What is Workflow Automation?
Designed to streamline manual processes and bring structure to otherwise time-consuming, unstructured activities, workflow automation allows teams to get more done in less time.
Instead of logging into three different platforms, you might use an automated workflow to open just one. Twenty steps are condensed to five, emails are substituted by automatic alerts, and manual data entry is replaced by integrations. It can be a very reliable way to simplify day-to-day tasks and improve areas like outreach and enrollment. Because when routine work flows, there's more time to focus on the things that really matter.
What if there was a single solution you could use to streamline day-to-day tasks and keep different departments actively engaged with one another?
There is. It’s called workflow automation. A solid workflow management system provides a reliable way to unite different teams and departments as they work to get things done—whether that means enrolling students, communicating with alumni, or accomplishing any number of mission-critical activities that must be completed day after day and week after week. At the average educational institution, there are thousands of repetitive tasks that can be replaced by automated workflows. In fact, when you consider all that can be automated, the opportunities are seemingly endless.
And therein lies the challenge. Amid the mountain of potential workflow management systems offered, we couldn’t help but wonder: What’s the true state of automated workflows today, and is it keeping pace with the needs of educational institutions and organizations?
We decided to find out.
Enter Formstack’s State of Education Workflow Automation Report
We surveyed hundreds of administrators and managers like you across a variety of industries to learn how workflows are being automated, identify common challenges, and find out what issues need to be addressed. In this report, you’ll find answers to questions such as:
- What mediums and methods are managers relying on to automate workflows?
- What are the biggest challenges affecting managers and administrators today?
- What are the top automation problems that must be solved in 2018?
How to Use This Report
Managers and administrators at all experience levels will find value in this report.
- First, take a look at the Key Findings and Key Insights to see how your current automated workflows (or lack of them) compare to those of your peers.
- Next, by delving into the more in-depth Current State of Workflow Automation, you can get a better sense of what challenges may be standing in the way of greater productivity at your institution.
- Lastly, we recommend reviewing Workflow Automation Opportunities for ideas on what you can start doing today to better automate your own workflows.
Executive Summary and Major Findings
To gain new insights on the current state of workflow automation in the U.S., Formstack surveyed over 280 managers, directors, vice presidents, and C-level executives across a range of industries and company sizes.
Of those surveyed:
- 46% are small-sized businesses (10-99 employees)
- 24% are medium-sized businesses (100-499 employees)
- 9% are mid-sized businesses (500-999 employees)
- 21% are enterprise-sized businesses (1,000+ employees)
Among the respondents, 48% work in the education industry.
Among the education administrators and managers we surveyed, 63% use workflow automation tools.
When using workflow automation tools:
- 88% are trying to increase efficiency
- 67% want to ensure greater compliance and control
- 54% are trying to improve satisfaction among students and alumni
- 41% aim to improve employee satisfaction
- 35% want to save money
- 33% seek to reduce security risks
In what ways are these institutions using workflow automation?
- 78% use it for standardizing daily workflows
- 60% use it for data/reporting purposes
- 34% use it for compliance purposes
How much time do these institutions spend on manual data tasks?
- 45% spend less than one hour per day
- 30% spend two to three hours per day
- 25% spend four or more hours per day
In addition, 58% have identified three or more major inefficiencies in their processes that could potentially be solved with effective workflow automation:
- 56% cite poor communication as their organization’s most pressing workflow challenge
- 43% cite repetitive errors
- 42% cite delays in project deployment
- 26% cite compliance
- 20% cite growing costs
When it comes to measuring the success of workflow automation tools, 58% of education respondents are confident in the metrics they report to their supervisor. (Twenty-nine percent are not.)
Here’s how these organizations gauge the effectiveness of their workflow automation tools:
- 61% look at overall improvement in their systems
- 20% look at improved satisfaction among students and alumni
- 10% look at improvements in employee or staff satisfaction
- 2% look at specific cost savings
Managers spend 8 hours a week on manual tasks.
Managers in the education industry say on average, they spend at least eight hours a week—one full work day’s worth of time—on manual data tasks, while 25% devote 20 or more weekly hours to these tasks. (That’s an average of four hours per workday!)
Those tasks are draining managers and administrators of valuable time that could otherwise be spent focusing on driving more strategic, high-value initiatives. The time and cost impacts of this administrative work are significant.
Nearly 4 in 10 organizations—both large and small—still use manual tools.
Even with the evolution of cloud-based tools, we have not seen a dramatic increase in productivity and efficiency. In fact, many managers report that these new tools have the propensity to increase the number of information silos across departments and create more unnecessary manual tasks.
Poor communication tops managers’ workflow challenges.
Managers say the top workflow challenge they face is poor communication (56%) followed by repetitive errors (43%) and delays in project deployment (42%). This lack of communication can lead to greater risk for repetitive errors, a loss of stakeholder trust, and less positive growth.
Automating workflows allows managers to focus on high-value initiatives.
When workflows are automated, it leads to greater efficiency and allows managers to focus on high-value work that drives the organization forward. This, in turn, can lead to improved employee empowerment and happiness.
What’s happening across industries?
