Workflow automation is a critical part of any modern business. With ever-increasing competition, your automation strategy is crucial, no matter your industry. Despite this, many organizations fail to fully reap the benefits.
Today, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about automating business workflows.
We’ll start by covering the theory behind automation, including what it is, how it works, and the benefits it brings. We’ll then move on to the specific strategies you can use to automate workflows, before taking a look at how Budibase is on a mission to make this easier than ever.
First, though, let’s start with the basics.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation means using technology to make your employees’ daily tasks as smooth and efficient as possible. The goal is to eliminate the need for manual tasks, wherever possible, and minimize the time spent on them where this isn’t possible.
To achieve this, you can use a combination of tools, including dedicated SaaS platforms, custom tools, conditional logic within DBMSs, dedicated automation platforms, no/low-code tools, and even artificial intelligence.
We’ll cover some of these tools in a little more detail later.
Automation can touch on just about anything that your employees do in their daily work.
Let’s take a step back and consider workflows more generally to see how.
What is a workflow?
A workflow is a series of discrete steps that are needed to complete any given task. These might be carried out by a single user, many users, or by computing processes. More often though, workflows involve a combination of these entities.
It’s useful to think of any workflow as having five elements:
- The entities involved.
- The resources being processed.
- How these are processed at each stage.
- The conditions and logic that determine whether or not you can move to the next step.
- The end-result.
Resources here can be database objects, documents, or other kinds of information.
Let’s take vacation requests as a simple example.
In the most basic form, this workflow would only involve two entities - the person requesting vacation time, and the person responsible for approving or declining this request.
The end goal is allowing employees to take their leave entitlement, without interrupting other elements of your business.
As such, there are a few different resources that need to be processed, including:
- Details of the employee’s request.
- The employee’s remaining entitlement.
- The availability of other team members to cover their absence.
With that in mind, with no automation, our workflow would look something like this:
- The employee submits a vacation request.
- Their manager checks that they have sufficient remaining leave.
- If so, the manager also checks that there will be sufficient cover on these dates.
- The request is either approved or rejected
- If approved, the vacation time is manually scheduled in the team calendar.
You can already see the reliance on manual tasks here, without even accounting for the time spent on communication between the employee and their manager.
This might be manageable in small teams, but if the manager was responsible for dozens or even hundreds of employees, things would get messy fast.
Automation can alleviate admin burdens for both parties, at each step of our workflow. We’ll cover how this works in practice a little later.
For now, let’s think about some of the more specific benefits of workflow automation.
Why automate workflows?
Workflow automation is ubiquitous for a reason. Or, maybe we should say - for several reasons.
Let’s take a look at some of the concrete business-level benefits that automation brings.
Efficiency is the most obvious benefit of eliminating manual tasks. This applies equally to core daily workflows and less common ones.
The simple fact is that when you cut admin burdens, you save money by giving your team more time to focus on other tasks. Automation also helps to reduce the number of actors needed to complete a given workflow.
As we’ll see in a minute, workflow automation also cuts labor costs by eliminating the scope for human error.
And this is just when we automate one workflow.
The real efficiency dividend comes when you embed an automation culture across your organization. That is, when you make eliminating burdensome tasks and streamlining processes the norm in your company.
Workflow automation also helps to maximize process adherence and accuracy. This works in two ways:
- Minimizing the number of human inputs needed for each task.
- Limiting the number of actions that users can take at any given time.
Errors and inaccuracies of any kind will lead to larger consequences across your business. These include poor decision-making, low productivity, and additional labor required to identify and fix mistakes.
This is especially important for workflows that are carried out on a large scale, or those involving many employees. For example, manual data entry.
As we’ll see later though, it’s not inevitable that automated workflows will stop errors from occurring. Rather, this has to be built into each specific automation project.
Another key benefit of workflow automation is improved auditing. More specifically, this applies at two levels:
- How employees adhere to your workflow.
- How effective your workflows are in the first place.
On the first point, limiting the number of actions that users can take greatly reduces the amount of work required to ensure that they are following processes properly.
