In the digital transformation era, most companies are turning their paper-based processes into digitalised workflows. This saves time and reduces the potential for errors. Automating these workflows is an even more powerful way for businesses to work more productively and free up time for innovation to compete more effectively.
Automating workflows frees up employees from manual, repetitive tasks. It reduces the risk of human error and lets people focus on contributing to the success of the business. It also means important tasks can’t be forgotten or left incomplete.
Workflow automation can be applied throughout the organisation to streamline processes and deliver efficiencies. For example, accounts payable automation includes capturing and extracting key data from invoices, matching purchase orders with invoices, managing approvals, integrating all details with the enterprise resource management (ERP) system, and finalising payments.
There are six key ways that workflow automation contributes to competitive advantage:
1. Save time. When staff members are focused on core activities and innovation instead of repetitive, administrative tasks, the business benefits from their combined effort and brainpower.
2. Reduce errors. When people have to key in information, there is a risk of typos and other errors. Capture extraction tools such as optical character recognition (OCR) and smart software and automated workflows reduce the risk of these errors creeping in.
3. Leverage discounts. Most suppliers offer discounts for on-time payments. Automating workflows for processes, such as accounts payable, means businesses will never miss a payment or pay late, so they can take advantage of on-time discounts.
4. Avoid duplication. Some suppliers send invoices by mail and email. Processing them manually means there can be confusion as to whether invoices have been paid. This can lead to accidental non-payment or double payments, each of which has negative consequences and distracts employees from more valuable activities and reduce penalty fees.
5. Track information. Automated workflows include reporting functionality and version control that lets businesses see important data such as bottlenecks in the process, potential for further savings, and key performance metrics.
6. Work efficiently. Automated workflows mean people are automatically notified when they need to step into a process, such as to provide approvals. Automated reminders mean people know what’s required, which mitigates the risk they’ll forget or overlook the action.
Research has shown that highly automated companies are six times more likely to see revenue growth of more than 15 per cent compared to companies with low automation.*
Businesses that haven’t yet started to automate processes can start small and see the results before rolling out automation across the organisation. Workflow automation should be considered a high priority for any organisation looking to compete more effectively now and into the future.
Scott Crosby, CEO, Upstream