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How Workflow automation can boost competitive advantage

27 Nov 2018

Businesses are increasingly swapping out paper-based processes for digitalised workflows. That saves times and reduces the potential for errors, which is a powerful way to free up time for productivity.

That’s according to Upstream, which says workflow automation can be applied throughout an entire organisation to streamline processes and deliver efficiencies.

Take accounts payable automation, for example. It 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. 

Upstream CEO Scott Crosby adds that employees are also freed up from 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." 

According to ServiceNow’s State of Work 2017 report, highly automated companies are six times more likely to achieve 15% revenue growth or more, compared to companies with low automation.

Upstream says there are six key ways that workflow automation can help businesses achieve a 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. 

"Businesses that haven’t yet started to automate processes can start small and see the results before rolling out automation across the organisation,” says Crosby. 

“Workflow automation should be considered a high priority for any organisation looking to compete more effectively now and into the future." 

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