In other words, when users can take a smaller number of actions, it’s easier to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. Additionally, automated workflows offer clear paper trails of which users have taken different actions, improving accountability.
Secondly, automation helps you to determine where bottlenecks occur in your workflows.
Since each step of your workflow is explicitly mapped out, it’s easy to see where issues or delays arise. You can then use this information to continuously improve your processes.
Employee & customer satisfaction
Another key reason to automate workflows is to provide better experiences for your users, including employees and customers. We noted earlier that one of the goals of any automation project is reducing the number of manual steps required to complete a task.
For internal users, this means smoother, more intuitive work.
In terms of customers, you’ll benefit from improved conversions and faster after-sales resolutions.
As we’ll see a little later, these benefits are multiplied when you engage your end-users in the process of designing your automation systems.
Often, different steps in your workflows require input from several pieces of software. Part of the automation strategy is integrating these tools. This means that a single user action could potentially trigger processes in a large number of platforms.
As such, workflow automation is an effective way to create a joined-up, integrated software stack.
For example, you might have a billing workflow, that requires input from your CRM, ecommerce platform, and invoicing software.
Automation could be used to share resources between platforms instantaneously, to perform different processes at each stage of your workflows.
In combination, each of these results of automation leads to cost savings and increased profitability across your organization. One of the key reasons for the popularity of workflow automation is the impact it has on a business’s bottom line.
Automation offers increased productivity, efficiency, and accuracy within workflows.
Cost-savings here largely relate to the ability to reduce employees’ workloads, thereby cutting labor costs.
Similarly, automating manual processes can actually help to increase revenues.
On the one hand, there’s the impact of freeing your team up to work on more profitable activities. On the other, there’s the direct impact of providing smoother, more effective experiences for customers.
Lastly, workflow automation can also feed directly into your security strategy. Again, this largely stems from reducing the number of actions that users can take at each stage of your workflow.
In other words, workflow automation helps you to more tightly control how users interact with your data.
Most workflows will also have defined competencies for different users. That is, RBAC is effectively built into most automated workflows, limiting the actions that different kinds of users can take at each stage.
How do workflow automation systems work?
Now that we understand why you would want to automate workflows, it’s important to understand the theory behind how you go about this.
The key here is defining business rules and implementing these within systematic processes. These can be built into automation rules, as well as interfaces that allow users to take different actions.
The same principle applies no matter which tools you use to automate workflows.
As we’ll see shortly, the key is analyzing your existing workflows, to determine the logic that underpins them for task management purposes.
Once you’ve done this, the first task is to replicate these rules within your automation system and outsource decision-making based on them wherever possible. Then, you can decide which specific actions can be automated, and which will remain as manual tasks.
Later, we’ll look at how you can achieve each of these within Budibase.
Automation across your business
As we mentioned earlier, workflow automation can be leveraged across all kinds of industries and departments.
Let’s take a look at some more specific use cases.
Operations teams typically use some of the most complex daily workflows. In part, this is because ops processes can touch on just about any other vertical within your business.
This means that operations workflows will typically cover a larger number of users and resources.
For example, in an agency, operations staff are responsible for elements of project delivery, client management, internal processes, finance, and more.
Some of the most common operations workflows relate to resource management. That is, deciding how and when to use different resources, including, money, devices, data, or scheduling.
Automating these decisions, along with any relevant information sharing, can save valuable time.
Human resources departments have some of the highest volumes of manual admin tasks. For example, vacation requests, grievance procedures, training authorizations, detail changes, disciplinary processes, and more.
In addition to providing improved efficiency, HR workflow automation empowers your employees to more easily access processes.
For example, when employees don’t need to manually contact a member of the HR team to raise a grievance, they’re much more likely to actually do so.
Workflow automation is critical for modern customer support and service. The crux of the matter is that customers are busy, so they expect fast, streamlined experiences.
Simple workflow automations here can include onboarding or after-sales emails.