Across industries, 25% of managers and business administrators spend more than four hours a day on unstructured, manual data entry.
See more findings
The Current State of Workflow Automation
How are administrators and managers currently using workflow automation tools?
First, we wanted to understand how many administrators or managers are using workflow tools, and why.
Are you currently using workflow automation tools?
Why does your organization use workflow automation tools?
Of those who use workflow automation tools:
- 78% say they use these tools to standardize or automate daily workflows
- 60% use automation tools for data/reporting and planning
- 34% use workflow automation for regulation or compliance purposes.
Next, we wanted to understand the top workflow automation challenges and bottlenecks in current business processes.
How many inefficiencies or bottlenecks have you identified in your business processes?
What is your number one challenge in workflow automation?
More than half of education respondents identified three or more major inefficiencies or bottlenecks in their business processes. When it comes to challenges faced when getting automated workflows off the ground, 50% cite reducing manual, repetitive tasks as their institution’s most pressing issue.
Workflow Automation Success Spotlight: Learn how to create a more efficient, accurate financial aid workflow in just four steps.
See the infographic
Workflow Automation Opportunities
Top 3 Workflow Automation Challenges to Solve in 2018
The managers represented in our study face several challenges that institutions will need to address if they want to create more productive, profitable education environments through the use of workflow automation tools:
The challenge: Too much time spent on manual repetitive tasks
The solution: Improve automated workflows to free up time for more high-value initiatives
Based on the insights above, it’s evident that administrative staff is still spending far more time than necessary on mundane, manual work. By automating more workflows—and strengthening those that are already in place—schools can shift more hours to strategic initiatives that foster recruitment and increase enrollment.
The challenge: Involving multiple people in processes
The solution: Seek out more user-friendly tools that are easy to scale
If current automated workflows don’t make it easy to share information across departments and teams, it’s time to create processes that do. Look for workflow automation tools that can be easily scaled to add additional employees, integrate with more platforms, and enhance functionality.
The challenge: Unproductive, inefficient processes
The solution: Workflows that are flexible and easy to customize
When managers report that new cloud-based tools are increasing complexity and causing more work, that’s a sure sign it’s time to simplify. Institutions that succeed with workflow management will develop digital solutions that make it easy for nontechnical users to build and maintain workflows.
Where Are Managers Most Struggling?
Education departments are still spending a substantial amount of time on repetitive, mundane tasks that don’t drive the business forward. Of those surveyed, 55% regularly spend time on manual tasks that consume at least a full day of their work week, and 25% said they spend two days or more on these tasks.
We also asked managers how well their teams communicate when they encounter process roadblocks. Half of those who work in education indicated that it takes at least two days (and sometimes over a week) for problems to be addressed. Another 10% said communication bottlenecks often halt projects completely.
How well does your team communicate when roadblocks or bottlenecks arise in your process?
- The abundance of manual tasks, often not part of a respondent’s core job function, is increasingly taking time away from their ability to focus on strategic initiatives that drive the organization forward.
- As a result, inefficient processes and poor communication affect the institution’s bottom line.
What Are Their Biggest Roadblocks?
Although many education organizations are investing in new solutions, the current state of workflow automation is leaving many to face issues related to mounting costs, compliance concerns, an overabundance of systems, and more.
What workflow challenges does your organization face most?
What is your top challenge in adopting or deploying workflow automation tools?
- Despite the numerous workflow automation tools available today, many managers at small and midsize educational institutions routinely perform manual tasks that prevent them from focusing on higher value initiatives.
- Without a standardized platform to streamline processes, employees are forced to continuously shift between disparate sources of information, resulting in productivity issues and even greater employee dissatisfaction.
- Success depends on finding an approachable, accessible system that lets managers build dynamic, integrated, scalable workflows.
3 Steps to Effective Workflow Automation
1. Conduct a time management audit
How much time is currently going to manual tasks that could be automated?
2. Identify workflows in need of attention
Are there any workflows employees avoid because they’re too cumbersome or require too many steps?
3. Choose a tool that’s easy to use
Which tools are difficult or time-consuming to use—and which ones allow you to set up or tweak automated workflows within minutes?
Given this data, it’s no wonder schools are increasingly turning to workflow automation to streamline routine work conducted across departments. But not just any solution will work. To be effective, workflow automation must be intuitive, easy to use, and flexible.
With the availability of online workflow management solutions, there’s simply no reason to continue spending valuable hours on repetitive tasks. As we head further into 2018, it’s time to focus on aligning goals with the workflow automation tools that can empower managers and administrators to create more efficiency and save more time and money.
This guide was prepared by Formstack, a versatile online form solution that enables businesses of all types and sizes to remove complexity and get more work done. With Formstack, anyone can build web forms (no coding knowledge needed) and use them to capture leads, collect online payments, gather customer feedback, and create seamless digital workflows. The platform is HIPAA compliant and offers multiple robust features, including conversion tools, 50+ integrations, and a native app for Salesforce. Whether you’re an HR director trying to simplify your hiring process or a healthcare professional trying to improve your patient registration system, Formstack has the power and flexibility to help you succeed.
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