Business Today
Loading...
Streamlining Workflow

How workflow automation is helping organisations become more efficient by reducing errors and operational costs

Streamlining Workflow

Illustration by Raj Verma

When Reliance Jio started building its 4G LTE wireless network, it had the option of using a standard map to decide things such as the customers it will reach out to and places where it will set up its towers. This manual process would have taken several quarters before it could have been streamlined. In order to get going as fast and with as much precision as possible, it built maps based on a geographic information system. While Jio Maps helped find the best sites to set up towers for optimum coverage, Jio used the tool to coordinate materials for just-in-time deliveries and dispatch teams for network construction. Marketing executives, too, used the maps to understand demographics and zero in on areas where their efforts would yield the best results. The company is now leveraging the same systems/workflows to market its fiber-to-home offering.

Jio is not a one-off case. It is part of a trend where thousands of companies, across sectors, are automating workflow to make complicated business processes simpler with workflow system software that can automate manual, repetitive processes to save time and cost, apart from eliminating errors and accelerating execution. Be it scheduling orders and payments or conducting research and audits, workflow automation has brought consistency to processes and helped reduce errors and costs for companies in sectors as diverse as oil (Numaligarh Refinery Ltd or NRL), health (Apollo Hospitals Group and telecom (Reliance Jio).

HP India says the size of the Indian workflow automation market is close to Rs 500 crore. It has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 20-22 per cent for the last five years. Capgemini, a Paris-headquartered technology services company, says the global market will grow to $18 billion by 2023 with India having a 5 per cent (Rs 6,300 crore) share.

"Effective workflows can hide complexity from users, minimise mistakes and enhance responsiveness of an organisation to customer requests," says Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India. Jio had used Esri's ArcGIS platform to zero in on tower sites.

The Gains

Workflow solutions automate operations at scale, create unified data records and deliver better outcomes and cost savings. They also reduce the time to take a product or service to the market, bring down turnaround time and improve customer experience.

The return on investment (RoI) depends on several factors. "There are two measurements of RoI: hard RoI & soft RoI. Hard RoI refers to cost and/or time savings. Soft RoI refers to general efficiency gains or employee and customer satisfaction which can be difficult to quantify; these can be measured by CSAT (customer satisfaction) surveys," says Ananth Chandramouli, MD, India Market, Capgemini.

Workflow automation is known to have reduced operational costs by 30-70 per cent in a number of cases, say experts.

Nuts & Bolts

Workflow automation refers to designing, execution and automation of processes based on workflow rules. Human tasks, data or files are routed between people or systems based on pre-defined rules. By automating workflows, especially processes that are primarily handled manually, significant improvements can be made in efficiency, productivity, accuracy and accountability. Being adopted across sectors, workflow automation at its core orchestrates multiple processes - straight-through, human-assisted or case management - of the organisation. Manual workflows, in contrast, are slow and run the risk of disruption. "Lack of transparency and dependence on employees can make businesses vulnerable to a variety of bottlenecks that create inefficiencies. Automating workflow provides a safeguard against potential barriers and empowers the organisation to directly participate in designing business solutions," says Viswanath Ramaswamy, Vice President, Cloud & Cognitive Software & Services, IBM India/South Asia, a leader in this space. IBM Business Automation Workflow combines business process management and case management capabilities in a single integrated workflow solution. Case management is the work - recording, monitoring and analysis -involved in processing of data, procedures and related content that comprise a case (a case can be an investigation, a service request or any issue that must be resolved).

IBM's solution unites information processes and users to provide a 360-degree view of work to drive better business outcomes. It even supports a hybrid cloud strategy and can be deployed on private cloud, public cloud or on-premises. It also supports a SaaS environment through Business Automation Workflow on cloud.

Assam-based NRL, as part of its roadmap for accelerating digital transformation, recently created a paperless office solution based on IBM Business Automation Workflow. The objective was end-to-end digitisation of its procurement cycle starting from requisition and tendering to release of payments to vendors and contractors. The application made the procurement process more secure and transparent by ensuring movement of proposals online and accessibility to everyone in the cycle 24x7, thereby making it the single source of information, with all approvals and annexures available in one single location.

Workflow automation is being used in industries too, including healthcare, manufacturing, ITeS and banking and financial services. "Automation of manual processes improves productivity and collaboration, turnaround times, minimises errors and lowers costs. Our customers have slashed costs by 20-25 per cent after moving to a Xerox IWS environment," says Leo Joseph, Managing Director - India, Xerox. For example, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals has adopted Xerox ConnectKey-enabled workplace assistants for streamlining document management by optimising document printing and costs. Even Apollo Telehealth, a unit of the Apollo Hospitals group, has adopted a workflow solution for various tasks that, among other things, ensures that while doing teleradiology, doctors don't have to type the reports (they are printed via voice command). Also, artificial intelligence can be used to create alerts for abnormal fundus images in Tele Ophthalmology (fundus photography involves photographing the rear of an eye).

Apollo Telehealth has even designed an indigenous device integration layer. "This platform acts as a plug and play model for all new devices in the market. Earlier, integrating a new device would take 10-20 days, but with this platform, it takes only two hours," says Vikram Thaploo, CEO, TeleHealth, Apollo Hospitals Group, India.

The cost and process optimisation is achieved either through faster processing of information or a more secure and less error-prone way of doing so. "The benefits of such exercises are very much dependent on the investment in the process being automated vs cost savings being achieved. This will be unique in each scenario. Moreover, as we move towards a new era of digital transformation, the need for enhancement of automation to support productivity will be crucial to ensure businesses continuity and resilience," says Kavit Gupta, Director, Print Services & Solutions, HP India.

HP Document Workflow solutions are being used across industries. For example, manufacturing organisations struggling with overwhelming number of invoices as well as shipping and receiving documents are using HP Capture and Route Forms Recognition software to streamline repetitive document-based processes to reduce processing time and associated costs, especially in instances where workflow is controlled by data locked in forms and other content. "Using our Managed Print Services, which utilise document workflow solutions, one of our manufacturing clients was able to achieve 33 per cent reduction in contract approval time, from 45 days to 30 days and savings in paper, supplies and filing/labour costs. This also improved productivity and gave the companies capability to review contracts remotely. The solution also provided searchable/usable data for quicker, easier access and improved auditability and security of every document in compliance with the security policy," adds Gupta.

The Covid Push

"Adopting workflow automation five to seven years ago would have given businesses a competitive advantage. But if you talk about today, it is a necessity if an organisation wants to innovate and make its operating model more efficient. The pandemic has accelerated adoption of a lot of these technologies," says Ganeshji Awasthi, Partner, Deloitte India.

With focus on hybrid work, companies are enhancing the digital agility of their employees and actively identifying opportunities for automation and digitisation. As future of work demands more agility from businesses and expects employees to benefit from productive tools, businesses will move from basic workflow automation to complex Enterprise Content Management where content in multiple formats (documents, images, videos, etc.) is brought together to make processes even more efficient.

The future will also see the rise of Intelligent Workflows. "By integrating new-age capabilities like AI, analytics, cloud and skills, workflow automation can fundamentally change how work gets done," says Ramaswamy. AI will even help in automating workflow decisions. Another key trend is the use of open source-based tools and low-code or no-code workflow software which require minimal or no coding. This will make the solution more accessible to the organisation. As users utilise highly specialised workflow automation tools, customisation will be a key feature of workflow automation software.

@nidhisingal

Get latest news & live updates on the go on your phone with our News App. Download The Business Today news app on your device
More from Technology