More complex workflows include handling customer complaints or managing call-back requests. For example, you might define automation rules to route different kinds of complaints to different team members, and notify them to respond.
Finance teams are responsible for a range of approval processes, auditing, and reporting workflows, often on a massive scale. Additionally, these kinds of workflows generally involve a large volume of information gathering and analysis.
As such, finance workflows benefit hugely from automation.
For example, invoice approvals, payment processing, and financial monitoring all involve manual admin tasks that can easily be eliminated.
IT departments are probably the vertical where automation is most common. Of course, one reason for this is that technical staff are also the most likely to have the skills and knowledge needed to implement automations.
Besides this, there are countless IT workflows that are ideally suited for automation.
This includes internal and external activities alike, for both hardware and software. For example, device rental, infrastructure monitoring, incident reporting, feature requests, code reviews, and more.
Check out our guide to IT process automation to find out more.
What kind of business processes can be automated?
So what makes a workflow suitable for automation?
There are several characteristics of any task that will help you decide whether it’s worth automating. These include how often it’s carried out, the amount of repetitive work required, and the complexity of the decisions employees need to make.
With that in mind, here are some of the most commonly automated types of workflows across all departments.
Approval workflows essentially have two stages:
- An employee makes a request.
- A responsible user approves, declines, or queries this, based on defined criteria.
For our purposes, it doesn’t matter what the request is right now. We saw earlier that it could be a vacation request, but it could equally involve access to information, or authorization to go ahead with some other process.
Normally, there will also be some kind of action, depending on the outcome of the second stage. So, if the request is approved, a relevant process is triggered. If it’s queried, the original user might be notified that they need to provide more information.
It’s also worth noting that requests and approvals can be built in as discrete stages of any other kind of workflow if required.
Communications workflows can come in a few different forms. Generally speaking though, there are two categories:
- Outbound communications - where a particular kind of communication is triggered by a defined event.
- Inbound communications - where a customer interaction acts as the trigger for another process.
In the first case, the most obvious examples would be automated emails, triggered by changes in a customer’s order status.
Inbound communications work a little bit differently. The key is that these can have various levels of complexity.
A simple example would be a callback request system. When a customer completes a form, this is then added to the task list for the next available service agent.
However, we could add additional layers to make a more complex workflow automation.
For instance, we could add conditions to decide which specific agent should pick up different queries. Or, we could use details within the customers’ original query to automate responses, if it meets certain defined criteria.
Scheduling and booking workflows
Scheduling is another extremely common use case for workflow automation. Again, there are two varieties of this:
- Actions are triggered by an event being manually scheduled.
- Events are scheduled in response to a defined trigger.
An example of the first case might be if you have a system for booking meeting rooms. When an employee makes a booking, a few actions could be triggered, including blocking this off in a shared calendar, notifying your cleaning team, and sending a confirmation email.
Alternatively, scheduling might happen automatically, based on other triggers and system factors. For example, a fleet management system could automatically schedule maintenance based on time or usage-related variables.
Sales and purchases
Sales and procurement are two areas where manual, repetitive tasks are particularly common. This includes restocking supplies, creating purchase orders, processing invoices, and a range of other activities.
As such, there is fruitful ground for automation here.
We’ve already seen a handful of examples of how automations can be triggered when customers make a purchase.
On the procurement side of things, we could also build automated workflows around current stock levels of different items. For example, if you already monitor your inventory of raw materials, it’s relatively easy to automate replenishment workflows.
How much does workflow automation cost?
There are some real misconceptions about this. In fact, there’s a bit of a myth that automation is the preserve of massive enterprises, or that it’s prohibitively expensive for smaller companies.
While workflow automation varies greatly in cost, depending on how your implement it, the reality is that it’s much more accessible than many organizations believe.
Specific variables you’ll need to consider include the complexity of your workflows, the number of users involved, the tools you’ll use, how you’ll host these, the amount of storage capacity you’ll need, and more.
All else being equal, the tools you use to automate workflows have the greatest impact on the overall costs you’ll incur.
