this in an Airtable base lets you automate follow-ups with reporters, and gives you a bird’s-eye view of where you stand with press coverage at any point in time.

Human resources automation

Automation has also taken off in HR, where paperwork and sign-offs can be tedious and time consuming. Consider the case of the new hire. Every single employee who joins a company reviews dozens of forms, no matter whether those forms are digital or good old-fashioned paper.  

Automating the onboarding process can save HR staffers 20 steps or more, and streamlining employee training programs gives HR teams hours of precious time back.

What to look for in workflow automation software

As you evaluate the software you need for automating workflows, there are plenty of variables to consider.

  1. Cloud-based versus on-premise software — Cloud-based automation tends to offer a higher degree of accessibility and scalability, as well as native syncing with many other cloud-based applications, though some companies may choose an on-premise solution for security reasons.
  2. Reporting functionality — Robust reporting capability is critical as you automate, since you can track inefficiencies and make improvements or update processes immediately. In marketing automation, for instance, reporting dashboards show how many people opened an email. This lets you gauge the effectiveness of that particular messaging and adjust it before the next round of emails goes out.

Airtable’s no-code reporting capability makes it easy to create flexible reporting for your particular business use case

3. Cross-enterprise integrations — Businesses today typically rely on a variety of different software solutions, and the more these applications and platforms integrate with each other, the easier it is to enable automation. As you evaluate software products, consider whether they integrate with other platforms and apps you use everyday, like your calendar, messaging apps, etc.

Airtable has more than 1000 integrations with websites and apps, including Slack, Jira, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Dropbox, Facebook, Gmail, and more

4. Customizability — Your business is unique, so as you evaluate automation software, consider the level of customization you’ll require to get the exact performance capabilities you’re looking for. You’ll want the ability to quickly configure and test automations based on any of your data.

Learn more about Airtable automations and how to create custom rules that run automatically.

5. Low-code functionality — This lets you and your team do more, like use formulas when you need to build more advanced automations. It also lets you pull in unique data sets but doesn’t require you to know a programming language.

Use workflow automation with Airtable

Automation saves time, makes repeatable workflows more efficient, and frees up talented team members for higher-value tasks. But along the path to automation you’ll need to make critical decisions: which processes to automate, which parts of processes to automate, and the right technology to use.

Airtable’s customizable workflow automation capabilities make it easy to build workflows for many different areas of your business. Our integrations with apps and platforms you’re already using make it an even more practical choice for workflow automation.

To learn how to create automations in your Airtable base, read this blog post on Airtable Automations, a powerful, flexible rules engine that lets you build custom trigger-and-action sequences.

For a free trial version of Airtable, sign up today.

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