What comes to mind when you hear the term “data entry”? Probably transcribing calls or conversations, filling out spreadsheets, updating records, etc.
Most people find it tedious and error-prone. Yet most workflows require someone to perform this kind of manual work. Every industry is susceptible to the perils of data entry, including manufacturing, professional services, marketing, and creative agencies, financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, etc. Luckily there’s a solution to all your data entry woes: workflow automation.
In this article, we’ll talk about workflow automation, how it can transform your or your team’s operations and your options.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is a method of mapping out and automating the flow of tasks, documentation, and data across work-related activities. It’s your chart for accomplishing typical copy-pasting work in a more efficient way that saves time for other priorities. It’s one step along your path to a complete digital transformation.
Workflow automation can best be described as: “If this, then that.” In other words, if a specified action occurs in one tool, a separate planned action occurs in another.
When properly implemented, automating your workflow is a simple matter of overseeing a set of rules or filters within a third-party automation tool and letting it run independently. When you’re working with the best workflow automation tools, you’ll never even know it’s there during your day-to-day.
Some examples of well-run workflow automation could include:
- Sending out the same email en masse without copying information from one place to another.
- Populating a spreadsheet automatically with data from another source.
- Creating calendar events based on tasks in a project management tool.
Workflow automation software relies on rules and logic to follow a series of “if this, then that” statements. These statements act as instructions that tell the software what action to take, when to take it, and where data should go. So instead of creating and assigning dozens of tasks after launching a new initiative, you just press a single button, and the job is done.
Who uses workflow automation?
The short answer is knowledge workers. The longer answer is that there’s no one industry or category that benefits from workflow automation more than any other. Sales teams can benefit from in-depth automation with their CRM; marketers can benefit from simplified collaboration with software developers, freelancers, and other departments; development squads can benefit from staying in their coding tools without switching to an option that’s more familiar to other departments.
Any organization within any industry that relies on data entry, whether remote or in-person, can benefit from workflow automation. When you consider that virtually any basic task performed within the software can be considered data entry, the possibilities become almost limitless.
Optimizing workflows with automation is done to achieve:
- Greater productivity
- Fewer human errors
- Superior efficiency
- Faster output
We’ve now gone over what workflow automation is and who it’s for. So let’s review the benefits. Some of the most common reasons for exploring workflow automation are to:
- Circumvent repetitive work or tasks
- Perform critical work without the risk of human error
- Make team output more efficient
But these are just a few reasons to consider workflow automation. How it can improve your efficiency are wide-ranging and inclusive.
- Reduced manual tasks: Workflow automation eliminates all kinds of manual tasks for your team. No more data entry or copy-pasting.
- Saved resources: By eliminating manual tasks, you save time for your best people to prioritize their other projects.
- Greater visibility: By mapping your workflow with automation, you’ll discover a greater understanding of what work was actually being performed by people. This can give you a powerful, top-down view of how each team approaches work and can assist in eliminating redundancy.
- Top quality: No matter your role, your service or product quality will increase simply by getting rid of error-prone tasks performed by your team.
- Better performance: Automation lets you track tasks within a workflow so you’ll watch the end-to-end performance.
What does all this mean? Your team has more time to do the work they want to do without trying to accomplish banal data entry at the same time. This is crucial when you’re trying to compete in an ever-changing digital landscape. This is something that is widely used by any trusted managed service providers, so make sure to implement these strategies in your team.
What features should I look for in the best workflow automation software?
There’s a wide range of workflow automation software out there for you to choose from. Acumen Research & Consulting predicts that by 2030 the global workflow automation market size will grow 23% and reach a market value of more than US$ 78 billion.
With so much more choice coming to the market year after year, buyers need to be savvy about which options they want to test out. Any prospective user needs to understand what they’re looking for, what they can afford, and whether or not the tech will be difficult for their teams to adopt.
Workflow automation tools are often marketed as software as a service (SaaS) applications aimed at SMBs. They can be especially beneficial to teams working in a CRM (such as Pipedrive, Salesforce, or HubSpot) or a project management tool (such as Trello, monday.com, or ClickUp).
Here are a few key features you should keep an eye out for:
One-way Sync, or unidirectional synchronization, is included in most native integrations. It means that data from your source tool can flow to another project within that tool or a limited range of other tools in a single direction. So work data can be sent out but not received.
This can be fine for managing work within a limited structure (such as from one Asana project to another within Asana). But the shortcomings quickly become clear if you have teams with multiple tools who need to collaborate.
Two-way sync, or bidirectional synchronization, implies the transfer of work data from one tool to another and vice versa. This option is far more flexible since it allows you to send and receive information between teams automatically.
You’ll need a third-party application to establish a two-way sync for your stack, but when used correctly, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Adding a tool with two-way sync to your stack allows teams with different tools to communicate and collaborate without leaving their preferred interface. You can have a software development tool (such as Azure DevOps, Jira, or GitHub) send detailed work data automatically into a separate project management tool (Trello, Asana, Wrike, etc.) without anyone needing to copy-paste information manually.
The best part? Having a two-way sync for this purpose means the data flow, as you’d expect, both ways. So changes in one tool are instantly reflected in the other.
Code vs. No-Code solutions
Some third-party apps are extremely powerful but rely on in-depth technical knowledge and know-how. Zapier and Workato have been around for a while and have a range of integrations, but they are not easy to comprehend for first-time users. Often you’ll need an in-house expert to manage the automation workflow, and setting them up takes extended periods of time (days to weeks, depending on the complexity of your workflow)
Newer tools on the market often promote themselves as no-code solutions. The idea behind a no-code solution, such as Unito, is that you don’t need a background in coding or computer science to build a workflow. Instead, these tools provide simplified graphical interfaces that allow you to build connections between your apps with a simple point-and-click interface. In this way, anyone on your team should be able to learn the tool quickly without technical expertise.
If there’s one feature you should look for above all others, it’s the ability to add custom fields. Most of the tools on the market are limited in their ability to deliver customization. Yet customization is critical for tailoring your automated workflow to the needs of your team or department. The extra step allows you to personalize each automation to your specific goals and objectives.
The best way forward is to choose a no-code workflow automation platform that enables you to sync tasks, calendar events, spreadsheets, contact details, and more between teams and tools seamlessly. If you’re exploring, I’d recommend Unito. It is one such tool that is the intuitive point-and-click interface.