Your options here include:
- Relying on SaaS platforms for specific workflows - which can have hugely varying monthly bills, depending on usage.
- Having a custom solution built - which can come along with excessive upfront costs, as well as maintenance and support.
- Building a custom solution internally - where costs are related to your usage of internal developers’ time.
- Automating workflows with no/low-code platforms - which is typically the most cost-effective method.
For example, Budibase is designed to offer seamless workflow automations, at a fraction of the cost of traditional developments.
Check out our pricing page to find out more.
Robotic process automation vs workflow automation
When it comes to eliminating manual tasks, workflow automation isn’t the only show in town.
It’s useful to compare this with the other common framework - robotic process automation (RPA).
What is robotic process automation?
Robotic process automation is based around the idea of using computerized bots to mimic the ways users interact with different software platforms. For example, understanding the contents of different app screens, and performing defined actions.
The idea is that you can eliminate the need for human users to do certain tasks, by creating robots to replicate and replace them.
Much like workflow automation, RPA involves defining conditions and rules for how and when your robots take different actions. This means that it is suitable for many of the same situations as workflow automation.
The differences largely relate to how rules are implemented in each system.
Let’s explore this in a little bit more detail.
What’s the difference between workflow automation and RPA?
The key difference here is that RPA seeks to eliminate the need for human interactions, where workflow automation aims to minimize these interactions and make them more efficient.
Another way of looking at this is that workflow automation is primarily concerned with how resources move through the entirety of processes, including the role that users play. By contrast, RPA’s main focus is on specific tasks involved in different workflows.
There are also key differences in how these two types of automation are implemented.
Specifically, robotic process automation is a more involved technology to implement, as it requires more sophisticated, dedicated tools. This often means that RPA is more expensive than workflow automation too.
Workflow automation is more holistic.
Since the goal is to streamline entire processes, there are a wider range of techniques at your disposal. For instance, you can use a combination of automated queries, conditional UIs, RBAC, and other tools to streamline workflows.
As such, you aren’t as reliant on a small number of platforms for implementation.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the specific tools you can use to implement workflow automation.
Workflow automation tools and software
There are several different kinds of tools you can use to automate workflows. We can place these into a few different categories:
- SaaS platforms related to specific workflows.
- Everyday office tools, including spreadsheets.
- Specific workflow automation tools.
- Low-code and no-code platforms.
In other words, there are platforms that are built for other purposes, which also offer automation features, and then there are tools that are specifically designed to automate workflows.
Here’s what you need to know about the latter.
What is a workflow automation tool?
Workflow managment tools are specifically built to help you create the smoothest, most efficient workflows possible. This means optimizing the flow of resources through different workflow steps, as well as creating user interfaces and automation rules.
These platforms aim to make it easy for any business user to automate processes, without necessarily needing specific technical skills.
However, this can come in a few different forms.
Firstly, we have integration tools like Zapier which are designed to connect different platforms together within your workflows. The goal is to create a series of triggers and actions, so that set events in one platform can initiate certain tasks in another.
That way, you can quickly automate specific stages of your workflows.
For example, you might use an integration tool to connect your CRM and accounting systems, so that a new order triggers an update in your financial records.
Other tools are designed to map out and optimize entire workflows. This normally involves using a visualization interface to decide what should happen at each stage.
They also offer some functionality for creating interfaces and setting automation actions. However, some elements of this can be fairly limited in specific platforms, so it’s important to research whether or not individual tools will meet your needs.
What to look for in workflow automation software
As such, it’s important to know what to look for in workflow automation software. There are a few key factors to pay attention to.
The first is how much technical expertise you’ll need to use different platforms. For example, some platforms use a simple drag and drop interface, while others will require more configuration.
Besides this, you’ll need to pay attention to the specific features and functionality offered by specific tools. For example, if you need to create data entry forms, you’ll obviously want to avoid platforms that don’t offer this.
Similarly, you’ll need to thoroughly research each platform in terms of the external tools that it can support.
