Workflow Automation: Automating Processes as a Competitive Advantage

The Invisible Team

Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles recently attributed part of the 3% increase in labor productivity to the use of technology. He also thinks that it’s just the beginning:

I see the potential for many emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to further boost productivity growth in the coming years.

As technology keeps improving labor productivity, companies rush to implement Workflow Automation. It gives them the competitive advantage of using their highly-trained employees for strategic efforts while automating the repetitive, menial tasks.

In this article, we will define what Workflow Automation is, we will also explain how it plays a role in redefining Business Processes using technology.

What is Workflow Automation? 

workflow automation
Workflow Automation is the design, execution, and automation of processes  based on pre-defined business rules. Source: FreePik

Definition and examples of workflow automation

A workflow is any succession of steps that creates an outcome and that can be repeated. Workflow Automation is the creation and implementation of automated processes, that release humans from performing certain manual tasks. Whether you work in Sales, HR, Operations or in the Insurance business, parts of your daily tasks are manual, repetitive and could easily be outsourced to a robot.  

Robots can be configured to access data and take action based on predefined rules. It can send information from one system to another, gather different data points in one format, trigger an email, reply to consumer’s basic questions, etc… The possibilities are endless.

To better understand what a workflow is and how it can be automated, let’s take the example of Sales Prospecting. There is a succession of steps a Sales representative needs to take to get a meeting with a prospect.

sales prospecting workflow
The 7 steps of the Sales Prospecting Workflow.

All the steps above in yellow could easily be automated. There are email automation tools that have email templates, send customized emails based on predefined data and automatically handle follow-ups.

There are 4 steps that lead to proven automated prospecting systems

  1. Select the right Sales Automation tools
  2. Integrate the Sales Automation software
  3. Automate initial contact 
  4. Qualify and segment your leads

In the same way, some HR tools will automate the recruitment process or onboarding process.

Why is Workflow Automation important?

Now you are wondering why everybody has been talking about Workflow Automation? Apart from being able to quickly offload unappealing tasks, there are a lot more benefits to it.

1. Time

First, according to Formstack, “55% of managers spend one full day per week on manual tasks”. So if the idea of spending one-fifth of your time doing non-strategic tasks annoys you, please keep reading. With Workflow Automation, you can get robots to work on your repetitive tasks. Since they never get tired, they will reduce processing time and the risk of human errors.

2. Efficiency

The unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in September, the lowest rate since 1969. “Finding qualified workers is likely to get more difficult,” said Gad Levanon, chief economist, North America, at The Conference Board

Before trying to hire qualified workers in a highly competitive market, companies can turn to Workflow Automation to increase their current employees’ efficiency. Employees can focus on strategic tasks and make an impact on the company, while the basic workflows are automated. It is the fastest way to grow a team without having to dedicate time to onboard a new hire. It’s not only about optimizing current resources, but it’s also about employees’ retention. If workers are given the opportunity to use their skills and do what they love, they will be more inclined to stay longer at their company.

3. Improved Customer Experience

If employees are happy and engaged, it will reflect on the service they deliver to the customer. Also, part of the customer service workflows can be automated in order to use employees’ resources where it’s really needed. We will go into more detail later in this article.

4. Cost Savings

I kept the best one for last. A robot working on menial and repetitive tasks is cheaper than a trained employee. Not only is it less expensive, but it also works faster, doesn’t take vacations and doesn’t make mistakes. 

Limitations of Workflow Automation

Even if Workflow Automation can help companies with time, efficiency, customer experience, and cost-saving, we also need to think about the limitations of this technology.

1. Implementation hurdles

Workflow Automation is achieved through various tools. These tools need to be researched, vetted, budgeted for and implemented.  Depending on the process and the team, tools might be different - which will lead to one implementation headache per tool used. Between the investment cost, the learning curve and the internal users’ buy-in, it can take months before a team is up and running with their automated workflows. There will also be a need for quality control and result analysis to make sure the automation setup has been done properly.

2. Lack of flexibility

Workflow Automation will perform its duty as long as all events, data and steps are followed as predefined. It will help companies automate simple workflows. Unfortunately, it won’t be able to anticipate an edge case or adjust a process when need be. It will be a lot of work to make these automated workflows evolve as the company grows. All edge cases need to be anticipated when automating a new process.

It will help companies get started with automation but can be hard to maintain and expand as the company grows. Any new workflow and edge-case needs to be carefully thought through before being automated.  

Hopefully, emerging technologies can make up for this lack of flexibility in Workflow Automation. This is a business practice called Intelligent Process Automation. Let’s discuss the difference between the two.

What is the difference between Workflow Automation and Intelligent Process Automation? (IPA)?

Let’s start first by explaining what intelligent process automation (IPA) is. McKinsey defines it as ‘an emerging set of new technologies that combines fundamental process redesign with robotic process automation and machine learning’.  By adding more technology to automate workflows, IPA can learn from the tasks it is set out to execute and even mimic human behavior. It has the capability to make decisions based on its learnings from human repetition.

Intelligent Process Automation is the result of combining 5 powerful technologies:

  1. Robotic Process Automation (RPA): It is software that automates repetitive and simple tasks like data collection, calculations, and document creation.
  1. Workflow Automation: As we just discussed, this is a tool that automates entire business processes. It can automate tasks executed by humans and RPAs. If we look at the Sales Prospecting example above, emails can be sent and personalized making it look like it’s coming from a real person.
  1. Natural-language generation (NLG): It is a software that translates hard to read data into sentences. For example, it is used in the Healthcare industry to write executive reports based on performance metrics.
  1. Machine learning (ML): It is a method of data analysis that provides systems the ability to learn on its own, without being given specific instructions. Basically, a computer system is being fed information concerning processes to be taught how to do handle these processes themselves. 
  1. Cognitive agent: It’s a robot that is using a mix of machine learning and natural-language generation. It can communicate with customers or employees, execute simple jobs, be taught using machine learning and factor in people’s emotions into its decisions. It can help with internal and external support that same way a human could. It’s a little bit like the AI-powered robots you see in movies, except these ones don’t take over the world.

Examples of Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)

1. IPA in the Insurance industry

McKinsey gives the example of an insurance company that needs data from 13 different systems to be able to process the client’s claims. 

With IPA, robots can replace manual clicks (RPA), interpret text-heavy communications (NLG), make rule-based decisions that don’t have to be preprogrammed (ML), offer customers suggestions (cognitive agents), and provide real-time tracking of handoffs between systems and people (workflow automation).

2. IPA for Sales

Once again, let’s go back to the Sales Prospecting example. With IPA, robots can send personalized emails (workflow automation), calculate techniques that have the best conversion rates (RPA), learn from these techniques to improve the Sales Prospecting process (ML), answer prospects’ questions (cognitive agents) and provide end of quarter reports to the Management team (NLG).

What to expect in 2020 and beyond?

1. Microeconomics: at the company level

IPA suppliers are working on increasing the capabilities of their tools, as the supporting technologies keep improving. Research and development teams are at the forefront of the innovation battle to perfectly mimic human behavior. The biggest challenge will be the ease of implementation and the investment cost that is required to roll out IPA programs.

IPA can feel like magic, but it takes months to be properly implemented. All the workflows need to be documented, data needs to be accessible and automated business processes need to be monitored in order to ensure the success of the implementation. Also, like any new technology, it doesn’t come cheap. Companies need to be willing to spend some money upfront before being able to enjoy the benefits months later.

IPA suppliers can maintain their competitive advantage by focusing on the accessibility of their offer. Not only they need to provide the best technology to their clients, but they also need to make sure it's as easy as possible to implement. 

2. Macroeconomics: at the world level 

What will be the impact of IPA on a global scale and what can we expect? We can expect a race from developed countries to use this technology as a means to assert their dominance. You think it sounds a little dramatic? Alright, let’s look at the big picture.

In our globalized economy, a lot of repetitive and low-skill tasks have been outsourced to low-income countries like China. They have more than 1 billion inhabitants so developed countries can’t compete, which is fine. As Francis Pedraza, CEO of Invisible points out: the solution is to ‘build an industrial monopoly in knowledge work’. Why? Because knowledge work can’t be easily copied or replicated. It requires process mastery, a trained workforce, and capital investment, adds Francis.

This is where Intelligent Process Automation comes in. It frees up knowledge workers from menial and tactical tasks. Workers can focus on high-value projects and therefore, enable their companies to gain a competitive edge. Why would you pay your talented and knowledgeable HR employees to read a resume, manually enter information, schedule interviews and verify data when a robot can do it for much cheaper? You don’t bring Lebron James onto your team to sweep the court and refill water. 

But now, what happens to a medium-size company that wants to use technology to their advantage but can’t afford a 6-month rollout? The good news is, there is a way to safeguard your knowledge work without breaking the bank.

Business Process Outsourcing with Invisible

Before we go into solutions, let's first define what business process outsourcing is. BPO is the activity of delegating specific tasks or entire business processes to a third-party company. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is widely used to outsource menial tasks from payroll and accounting, HR, Sales to insurance-related work.

Almost anything can be outsourced:

  • Repetitive tasks: data entry, information gathering, quality control.
  • Human interactions: customer-facing interactions, sales prospecting, supplier relations.

BPO has been the solution for many companies as a strategy to scale their business and cut down on costs. But what does it have to do with IPA?

