Speed Approvals, Improve Compliance, Save Money: Harness the Power of Workflow Automation
By Rob Wilson, SVP & COO, NeoSystems
Workflow tools offer visualization capabilities enabling companies to graphically map process flows. Visualization helps auditors quickly understand your business, as they have a map illustrating approval processes. “Workflow automation simultaneously delivers consistent policy execution and improves audit readiness” Auditors can also request process details showing each step, every participant, documentation, and all date and timestamps, thus preserving the corporate audit trail. Many companies struggle with SOX compliance. By tightly integrating workflow automation with ERP systems, companies can define and enforce their separation of duties controls. Send Proactive Alerts With proactive alerting capabilities, workflow tools keep processes moving. They automatically alert approvers and remind them when they forget. Or, when an approver is on vacation, they can escalate approvals or put them on hold— without manual intervention. Quickly Trace Approvals Automation also enables companies to trace multiple iterations of an approval. Documentation, including forms and attachments, is available for each step. Such traceability supports root-cause analysis of error-prone processing. It pinpoints bottlenecks and shows where an item is in the process at all times, enabling efficient follow-up or opportunities for process improvements. Improve Document Security Enterprises can also use workflow tools to protect proprietary information. Documents reside on a secure server rather than in email. To view documents, users must log into the tool. There’s no risk of accidentally emailing files to the wrong person or exposing confidential information through email hacks. Workflow Automation: Five Tips for Success If your enterprise is ready to realize the time and money-saving benefits of workflow automation, follow these tips for a successful start: 1. Pick a process that keeps you up at night. What process takes too long? Where do you lackvisibility? Many managers have one troublesome area. Start there. 2. Keep it simple, when automating processes, look for efficiencies. Often problem processes are too complex. Can you reduce the number of people the process touches? Eliminate steps. 3. Include change management. Many people hate change. Clearly communicate the new process and expected improvements, train users, and document and share results. 4. Accept the 90 percent solution. If a process always has Steps 1, 2, and 3, then automate that part of the process. If something else happens, don’t try to automate every exception. 5. Don’t ignore the low-hanging fruit. Don’t overlook processes you can automate rapidly, because they are not problems. Automate simple things. You can build the process quickly and see immediate return. Create a generic approval process for things like leave requests, engineering drawings, and tuition reimbursements. You attach your request to the form, select an approver, and the workflow tool documents the approval. Automating manual business processes fundamentally changes the way people work. Managers make approvals with documentation at their fingertips. It’s easy to implement and generate a rapid return on investment. Every function across your enterprise can benefit from workflow automation. Common Obstacles to Automation As you automate workflows, watch for these obstacles. Devise mitigation strategies before you begin. • Entrenched Institutional Knowledge: Employees have ingrained work methods. Some will raise the exceptions that automation can’t easily accommodate. Include those people early. Often, the change haters will have the best ideas on how to improve the process. Convert the naysayers into champions. • Scope Creep: Be specific in what you are targeting and don’t allow uncontrolled increase in scope. Tackle the main idea first. Later add tangential processes that you may uncover. • Data Quality: As you integrate automated workflows with accounting, human capital management, and other ERPs, you may encounter data gaps or discover you’re not fully using data fields. Improving data inputs will drive efficiencies in automated processes.