Finally, cost is a huge decision factor.
In fact, the costs of using different tools can vary greatly. Different platforms might charge on a per-user, per-query, or fixed cost basis, so it’s vital to do your homework and make sure platform fees don’t undercut your efficiency savings.
Check out our guide to enterprise workflow automation to find out more about the tools available to larger organizations.
No-code & low-code workflow automation
Another popular option is using no/low-code platforms for workflow automation. These are platforms that are designed to make it easy and cost-effective to build applications, including for managing specific workflows.
In other words, the goal of these is to quickly build dedicated apps for carrying out tasks within a given workflow.
There are many benefits to using these kinds of tools, compared to traditional workflow automation platforms. Often, this means you can achieve the same results, in a faster, more effective framework.
No-code tools allow you to create functional applications with absolutely no technical expertise. Low-code tools offer a similar experience but offer additional flexibility, by introducing the ability to write custom code, if you need to.
By focusing less on visualizing processes, and more on creating practical solutions no/low-code tools typically offer greater functionality than traditional workflow automation software.
For example, Budibase offers a range of automation tools, as well as auto-generated CRUD screens, customizable RBAC, extensive support for external data, and more. We’ll take a look at the specific ways our platform can help you to automate workflows a little later.
So, how do you create a workflow automation solution?
How to implement workflow automation in 8 steps
Next, let’s dive a little deeper into how workflow automation actually works in practice. As with any project, when you want to create automated workflows, the key is having a reproducible framework.
With that in mind, here are the specific steps you can follow to automate time-consuming business processes.
1. Define your goals
The first step is to decide what you actually want to achieve through automation. This informs each of the steps you’ll take, as well as how you’ll measure your success.
It’s important to have quantifiable goals.
You can express this either in terms of the time it takes employees to carry out certain tasks or the financial costs associated with this. The net effect is similar, so it’s a case of which of these you wish to prioritize.
You could also focus on the number of actors involved in any given task.
The key, in any case, is to thoroughly analyze the current state of your workflows and outline where you’d like to be.
So, for example, you might determine that a particular admin task takes your team three hours on average to complete. Your goal might be to reduce this to under one hour. Similarly, you could express the same goal in terms of the labor costs incurred.
Or, your goal might be to simplify the workflow in terms of the number of stakeholders involved. This means reducing the number of inputs required and creating clearer competencies for each user within a given process.
2. Analyze workflows
Once you know what you want to achieve, your next step is to thoroughly analyze how your workflows currently work.
The first step here is outlining each stage of your workflow, in purely descriptive terms. The key is having a clear idea of each discrete step in your workflow, and the sequence that these follow.
One way to do this is using a flowchart diagram. For example:
When you’ve created this, you can then begin to analyze your workflow’s efficiency. More specifically, the idea here is to identify inefficiencies, pain points, and opportunities for improvement.
There are several things to look out for, including:
- Redundant steps.
- Areas where users’ responsibilities are not clear.
- Specific manual tasks that could be automated.
- Situations where manual communications or meetings are required.
- Any issues, delays, or miscommunications that can occur.
In other words, the goal of our analysis is to determine how we can make our workflow more efficient by identifying the specific factors we want to improve.
Note, that at this stage, we’re only considering these things with regard to how your workflows operate in theory.
We’ll move on to how it works in practice in the next step.
We’ve also created an in-depth guide to workflow analysis .
3. Engage stakeholders
It’s also vital to engage different stakeholders early in the process of designing new workflows. This includes end-users as well as higher-level decision-makers.
The goal here is to gather insights into how your processes work in practice, as well as the impact your changes will have on users’ daily tasks.
There are two levels to this:
- Different experiences of your current workflows.
- Stakeholders’ views on your proposed changes.
In both cases, you want to gather feedback, whether positive or negative. This allows you to validate your understanding of the current situation, as well as whether or not your proposed solution is right for your users.
Pay particular attention to anything your users like about your existing workflows. You’ll then need to decide if these facets are worth retaining, or if they simply indicate resistance to change more generally.
