Business workflow automation – utilising cloud services and Microsoft Flow
Workflow automation is a concept in business that sells itself. Why spend time carrying out tasks when you can automate them for self-completion?
All businesses will have specific workflows in place. This may be between team members, accounting processes, client engagements and customer interactions. An important skill within business is the ability to recognise where processes exists, and implement workflows to help satisfy them quickly and effectively, reducing the need to expend resources and minimise the risk of errors in your business processes.
Whilst certain processes in business require human input, others can be automated using a variety of different methods. Take your average car manufacturer. Much of the assembly work is completed by machinery, with each piece of kit tasked with a different aspect of the manufacturing process. Robots lift and move heavy parts of the chassis, body and engine, whilst the more intricate work, such as connecting all the components together, are completed by specialist teams. This allows car manufacturers to save a significant amount of time and money, and such savings can be passed on to the consumer market.
The attributes of a workflow
A workflow can mean different things to different people and within different industries. However, every workflow consists of certain attributes. To help you identify what tasks within your business could be treated as a workflow, and therefore provide the possibility of automation, here are 3 key attributes:
The task consists of specific and identifiable steps
The task is repeated on a periodic basis
The task involves 2 or more people, systems or components
When you put these attributes into context, you can start to see how automation can help you streamline your business workflows. You have a task that consists of specific steps. You carry out these steps, whether concurrently or sequentially, on a period basis. This task requires involvement of a number of different people or systems, each with its own responsibility of completing a stage within the process. Automation can help you reduce the human input required to complete each stage, minimise the time spent repeating the same tasks, and can streamline the integration of the people or systems required to complete different business task.
Identifying workflows within your business
You will undoubtedly find times within your business where you come across a workflow. You may be waiting around for a person or system to complete their aspect of a task before you can move on to the next stage. You may find that you’re having to dedicate a significant amount of time to a business-critical task which you repeat on a daily, weekly or monthly basis (invoicing comes to mind!). Take the tasks which are the most demanding on your time and resources, identify the purpose or benefit they bring to your business, and consider whether the above attributes apply. You can then start to map out each step, who or what is responsible for them, and how often that task needs to be completed. You now have identified your workflow, and established the process and people required to complete it.
So what’s the cloud got to do with it?
Cloud services can help you automate many of the workflows you have now identified. Many cloud service providers are starting to recognise how their powerful and widely available infrastructure can support businesses and their need to automate common business functions. Because cloud services are so readily accessible and often great value for money, it makes them an ideal solution for businesses wishing to implement automation with a view of saving both time and money.
Go with the Flow…
Microsoft are just one of the cloud service providers who offer a wide range of tools and services for both large enterprises and small business. These services are designed to help businesses streamline workflow processes and integrate many widely used services which are great alone, but even better when working together. One of these services is called Microsoft Flow, which you can make use of as a standalone application or as part of your Microsoft Dynamics, Business or Enterprise account – Free!
From our experience, the extent at which you can establish and automate a workflow is only limited by your own imagination. Microsoft Flow really does help you unleash your imagination, by integrating many commonly used application (over 100 including many of the major social media platforms), and providing workflow templates to start you off.
From the simple – receiving a text message when you receive an important email from a customer, to the more involved – such as automating social media engagement processes and progressing your sales funnel.
Microsoft Flow is just one of the many cloud based automation workflow tools available on the market. Given its modest costing and ease of use, it provides a great starting point for small business owners wishing to free up time and resources by automating common business functions.