In Workflows, the Point of Automation is Optimization

Enterprises weighing investment in workflow and business process automation have a wide array of options. To choose wisely, it’s crucial to keep in mind that automation itself isn’t the goal. The goal is to optimize business processes in order to transform how the business operates. Recognizing this at the start helps frame and clarify subsequent decisions and make the most of your automation investment.

The first decision is around platforms, and for many enterprises the choice is obvious: Cloud. It may be a tougher call if you have prior investments in on-premise solutions that you need to maintain. But even then, you should lean strongly toward cloud for new investment.

All the longstanding advantages of cloud deployment are still valid – low deployment overhead, continuous enhancement, and flexible subscription licensing, for example. But the bigger reason is that cloud is where the innovation is. Today, about 80 percent of new software investment is going to cloud solutions, so this is where vendors are putting development resources. Furthermore, many of the most powerful new capabilities in technology — such as machine learning, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence in general — rely on the massive amounts of data and compute power available only in the cloud.

A second key priority is self-service automation – in other words, automation solutions that line-of-business people can use themselves, in drag-and-drop fashion, to quickly design and implement workflows without relying on IT. This is crucial because it puts decision-making in the hands of the people who use their organizations’ key processes every day and therefore know them best. Self-service automation also takes a burden off IT departments, which often have limited resources and face backlogs that limit their ability to take on anything new projects that aren’t urgent.

Many organizations are reluctant to grant control of software deployment to anyone outside IT, citing security and administrative risks. Leading automation solutions carefully curate the actions visible to users to maximize their usefulness and minimize security risks.

A third important point is to choose automation solutions that provide visibility and analytics so you can understand the business value of your workflows. This should include the number of workflows you have automated across your enterprise, where and when they are running, and how long they take to execute.

Your analytics solution also should be able to provide granular visibility into the components of a workflow, for example so you can identify the conditions under which a process bogs down. You might notice that, in your Japan business unit, contract approvals become stalled whenever the value exceeds a certain amount. On investigation, you discover that regulation or policy requires such contracts to undergo legal review, and that you don’t have in-house counsel. When you know the dimensions of the problem – how often, and for how long, it occurs — you can make an informed business decision whether to hire a staff lawyer. In other words, you have the insight required to optimize the workflow.

Here I’ll circle back to the self-service idea to add a crucial point: When automation solutions are quick and easy to create and use, they are also quick and easy to modify, improve, and optimize. They also are easy to extend – to spread virally across the organization in “copy and paste” fashion, delivering new efficiency and performance as they spread.

There is powerful synergy across these three core elements – cloud, analytics, and self-service automation. When you can rapidly create and deploy automated workflows, analyze their performance across a broad base of data, and improve them quickly, you gain a powerful ability to optimize not just key processes but your business overall. That’s a goal we all can strive for.

is the Chief Technology Officer at Nintex, the recognized global leader in Workflow and Content Automation (WCA), where he brings more than 25 years of experience with product development, product management and technical leadership experience to his role.