4. Define triggers
Next, we can begin to think about the practicalities of automating workflows. Specifically, at this point, you should have identified the specific manual tasks that you want to replace automations.
To do this, we’ll need to flesh out the specific automation rules we’ll use.
The first stage is defining triggers. That is, when, how, and why different automation actions will be initiated. This could be because of:
- User actions.
- System events.
- Time factors.
- Other system conditions.
Which of these you choose will depend largely on the specific task you’re automating, and what precedes it in the wider workflow. As such, it’s hard to generalize.
Instead, let’s think about a couple of examples.
First, let’s say you’re building a tool to streamline how clients request estimates for different work or project changes. As part of this, you decide to automate specific different communications tasks, when estimates are requested, provided, and agreed.
We’ll think about the specific actions soon, but for now, we only care about how these will be triggered. In this example, we’d most likely rely on user actions. Specifically, we’d provide different forms for requesting, creating, and approving estimates.
When one of these is completed, the relevant communication action is triggered.
Secondly, let’s think about a situation where you’d use system events to trigger an action.
For example, you might have a tool that monitors the stock levels of different products and replenishes them if they go under a certain threshold.
In this case, we could trigger an automation anytime a product row is updated, so that the current stock level is less than its threshold. In this case, it doesn’t matter if the row is updated manually or by an existing system process.
5. Create automation actions
Next, we can define what actually needs to happen in response to our triggers. This can include:
- Database queries - including, reading, creating, updating, or deleting rows.
- Communications events - such as sending emails, instant messages, or SMSs.
- External app events - via integrations and outgoing webhooks.
- Custom code - based on trigger inputs or outputs from previous automation steps.
These are the building blocks of automations. Most often, you’ll use a number of them in series.
As such, you’ll also need to control how your automation moves from one block to the next. This means adding logic.
There are a few different ways you can do this, including:
- Setting conditions for automations to stop or continue.
- Setting conditions to filter queried rows.
- Adding time-based delays.
- Looping automation blocks to iterate through data, or repeat steps.
You’ll likely use a combination of these techniques.
Once again, the specific structure of your automation will depend hugely on your project, so we’ll return to our previous examples to apply this to the real world.
Let’s take our estimate request workflow example.
Recall, that we wanted communications actions to be triggered when users complete different forms.
We actually want to create three separate automations here to:
- Notify the relevant project manager when a client submits a request.
- Notify the client when the project manager provides an estimate.
- Notify the project manager if the client accepts or rejects the estimate.
Our app would likely be built around three related database tables, for clients, estimates, and project managers.
Let’s take a look at what would happen under the hood when a client submits a request. Once this is triggered, the following steps would be initiated:
- The project managers table is queried and filtered to identify the correct member of staff.
- The project manager’s row is updated, to add a new relationship to the new row in the estimates table.
- An email template is populated with the information provided by the client in their request.
- The email is sent to the relevant project manager, using the email_address attribute stored in their database entry.
6. Test your automation
Once you’ve created your automation, the next step is thoroughly testing them. The goal here is obviously to ensure that they work in the way you intend. It’s vital that you do this before you implement automated workflows in the real world.
The key is ensuring that data is passed between each step correctly, as well as checking that your automation as a whole had your desired effect.
Luckily, most tools make this relatively simple.
For example, in Budibase you can test any automation in unpublished apps, using dummy data as triggers.
Each stage is then flagged as a success or a failure, with input and output data provided for troubleshooting. This allows you to check that the values that are passed between stages match up with what you expected.
You’ll also want to manually confirm that the whole of your automation does what you expect it to. For example, if your automation outcome is to send a template email, you’ll want to verify that this is done correctly.
7. Employee training
It’s also vital that your employees thoroughly understand how to use any new platforms. This will naturally require training. Of course, one of the benefits of workflow automation is to minimize the number of actions that users need to perform.
This makes training relatively simple.
The key is to ensure that users are familiar with what happens in the background when they perform different actions. Of course, this doesn’t need to be a deep technical understanding. Rather, they should know abstractly what the system does in response to different scenarios.
