Workflow automation has been generating significant buzz in the tech industry recently, but in its most simple terms it means importing information into a system, automatically launching tasks and processing that data, and then routing it to the correct people. Workflows have long been a part of business, but with modern computing and cloud platforms various workflows can now be completed more efficiently and reliably without any human intervention, and these automated workflows are already boosting productivity.

Modern businesses rely on data to inform their decisions. Traditionally, all that data needed to be inputted manually, which is a time-consuming and therefore expensive activity, but with modern automation tools that data can now be interpreted with minimal human interaction.

RPA (Robotic Process Automation)

Robotic process automation is the most common form of workflow automation. The technology is used to import structured data, meaning data that has labels or headers, in the form of spreadsheets, XML files, and other properly formatted documents, processes this data following rule-based logic, and then sends on the processed data to the right people, normally via email or Slack.

Many businesses may already be using these tools in some way already, with many finance, book-keeping, and accounting apps already automating many monotonous tasks such invoicing and billing. Previously, the process of invoicing was time-consuming and involved numerous people, from the first email being received, to it being forwarded to the billing department where it was converted into a payable invoice, and then paid. Today, a workflow management platform makes it possible to setup various robotic workflow automations on an email inbox, so once an invoice is received in a specific format the data is automatically processed, converted into a payable invoice, and then sent to billing who simply have to approve or deny the payment. This reduces the number of people involved, and therefore significantly reduces the time and chance of errors.

Intelligent workflow automation

Intelligent workflow automation uses artificial intelligence to interpret unstructured data, such as general emails, unseen documents, and other files, finds the relevant information within that document and then processes it and passes it on to the right people. This intelligent automation is a significant improvement for businesses as 85 per cent of data is reported to be unstructured, and whereas with RPA someone would need to “teach” the platform how to interpret each data file individually, intelligent automation will learn how to interpret new files by itself.

In the invoicing example above, intelligent workflow automation would mean that it would not matter how an invoice was formatted or whether a company had sent an invoice previously, the system would still interpret the message as an invoice and react accordingly. And critically, machine learning would mean that not only would the system interpret the information by itself, but it would get progressively more accurate and quicker as the system learns as it goes.

Workflow automation is more than a buzzword. It is an opportunity for businesses to reduce the time and expense of completing relatively simple and repetitive tasks whilst at the same time improving their reliability. Tech enthusiasts have been talking about the future of automation in work for years, but it seems that with RPA and intelligent automation, workflows are already quietly being upgraded.


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