These days, the work of many businesses has moved to a remote level. It is therefore worth considering introducing a system to your company that will not only provide a higher level of supervision of your teams’ actions but also streamline them and increase their efficiency, thanks to the automation and simplification of most processes, including workflow. For these activities, implementing a workflow system will work best.
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Workflow – what is it?
Workflow system can be defined in two ways. Firstly as a document flow (invoices, orders, contracts, etc.). Within it, you can define the scope of authorisations for programme users, e.g. by setting up options for additional approvals for higher-ranking employees for orders above a certain amount. Workflow programmes also offer an OCR module, which automatically scans documents and enters them into the system, thus significantly relieving the workload and speeding up the work of those who used to enter them manually. Workflow, in the sense of document workflow, also facilitates access to the paper archive by gathering information about its exact location.
In the second sense, the workflow system functions as a tool for streamlining and supervising workflows (e.g. project or remote work). The coordination of tasks using it involves, among other things, the requirements to obtain certain approvals, and acceptances, to work according to a schedule, to stick to forks set in cost estimates, as well as a looser form, i.e. doing work by moving from one point to another. The system as a workflow may or may not be linked to document flow as much as possible.
Why use workflow?
Workflow is worth using in a company primarily because of its time and cost savings. Systems of this type make it possible to introduce a predefined order into an organisation. They systematise work and allow control over documentation, including documentation created on an ongoing basis. If, for example, you are preparing a new contract for a client with your employees, a workflow will allow you to control the process of its creation. Regardless of who is working on the file at any given time, each version is saved (according to the check-in/check-out model). This ensures that you are always working on the latest version. The programme also creates an entire history of work on the files in question, allowing you to keep things in order, as well as fully monitor the progress of activities and changes made.
The workflow system is also a great tool to support remote working, not least thanks to the cloud option. Your employees can easily access it both from a web browser and a mobile application for their phone or tablet.
The workflow programme remotely supports, among other things:
- invoicing and budgeting,
- granting and amending new entitlements,
- approval of applications,
- planning of working time and monitoring of its progress,
- collection, analysis and reporting of data.
The workflow system also automates and simplifies processes, thereby streamlining the work of your staff. It enables your staff to carry out tasks efficiently both from the office and remotely, and you always have control and insight into the progress of all work.
How does the workflow system work?
The principle of the workflow system is very simple. Its main task is to organise and optimise the documentation and work in your company. The programme can keep an eye on invoice payment deadlines, but it also automatically retrieves invoices from the mailbox, enters them into the system (setting up forms for new customers) and sends them automatically to the people responsible for their implementation. The system also alerts you to upcoming deadlines or the possibility of exceeding your project budget. It also supports the circulation of personnel documents, such as holiday requests or business trips.
Thanks to the checking mechanisms, the workflow also supervises the work of the staff. For example, if someone is unable to perform a given task, the programme redirects it to other, less busy people, thus ensuring its timely completion.
What does workflow consist of?
The workflow solutions we offer are flexible systems whose design and modules are tailored to your needs and our customers’ companies. Their scope is very broad, thus providing support for most company departments. However, if we want to point out the most common modules that most workflow systems consist of, we should certainly start with the previously mentioned document workflow improvement functions, including OCR. This programme, as we have already written, scans and reads the content of documents, which allows it to automatically enter them into the system (this applies to paper and pdf versions). It also detects errors themselves (e.g. illegible entry, missing data in a box), of which it informs employees, and sets up new forms for new customers, whose absence it identifies in the database by their VAT number.
The workflow design function is also important in workflow-type systems – both for work and files. A good system enables the flexible creation of these paths, including options for granting different rights to users or instructions on when a given document or task can be moved to the next stage of execution (e.g. what data needs to be completed, what approvals need to be obtained, what files need to be attached, etc.).
A good workflow also has the option to integrate with ERP systems. It is worth remembering that the workflow and document software is neither HR nor financial software, but it operates with the same data and documents, thus supporting the work of these systems. The integrator ensures that workflow works seamlessly with ERP and operates on a single, shared database and common system dictionaries. Once entered, the data will propagate through all systems, and when someone tries to enter it again, they will be informed that such a contractor already exists. In this way, you get a fully integrated solution that creates a single, readable and jointly functioning organism that automates and streamlines your business.
The integrator in the workflow system also supports more advanced accounting processes, such as analytics. For example, you receive an aggregated electricity invoice that combines the consumption for the production, office and administration departments – in the workflow you can set division keys (cost locations) and separate them, gaining insight into specific data. Integrators work on many levels, streamlining and automating work and thus reducing the time it takes to perform tasks.
If you have a larger number of systems in your company, it is worth considering implementing an integration bus, through which programmes can communicate efficiently with each other, as well as with source files such as Excel sheets.
If your company works on projects, the workflow should have a module dedicated to these activities. Its functionalities will simplify and systematise the work of your employees. When you start a new project, the programme itself will suggest what you need to carry out (which documents, approvals, etc.), and then it will keep an eye on action deadlines and budget, informing you in advance of possible overruns and delays.
A monitoring/checking module also works very well in workflow systems. This is a form of gatekeeper that checks whether the workflow is at the right point in time. If it turns out that an employee is unable to complete a certain part of a task (due to workload, absence or ignoring a task), the module informs the supervisor and can itself pass the task on to someone else.
The checking mechanism also monitors the various types of conditions that we have assumed to be mandatory for the completion of a project. If these are not met, it knows the possible escalation path and the remediation plan. For example, when a customer does not pay invoices, the system sends him notifications, the tone of which changes over time to even informing him of possible court action. No one has to control these actions – the module performs them automatically when certain conditions are not met.
Other important workflow modules include the reporting and analysis function. In the solutions offered by our company, this module is equipped with a huge range of possibilities for the preparation of any report in any graphic form. They are extremely extensive and flexible, thus providing the possibility of reporting on any given data in the system.
What to look for when choosing a workflow system?
When choosing a workflow system, first and foremost pay attention to its flexibility. The system must be able to fully adapt to the needs of your business, and not the other way around.
Also, pay attention to whether the company you commission to implement the system has ideas for optimisation. Of course, it may take some time to find bottlenecks in the company, but it is important that the solutions introduced, e.g. after six months of operation of the system, when it has become saturated with data, will be able to indicate places requiring improvement or remodelling.
When choosing a workflow, also pay attention to the previously mentioned possibilities to access the system (mobile and web), as well as whether it works in the cloud. Nowadays, when a large part of the staff works remotely, a properly selected system should streamline it, speed it up and secure it, e.g. against possible data leakage. This is an important point to pay attention to.
Finally, also check what is included in the implementation and post-implementation offer of the IT company to which you will outsource the introduction of workflow to your enterprise. At Kotrak, we offer our customers a full pre-implementation analysis, as well as support before, during and after programme installation. In addition, we provide comprehensive training on its use and offer technical support and ensure that its version is always up-to-date.
This article was written in collaboration with Piotr Bargiel, Senior Sales and Consulting Specialist at Kotrak.
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