Training can also be made easier by creating effective user interfaces in the first place. That is, intuitive UIs help to ensure that users can quickly learn the correct actions to take in different situations.
All of this considered, a crucial part of training users to use your automated workflows is thoroughly explaining each of the possible scenarios they’ll encounter.
Of course, this is all the more important for internal users, who are more likely to have multiple actions available to them. For example, by giving your admin team a playbook of all the possible permutations of data and requests they might encounter.
8. Monitor and audit automations
Finally, it’s vital that you monitor and audit the implementation of your automated workflows. This applies at a few different levels:
- Whether your systems are working correctly.
- Whether users are interacting with automated workflows in the way you expected.
- Whether your requirements change over time.
- Whether there are fringe cases that you hadn’t considered.
In other words, you’ll need to ensure that your workflow automations are used correctly and continue to be fit for purpose.
One element of this is gathering user feedback. You should do this in two different ways:
- Regularly asking users for their input, including through surveys.
- Providing channels for users to report issues as and when they occur.
The first strategy is more important during initial onboarding, as this helps to identify early teething issues.
An example of the second strategy would be providing an incident report tool so that users can provide details of fringe cases or other bugs in your system.
It’s also crucial to monitor any automation logs, to identify instances where your workflows haven’t worked properly. This helps you to identify whether the cause of issues is systematic or if it’s related to user errors.
Workflow automation examples
There are many automation workflow examples out there. In general, whenever you can think of a set of actions performed after a trigger, you have a workflow. From there, you can automate your workflows partially or completely.
But this might be too fuzzy.
So let’s see some examples of some common workflows in business that you can relate to.
You might want to automate workflows for generating and converting leads. For example:
- Automatically collect leads from social media.
- Message leads automatically when they connect or perform an action.
- Automate workflows for new proposals based on variables including project size and requirements.
- Use software to automate calendar bookings, alerts, and meetings.
- Automatically transcribe contents from discovery calls to generate strategies and proposals.
- Automate SEO reports
- Generate social media assets automatically for many platforms based on variables or a template design.
- Automatically create coupons and discounts based on user behavior.
- Automate email sequences, such as cart abandonment, resupply, welcome sequences, and product launches.
And you can automate workflows for other business aspects. For example, delivering services and products, creating reports, and even other internal management tasks.
So, you could:
- Automatically send invoices when the project is complete.
- Collect data for reports automatically from multiple sources.
- Send notifications in sequence for everyone responsible at each step of the production chain - So when step 1 is complete, step 2 gets a notification, and so on until the project is finished.
- Automate small tasks such as creating docs, presentations, and anything else that’s repeatable.
Workflow automation strategy
There are many strategies to consider if you want to automate a workflow.
An important workflow automation strategy is to use the Pareto principle. In general terms, this principle states that the biggest outcomes come from a small portion of the actions.
The original version of the Pareto principle says that 20% of the actions generate 80% of the results. But there are many variations and it can be different for each context. For example, in some places, 5% of the actions generate 90% of the results. And in others, 30% generate 70%.
This means that 20% of your clients account for 80% of the revenue, for example.
Or that 5% of your workflows generate 90% of the costs.
The general idea is that not all efforts are the same. Small improvements can breed big results.
Therefore, you should focus your workflow automation strategy on actions that can generate the biggest impact, with the lowest cost.
And that’s where the fun begins.
To define the best workflow automation strategy, it’s better to list all workflows in the first place.
So check your daily actions, list all workflows, check what kind of resources they require, and write down their outcomes.
From there, you can define which workflows you can automate by checking:
- What are the costs involved in that workflow?
- What kind of results does this workflow generate?
- How strict or how variable is this workflow?
Therefore, a better strategy is to start with workflows with high costs, high results, and low variability.
For example, if you have 3 workflows:
- Strategy call with a client - low cost (30 minutes), high return (immediate sales), variable.
- Connecting with leads on social media - medium cost (1h), low return (sales in long term), somewhat variable (message templates, but also custom messages).
- Lead qualification - High cost (5h), high return (sales at higher rates), strict.
Here it makes sense to automate the lead qualification workflow first. To implement it, you could replace the human qualification with digital forms or even chatbots.
Notice that although the strategy call is a high-return activity, it might be harder to automate it. Tasks that are highly variable are usually at the bottom of the automation list.
But there’s another automation strategy that you can use: to outsource them.
Outsourcing isn’t the same as regular workflow automation. But it’s a great strategy when you need to reduce how much time you spend on a task.
Take a look at our guide to in-house vs outsourcing software development , for a related discussion.
Low-code workflow automation from Budibase
Earlier, we discussed how low-code tools are playing an increasingly important role in workflow automation.
At Budibase, we’re proud to be leading the pack.
Our innovative platform is the fast, cost-effective way to automate a wide range of tedious, repetitive manual tasks.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.
Budibase offers customizable role-based access control. Quickly assign users to defined roles to grant permissions to different screens, data, queries, components, and functions. Implementing RBAC has never been easier.
Use access control in Budibase to create fully secure and highly intuitive automated workflows.
For example, you might create different roles for your customer service agents, management team, and IT admins. Each of these can then be permitted to take different actions within your automated workflows.
Budibase offers a simple yet powerful interface for building custom automation rules. Set your triggers, and use our intuitive builder to create a chain of actions, based on user actions or system inputs.
We offer a range of trigger options, including:
- Defined user actions.
- Chronological triggers.
- Database events.
- Incoming webhooks and other third-party integrations.
The next step is building a chain of actions that are initiated by the trigger. This could include querying rows, updating data, sending outgoing webhooks, updating system states, sending communications, or other actions.
Budibase offers the following action blocks:
- External app connections.
- Create, update, or delete rows.
- External data connection.
- Backend logs.
- Conditional logic.
- Querying rows.
- Time delays.
Each of these can also be looped, or combined in any configuration. Each block receives data from the one preceding it and passes data on to the next.
Internal and external data
Budibase is ideal for building automated workflows around existing data. Use BudibaseDB or our extensive range of external data connectors to quickly build custom applications.
We offer dedicated connectors for a range of external data sources, including:
- Google Sheets.
- REST API.
- And more.
We’ve provided streamlined UIs for connecting to data, fetching tables, and building queries, with minimal coding skills. Quickly build workflow automation tools for external data sets or to replace legacy systems.
Auto-generated CRUD screens
Say goodbye to building forms, tables, and listing screens.
Budibase offers auto-generated CRUD screens for internal and external data sources. Build professional screens for creating, reading, updating, and deleting data, at the press of a button.
Connect your data and build fully functional CRUD apps, in seconds.
Of course, our autogenerated interfaces are also fully customizable. Apply your own design, add or remove components, restrict screens to different roles, and create conditionality rules in our intuitive low-code platform.
Create fully integrated workflow automations that work seamlessly alongside third-party tools. Budibase offers external app integrations with Zapier, webhooks, REST API, and more.
Use external app events as automation triggers, or use Budibase tools to initiate actions in third-party tools. You can even send data to external tools for processing and back to Budibase, or vice versa.
Connect to all kinds of tools, from CRMs and invoice management platforms to asset management software, inventory apps, and more.
Our workflow automation templates
Budibase empowers you to build fully deployable, professional apps, in as little as five minutes. To help get you started, we’ve created a range of templates, which are perfect for workflow automation.
Our maintenance schedule template automatically notifies your team when different devices are due to be serviced. Simply create assets, set their maintenance interval, and our platform will do the rest.
We’ve also created a commission calculation template to quickly determine performance-based benefits owed to employees. Take the leg work out of calculating commissions for individual sales colleagues.
Budibase is also perfect for building custom applications from scratch. Connect your data, build interfaces, and automate tasks, with our flexible, intuitive low-code platform.
Sign up today to start using Budibase for free.