How businesses can overcome the challenges of adopting automated workflows

Technology has dramatically influenced the way we conduct business in the 21st century, helping businesses achieve more with fewer resources. Yet in spite of the technological gains made over the past decade, enterprise workflows remain rooted in the past. From document to contract management, companies continue to utilise outdated workflows that slow a business’s momentum.

In today’s competitive business landscape, organisations can no longer rely on manual and paper processes to advance their corporate objectives. Automated technology provides the leg up companies need to outpace their competitors, streamline their business workflows and bolster employee productivity. With automated workflows, companies can digitise repetitive activities, freeing up employees to focus on more complex tasks while creating opportunities to explore additional business ventures. They also reduce the risk of errors and prevent tasks from falling through the cracks, while empowering employees to manage their work with little to no oversight.

No longer limited to performing low-skill activities, automation can assist with tasks that require cognitive capabilities in fields like legal and marketing. As businesses push to digitise the workplace, they’ll need to strike the right balance to implement automated tools in a way that elevates, rather than replaces, human workers.

Challenges preventing the adoption of automated workflows

Automation is quickly gaining popularity among enterprises. But while its implementation into regular business processes is appealing, it also reveals several unexpected challenges. Automation creates an irreversible shift in the American labour force and workers may hesitate to utilise new technologies that threaten to take their jobs. For example, asking employees to help train machines can signal to workers that their value to the company has significantly diminished.

While less than five per cent of all occupations are at risk of complete automation, fear of displacement can lead workers to intentionally sabotage the adoption process. For instance, an employee working in data analysis, an occupation with a high potential for automation, is less likely to support the tools that could put him or her out of a job. Companies that hope to digitise workflows must position automation as a tool that can eliminate the undesirable elements of an employee’s job, and not as a tool that will replace that individual.

A vague understanding of enterprise workflows also hinders the adoption of automated technology. Before workflows can move online, employers must be able to codify the entire process to ensure various leads trigger the appropriate sequential actions. While most companies understand their workflows in general terms, these processes typically include a number of steps that are taken for granted or are forgotten during the digital transition. Automating any business process requires nuanced descriptions to avoid ambiguity that can negatively influence the final outcome of any workflow.  

Establishing the correct workflow the first time around

Given the benefits of automation, some businesses may be tempted to initiate an overhaul of all their workflows at once. Instead, organisations should begin digitising predictable workflows that are clearly defined with set end objectives and avoid high-risk or “mission-critical” processes. Consider automating workflows that occur in employee emails, like document management processes, and aren’t integrated with multiple complex applications. Choose something that is easy to outline and won’t have significant consequences if the automation process initially fails.

For instance, many internal processes, like employee onboarding and reporting, are conducted over email. These processes can require a lot of back and forth between employees, increasing the risk of version control mistakes and leaving key individuals out of the review process. With workflow automation, drafts could be systematically routed through the right chain of approvals, eliminating the need for clunky email chains and lost edits.

With the desired activity in mind, businesses will need to involve the process owner to clarify ambiguous situations and diagram the workflow to identify areas that can be improved upon. As workflows move online, be sure to test the effectiveness of automation by comparing it with the manual version. Look for agile tools that can be customised as processes change or as teams provide feedback for areas of improvement.

Educate your team

Successful workflow automation also requires the buy-in from your entire team. Employees are less likely to be receptive to technologies that overcomplicate standard business processes or when they don’t understand how automation will help them perform their jobs better.

To ease these anxieties, organisations need to position automation as a tool that will reduce menial tasks and equipping employees to become critical thinkers. Develop coaching sessions and demonstrations so employees can see the benefits of working with new technology. During these sessions, highlight how common inefficiencies like contract approvals can be resolved through automated workflows, enabling employers to focus on more complex tasks.

It’s also important that organisations recognise that knowledge sharing has to evolve beyond an all-company meeting or half-day training session. The more informational resources employees have access to, the more it removes the likelihood of fear and anxiety during the implementation process. Employees typically feel more comfortable when they are embedded in the process, as opposed to being brought in at the final hour. Consider supplementing in-person communication with an online or easy-access knowledge base that lets employees learn at their own speed, allowing them to grow comfortable with these materials over time.

In the same vein, these employees are also the end users and materials should be drafted with their particular use cases in mind. While the IT department may be the ones establishing the workflows, employees in other departments will be the ones using the technology most often. Creating content that consists of IT jargon may make the process seem imposing and overwhelming. By using language in the department’s particular vernacular, it fosters familiarity and a smoother adoption.

One step forward

Automated workflows can resolve common enterprise inefficiencies and enable high-functioning organisations to better serve their customers. From everyday to-do lists to contract management to marketing and sales, automated technology can accelerate a business’ transformation towards a more digital workplace. By clearly mapping out workflows beforehand, businesses can overcome common obstacles accompanying the adoption process and realise the benefits of automation sooner rather than later.

Erik Severinghaus, Chief Strategy and Alliances Officer at SpringCM
Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee