Hardly any of us go through a new year without thinking in terms of duality – old and new or past and future.
In recent years, when technology decision makers reach end of the year, their thoughts turn to digital transformation. What has worked and what has not? What have we tried and what have we yet to try?
In the UAE, Saudi Arabia and beyond, governments and businesses are investing more in cloud, artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things, and a host of other technologies. They are doing this for a variety of reasons, most of which boil down to employee experience, customer experience, compliance, cost savings, or a combination of these.
Amid this innovation, a word stands out – a word with the capacity to inspire, intrigue, irritate or inflame. That word is “automation”. It should come as no surprise either – few approaches can be as effective in quelling the impact of budget constraints and skills shortages, and empowering organisations to achieve that perpetually shifting goal post of doing more with fewer resources. Yet, the term itself can be nebulous and seemingly all encompassing, leaving even the most inspired – who firmly believe automation to be the answer to their digital transformation woes – to question where to start. One thing is for certain though. The words “automation” and “transformation” are not interchangeable.
Automation, and specifically workflow automation, are links in the digital transformation chain, much like cloud migration, data optimisation, and infrastructure modernisation. We take these as steps in a journey towards becoming a digital enterprise. And the good news is workflow automation is both well defined and proven. The platforms are scalable, enabling businesses to start small, earn those essential ‘quick wins’, and rapidly advance the endeavour towards the utopian view of automation, wherein employees are empowered and able to focus on high-value tasks that contribute best to driving business outcomes. This utopian outcome is achieved even sooner when the process is democratised i.e. no longer confined to the domain of IT alone. In this way, it becomes an indispensable part of the digital-transformation chain for three main reasons.
1. The bird’s-eye view
When digitally transforming, things start to fall apart if different departments go off on their own experimental treks. Alignment on innovation initiatives is crucial. Each technology procurement and culture change must conform to some common blueprint. The right workflow automation solution can help with this alignment by uniting multiple departments together under a single platform. Some workflows touch several different departments. If one of them (say, finance) has changed the way it does things because of digitalisation, the result can be messy when such a multi-department workflow executes. Where silos cause gaps in visibility, a common platform grants a common view, so all departments can see real-time progress and context at a glance.
Traceability is vital in workflow, and always has been. A customer starts their churn with a single negative experience. If they enquire after a request and talk to someone who has a distorted view of their needs or of the progress of the request, the customer will become confused and frustrated and start to form an unfavourable view of the brand. Alignment between teams allows an enhanced customer experience. This is where many technologists’ description of DX is vindicated. The industry has for years been speaking of soft outcomes and business outcomes that emanate from an organisation’s strategic use of technology rather than from the technology itself. DX is not tech for the sake of tech – it is tech deployment driven by business outcomes. In that respect, the democratisation of workflow automation is the very definition of a quick win.
2. The empowered employee
In an era where employees across industries are only too ready to jump ship, referred to as the Great Resignation, is it not prudent, in the competition for top talent, to give people at all levels the power to ease their burden, work smarter, and drive change themselves?
A modern workflow automation platform allows them to take a step towards this scenario. In the industry, we talk often about democratisation in technology – the idea that advancements should benefit a wide range of people rather than a select few. The democratisation of automation means including business stakeholders in early evaluation steps so they can warm to the concept. Communication gaps that once arose because of the inevitability of IT having to intervene at key points in the workflow design process are eliminated when the very stakeholders who understand the processes best, are also the ones empowered to design the automation.
Workflow automation, like most other technology, requires a sale. Not one where money changes hands. More an exchange of ideas so that workflow automation can live in the minds of non-technology business executives as a benefit. Once explained in this way, projects can proceed with collaboration rather than resistance from users. They can be co-designers and testers, which leads to a significantly enhanced probability of success.
3. The noticeable ROI
I previously mentioned the quick win. For chief information officers, the quick win is the first tool out of the box when it comes to transformation projects. If they cannot quickly convince decision makers that the organisation is on the right path, budgets will be eliminated, and projects cancelled before a single leg of the journey is complete.
Workflow automation is the ultimate quick win. It transfers an arsenal of capabilities into the hands of all employees at a stroke and allows them to innovate under the “do more with less” principle. Inherent scalability means businesses can start small and build on their successes. For example, the accountS department could test the waters by automating a simple but repetitive workflow, such as the approval of invoices. Once proven, this quickfire win can be rapidly built upon, expanding to the scope of automation to negotiation, billing, and much more. Incremental advancements significantly improve that all essential end user acceptance, and before long, key workflows for the department are streamlined and optimised.
In this way, workflow automation falls well outside the multi-year transformation category. Its rapid times to market and value will appeal to even the most stringent naysayer in the organisation. Once implemented, such workflow automation enables employees to become key contributors to the process, thereby eliminating the steep learning curves that come with more ambitious transformations. And because employees feel part of the digitisation process, there is even greater buy-in from across the enterprise.
Win, win, win
A digital transformation approach that prioritises platforms over solutions is in a far better position to succeed. It dodges silo-spread and delivers a unified employee experience that everyone can get behind. Standardisation empowers each individual to be a part of the process that enables the organisation as a whole to deliver a superlative experience to customers. Workflow automation and its democratisation is a big win, a quick win, and a win-win – all in one.
Dinesh Varadharajan is the chief product officer at Kissflow
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