What is the link between BPO and IPA?

For the longest time, the fastest and cheapest way for companies to delegate was to use BPO. Now, big corporations move towards IPA as it automates their entire business processes at a speed no human can equal. Instead of outsourcing to a worker in a low-cost country, they delegate to a robot that has knowledge of the entire workflow and never makes mistakes.

But what if we could do both? Automate business processes while outsourcing tasks robots can’t easily handle. Invisible is a process automation company that provides a Business Process-as-a-Service (BPaaS) solution. It takes any menial task out of the knowledge worker’s plate by combining unique AI and automation technologies with highly-trained, low-wage workers. 

How does Invisible Tech work?

Invisible provides Intelligent Process Automation for knowledge workers on marketing, sales, hiring and operations teams. Try picturing a manufacturing assembly line: there are processes, mechanical tools, quality control, trained workers and factory managers. All of these components are necessary to create a well-oiled machine that can guarantee high productivity at a low cost. 

Invisible takes the same approach as manufacturers and create an assembly line for digital workers. The Digital Assembly Line optimizes knowledge workers’ time and resources.

Here is how it works:

  1. You talk to your Invisible Process Assistant who is a mix of Synthetic Intelligence, a conversational chatbot and a real human, called an Agent. They are available 24/7 via email, the app or video call. Just tell them which one of your business processes you need to delegate and what is your deadline.
  1. Invisible will use its powerful technology (‘mechanical tools’ of the assembly line) to automate most of your process and delegate to a well-trained agent (assembly line worker) when needed. Basically, you get the best of both worlds. 
  1. You can monitor the progress of your delegated workflows in your Client Dashboard. The entire process is overseen by Managers and Reviewers in order to ensure quality control.
  1. You receive your deliverables on time and without even having to think about what just happened in the background.

Automation just makes sure all the dots are connected without the client having to remember to tackle tiny details to make it work. One of Invisible clients even said: “it’s just so amazing to offload work and...not to have to think about it.”

Also, because the AI is incorporated into the Digital Assembly line, it improves the processes’ efficiency over time. The more you delegate, the more you can scale your team’s outputs.

Examples of Invisible’s magic at work

1. Invisible for Sales

Let’s look at the Sales Prospecting example one last time. With Workflow Automation, all the tasks in yellow could be handled by a robot. With BPaaS, the entire sales operations workflow can be delegated. Invisible uses public and private data to generate qualified prospect leads. The rest of the Digital Assembly Line will engage prospects, follow-up and generate appointments.

Sales rock stars can now focus on converting their prospects into happy customers, without having to worry about non-strategic tasks. Invisible increases Sales pipelines while streamlining the team’s processes. The bottom line is a lower Customer Acquisition Cost and an increase in the number of deals won, the holy grail of Sales teams.

Caption: Workflow Automation helps Sales teams close deals 

2. Invisible for Human Resources

Invisible handles human resources workflows like recruiting and onboarding. Let our team worry about reviewing, selecting and scheduling candidates while you focus on making sure you hire the best fit for your company.

Once you have your new hire, just let us know and we our Digital Assembly Line will execute all the tasks necessary to onboard the employee properly. You may have an onboarding checklist ready so let our robots tick the boxes for you.

3. Invisible for Operations Management

Invisible’s intelligent process automation processes can alleviate most of the repetitive tasks of your operations team. We can generate basic legal agreements, conduct research before your meetings, distribute reports - you name it! Remove all the organizational clutter from your desk and your head by delegating it.

operations management

4. Invisible for the Insurance Business

As the increased compliance requirements impact insurance’s profit margins, lean and efficient business processes are more important than ever. The insurance providers’ focus is to reduce costs and streamline their client’s claims processing. With process automation, they can calculate loss runs, manage state fillings, process renewals, and much more.

Invisible's insurance operations processes can help insurance companies catch up with a backlog of applications in just a few months. Insurance professionals no longer have to hire contractors or ask their employees to stay overtime. To learn more, get in touch with our sales team or through our chatbot and get the ball rolling.

Is Workflow Automation right for you?

You are the only one that can answer that question but if you have technical resources and time constraints, you might consider outsourcing your Process Automation.

The average knowledge worker makes $67K/yr but spends 41% of their time doing repetitive digital work. You could get Invisible to handle the menial tasks for as low as $14/hour.

Working hand in hand with Invisible can be as straightforward or as customized as you need. We offer pre-configured workflows and the help of automation specialists to make sure you meet your business goals no matter what. Also, Invisible grows with your team’s success. You can switch pricing plans anytime to scale up (or down) your outsourcing needs.

To get started, create a free Invisible account today and get answers to all your questions by talking to one of our dedicated accounts.

May the automation be with you.