Report

The State of Workflow Automation in 2018

Preface

What is Workflow Automation?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way—or, these days, a workflow. When it comes to completing tasks fast, workflow automation is a business’s best friend. Designed to streamline manual processes and bring structure to otherwise time-consuming, unstructured activities, this tool 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 business processes and improve your bottom line. Because when routine work flows, there's more time to focus on the things that really matter.


Introduction

What if there was a single solution you could use to run your business operations profitably and keep your employees actively engaged?

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 onboarding new customers, approving new projects, accepting budget proposals, or accomplishing any number of mission-critical activities that must be completed day after day and week after week. These are just a few examples among 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. With the average business using 10 to 16 apps, creating a workflow management system to connect them all may prove to be problematic.

Amid the mountain of potential workflow management systems offered, we couldn’t help but wonder: What’s the true state of workflow automation today, and is it keeping pace with business needs?

Are companies embracing the power of workflow automation, or becoming overwhelmed by a never-ending array of options? Are managers harnessing the full power of workflow tools to effectively automate tasks? Or are outdated, disjointed business processes still causing issues?

We decided to find out.


Enter Formstack’s State of 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 workflow 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 company.
  • 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

Methodology

To gain new insights on the current state of workflow automation in the U.S., we surveyed over 280 managers, directors, vice presidents, and C-level executives at small (10-99), medium (100-499), mid-sized (500-999), and enterprise (1000+) businesses. Here’s a snapshot of participants:

Key Industries and Departments

  • 68% work in education and healthcare
  • 34% work in marketing or sales
  • 22% work in IT or technology
  • 17% work in operations
  • 16% work in finance, HR, or support

74% make administrative and/or process decisions for their companies

Key Findings

Among the business administrators we surveyed:

  • 62% are using workflow automation tools
  • 44% say their businesses have made a significant investment in workflow automation tools in the last 12-24 months

In what ways are these businesses using workflow automation?

  • 76% use it for standardizing or automating daily workflows
  • 58% use it for data/reporting for planning
  • 36% use it for regulation or compliance purposes

How much time do these businesses spend on unstructured, manual data entry such as email and spreadsheet updates?

  • 42% spend less than one hour per day
  • 33% spend two to three hours a day
  • 25% devote four or more hours per day

In addition:

62% have identified three or more major inefficiencies or bottlenecks in their business processes that could potentially be solved with effective workflow automation:

  • 54% cite poor communication as their organization’s most pressing challenge
  • 44% cite repetitive errors
  • 42% cite delays in project deployment
  • 24% cite compliance
  • 17% cite growing costs

When it comes to measuring the success of workflow automation tools, here’s how businesses gauge effectiveness:

  • 59% look at overall improvement in their systems
  • 33% look at improvements in employee or customer satisfaction
  • 3% look at specific cost savings

Gut check:

How much are unstructured activities costing your company? Take our business process management quiz to find out.

Take the quiz

Key Insights

Managers spend 8 hours a week on manual tasks.
Managers say, on average, that 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 of valuable time that could otherwise be spent focusing on driving more strategic, high-value initiatives. The time and cost impacts of administrative work are significant.

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 in a business and create more unnecessary manual tasks.

Poor communication tops managers’ workflow challenges.
Managers say the top workflow challenge they face is poor communication (54%) followed by repetitive errors (44%) and delays in project deployment (42%). This overall lack of communication can increase the risk for mistakes and ultimately lead to 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.

Workflow automation saves organizations thousands of dollars.

Most respondents weren't able to cite a specific dollar amount saved by workflow automation tools, citing it was hard to measure or that they didn't have access to the information. However, those that could estimated anywhere from $10,000 to millions of dollars. On average, though, organizations are saving $46,000 annually.

What’s happening in education?

Sixty-three percent of respondents working in education say their institution uses workflow automation tools. Within this industry, 30% spend two to three hours a day on manual data entry. Twenty-five percent devote four or more hours per day to these tasks.

See more education insights

What’s happening in healthcare?

Although 63% of healthcare respondents use workflow automation tools, 67% spend eight or more hours a week on manual data entry. Meanwhile, 68% have identified as many as four inefficiencies in their business processes; 12% have identified five or more.

