1116 Nintex 150by Eric Johnson, Nintex

Rapid growth and advancements in technology have changed both the way we work and the way business operates – more in the last few decades than the last century. If one looks back to the dawn of the computer age, a picture of what machines do for manual processes emerges. In the 1940s, “computers” were actually humans: people who worked slide rules and wrote down results on paper. You could open the local metro daily to the classifieds and see job openings for computers.

When the U.S. government undertook the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb out of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, workers on the project did their calculations on slide rules – right alongside the brand new Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the first electronic general-purpose computer. Three groups worked on the problems: two separate roomfuls of people checked the calculations along with the ENIAC. Only if the results of all three groups agreed could the problem be solved. People didn’t trust the computer on its own. They had to double check it with the human brainpower.

Needless to say, those job listings dried up over the next decade or two, and as digital computers became more commonplace, people became more familiar with them, and their cost declined. A mainframe in the 1960s costing $5 million could not do as much work as a $500 PC can today.

With computers now ubiquitous, reliable and inexpensive, they should be everywhere, right? But they’re not, or at least they have not taken over all manual tasks. But they should. There is no reason that a standard, replicable and repeated workflow can’t be digitized. In fact, it should be to save time and limit errors – and ultimately increase overall business growth and productivity.  

Although there are still some holdouts, today the idea of becoming a digital business is a concept that has gone beyond the idea phase. According to Cisco, 40 percent of businesses will be gone in a decade because they were unable to make the digital transition. Of the 70 percent that try to go digital, only 30 percent will succeed. Today, business leaders of organizations both big and small realize that in order to be successful against competition, they must not only embrace the idea of “digital transformation,” they must actively and aggressively practice and pursue it.

How to Become a Digital Business: The Importance of Workflow and Content Automation

Aragon Research recently identified an important emerging category called Workflow and Content Automation (WCA). Basically, this new category represents the consolidation of legacy markets – Business Process Management (BPM) and Customer Communications Management (CCM). WCA combines workflow capabilities integrated with document generation to create smart processes that can be quickly analyzed and improved to drive results. WCA is part of a larger trend in digital transformation that Aragon has identified as digital business platforms. As a business application, WCA is designed to be used by citizen developers (business users).

As part of this work, Aragon has identified four technology trends that we believe will help drive the future digital business: predictive business applications, mobility, automated document generation, and cloud platforms.

Predictive Business Applications: Thanks to advancements in technology, and particularly the rise of machine learning, organizations are now able to not only look at their historical data, they are able to predict future business outcomes using it. And because of these technological advancements, predictive analytics are becoming rooted in today’s leading software applications. As predictive applications become smarter and grow to continually self-transform, everyday business processes can be created faster, with minimal to no manual lift.

Mobility: Today’s workers aren’t chained to their desks. They work flexible schedules in the office, at home, or at their local coffee shop on multiple devices that best fit their style and needs. One of the key enablers of this is the proliferation of mobile. Doing business on mobile devices and tablets has become standard and expected from the modern worker. Business content is shared via multiple mobile apps, and for those apps to be transformative, Mobile Content Management platforms (MCM) must be able to share and leverage content via Application Program Interfaces (APIs). Without this, mobile content dissemination and collection can’t be accomplished.

For example, Mitchells & Butlers, a large operator of food and beverage services, has instituted a mobile data capture and reporting system designed to meet food-safety and facility-condition compliance. By automating online and offline mobile processes with workflow automation, the company has increased the speed and accuracy of data capture, saving more £470,000 annually while letting managers focus on the customer experience.

Automated Document Generation: Today, with the increased demand for tech solutions and limited resources, organizations often put internal technology needs aside to focus on processes such as selling and hiring. However, thanks to advancements in machine learning, automated document generation is capable of assembling content based on a set of instructions and data at-hand. This means that organizations no longer need to worry about the manual task of creating documents on desktops – and ultimately can optimize sales process and administrative efficiency like never before.

Take LinkedIn for example. The large professional social network used workflow automation and document generation to automate the entire sales contract process, ensuring that customer data is accurate. The automation effort took four weeks, and since going into production, the new system has generated hundreds of proposals and contracts.

Cloud Platforms: The evolution of the cloud has indefinitely changed the way we work and do business. This is in large part due to the fact that it’s easier to build cloud-based applications today than ever before. And the marketplace for cloud-based applications continues to evolve – e.g., more apps can interact with each other, apps don’t need to live on the same cloud, etc. This interoperability has powered the change in the way we work today – and provides the modern workforce the flexibility to work how and where they choose.  

Combined, these trends have the potential to create the perfect recipe for disruptive innovation and market leadership. Organizations that harness these trends will be the most likely go fully digital the fastest. And those that utilize workflow automation will not only be empowered to define the way they work, they’ll have an early and significant advantage over the competition in doing so.

How WCA enables businesses to become truly digital

According to Aragon, “WCA solutions offer full toolkits to automate workflows and produce intelligent documents with valuable process analytics that make businesses more productive and intelligent.” With WCA, business leaders are provided real-time visibility into analytics that assess what is going on in their organization, and how it’s performing as business processes happen.  

Further, cloud-based analytics solutions that measure the impact of WCA close the loop on instituting a fully digital business investment. These solutions automatically capture process and people data and then generate reports and dashboards with analytics to help business and IT decision makers understand important, yet often unanswerable, questions like: which processes are automated, what functions do they perform, when and how often do processes run, who’s involved in the process, what content is accessed, how effective are the processes and how might the processes be improved?

Why the need to leverage WCA now?

As explained by Aragon, “the need to leverage WCA is increasing due to competitive business pressures.” This is largely due to the fact that automating two sets of variables – the process flows and the content associated with them – gives business units more flexibility and more possibilities to achieve better business outcomes, faster.

It’s evident that WCA has many benefits that help organizations of all sizes on their journey to becoming fully digital. And the benefits of such a transformation are diverse, profound and have incomparable benefits to the future of an organization’s business.

In the world of paper-based processes, management often has no idea about the state of a particular workflow unless someone walks over to a desk or makes a phone call to see for themselves. Even though many processes (e.g., onboarding a new hire) were repeated constantly, each instance represented a whole new workflow to employees who had to execute it, opening up the potential for error introduction and delays at every turn.  

Now, all-digital businesses with automated processes allow management to see the state of any given workflow, whose desk it’s stuck on (perhaps a reviewer is on vacation), how many similar workflows have been completed in a given time period, and what the issues were – if any – that hung them up. With digitization, workflows become consistent, error-free and much faster. The old analog way of doing things could be tripped up on any of a thousand manual snags. In the new digital world, processes can slide right through the system, and employees have a clear idea of what they have to do.

Over the next few years, organizations unable to make the transformation from analog to digital will fall by the wayside as more-nimble competitors leap ahead. And the combination of automation and flexibility means that WCA will be a key part of the path to a fully digital enterprise – and ultimately enable success in today’s increasingly competitive and digital world.  

Eric Johnson is Chief Financial Officer, Nintex.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Workflow.