See more healthcare insights


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 automation 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:

  • 76% use these tools to standardize or automate daily workflows
  • 58% use workflow automation tools for data/reporting and planning
  • 36% 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 workflow challenges does your organization most face?

A majority identified three or more major inefficiencies or bottlenecks in their business processes. More than half (54%) of managers cite poor communication as their business’s most pressing challenge that needs to be addressed with workflow automation.

Workflow Automation Success Spotlight: See how PATLive brought in 240 new accounts after automating customer onboarding.

Learn more

Workflow Automation Opportunities

Top 3 Workflow Automation Challenges to Solve in 2018

The managers represented in our study face several challenges that businesses need to address if they want to create more productive, profitable business 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 managers and administrators are still spending far too much time on mundane, manual work. By automating more workflows—and strengthening those that are already in place—companies can shift more hours to strategic initiatives that lead to growth.

The challenge: Unproductive, inefficient business processes

The solution: Seek out more intuitive, user-friendly tools

If current workflow automation tools aren’t intuitive and easy to use, it’s time to create tools that are. How? By streamlining multiple systems to a minimal number of platforms: The fewer apps you have to open to get something done, the better. Find tools that allow nontechnical users to build and update processes with ease, and steer clear of software that requires advanced coding knowledge and reliance on developers or IT.

The challenge: Information that’s divided and poorly communicated

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. Businesses that succeed with workflow management will develop solutions that can be easily scaled to add new employees, extend to more departments, or enhance functionality.

Where Are Managers Most Struggling?

Managers are spending a substantial amount of time on repetitive, day-to-day tasks that don’t drive the business forward. Of those surveyed, 55% regularly spend time on administrative tasks that consume at least a full day of their work week, and 25% said they spend more than two days per week on these tasks.

We also asked managers about their level of confidence in the metrics they report to their bosses.

Are you confident in the accuracy of metrics you report?

In identifying some of their biggest obstacles to gathering reliable metrics, 65% of respondents said poor tracking parameters and too many reporting systems keep them from reporting more accurate data to their bosses. Another 10% had no clearly defined reporting requirements.

Key Takeaways

  • The abundance of manual tasks, often not part of a respondent’s core job function, is increasingly taking time away from managers’ abilities to focus on strategic initiatives that drive the organization forward.
  • This is often due to inefficient business processes and workflows that are difficult to track and measure.

What Are Their Biggest Roadblocks?

While much of managers’ time is being devoted to unstructured manual tasks, the current state of workflow automation within their organizations—often fraught with an overabundance of apps, tools, processes, and systems—isn’t solving this problem.

What is your top challenge in adopting workflow automation tools?

The bulk of managers in our survey cited poor communication, delays in project deployment, and repetitive errors as big roadblocks to creating effective workflows. When it comes to adoption of workflow automation tools, the biggest obstacles are not cost or buy-in from leadership, but rather ease of use and deciding which tool is best for the company.

Key Takeaways

  • Despite the numerous workflow automation tools available today, many managers at small and mid-sized businesses struggle to streamline the many administrative tasks they’re still handling manually. Without a standardized platform that streamlines processes, employees are forced to continuously shift between disparate dashboards, logins, and other sources of information. The result? Less productivity and more disengagement.
  • Future success will depend on finding an intuitive, uncomplicated system that lets managers “set and forget” the kind of dynamic workflows that are easy to build and simple to use.

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?


Conclusion

Given this data, it’s no wonder businesses are increasingly turning to workflow automation to streamline routine workflow processes across departments—whether it’s employee reviews, project approvals, reimbursement requests, budget approvals, or any of the hundreds of other activities that take place day in and day out.

But not just any solution will work. To be effective, workflow automation must be intuitive, easy to use, and—most of all—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.


280 Respondents

Team Demographics

Managers
C-Level
VP/Directors
Individual Contributors
Other

Percentage

36%
15%
13%
15%
21%

Business Size

Small (10-99)
Medium (100-499)
Mid-Sized (500-99)
Enterprise (1000+)

Percentage

46%
24%
9%
21%

Departments

Marketing
Operations
Technology
IT
HR
Customer Service
Sales
Support
Finance
Other

Percentage

28%
17%
13%
9%
7%
6%
6%
5%
4%
5%


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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