By Rama Ramaswami
Most organizations have developed workflows to manage the processes that run their business for decades. But as more and more businesses cope with remote and hybrid work situations, these low-key workhorses are becoming critical engines of growth. They face a slew of challenges that modern programs may be able to solve through streamlining and automation.
More than three-quarters also say that employee-facing and customer-facing digital programs are important for increasing revenue, cyber security, operating efficiencies and productivity over the next two years.
Roman Tyukin – stock.adobe.com
A new report based on a survey of 505 C-level technology executives, conducted by Forbes Insights in collaboration with Adobe, shows that few organizations anticipate a full return to the 9-to-5 office. They expect their workforce to become a mix of remote, in-office or a hybrid of the two in the next two years. Managing these environments brings with it higher information technology costs and cybersecurity risks, as well as process delays and the loss of employee collaboration and innovation. And that’s where workflow solutions such as employee- and customer-facing programs can help.
Here’s a look at how executives are approaching these solutions—including the benefits of streamlining processes and the challenges to implementing them.
Adapting To A New Landscape
“All of a sudden half the workforce was remote, and we had to automate workflows for the purpose of business continuity,” says Holly Muscolino, research vice president of content strategies and the future of work at IDC. “We needed to be able to perform processes that hadn’t been possible to do remotely. Nice-to-have features became mission-critical.”
Forbes Insights survey respondents agreed: An overwhelming majority (86%) believe workflow software and implementation will be very important to succeed in managing a distributed, hybrid work structure, including 32% who say workflow solutions are critical to success.
More than three-quarters also say that employee-facing and customer-facing digital programs are important for increasing revenue, cyber security, operating efficiencies and productivity over the next two years. That’s a powerful recipe for business growth through digital transformation.
Streamlining Systems Integration
Digital workflows simplify processes by enabling disconnected systems to “talk” to one another.
“The primary purpose of a workflow system is integration,” says Tom Rodden, senior vice president and chief information officer at Varian Medical Systems. “When your workflow is well-designed, cross-application integration becomes seamless to your users.”
In a supply-chain transaction, for example, revenue recognition can be a challenge when different accounting standards are involved. Here, workflow integration can simplify and automate the data exchange between the customer, transport provider and distributor, as well as the backend system. Tools, like Adobe Sign, can integrate the communicator’s process to provide proof of delivery to Varian from partners, Rodden says.
Other executives agree: 40% of executives from organizations with an annual revenue of $5 billion or more expect their workflow solution budget to increase 15% or more.
Most executives agree workflow transformation is key to driving a future competitive advantage for their organization. Achieving it, however, will depend on the implementation. Barriers to adopting workflow systems and running them smoothly include security concerns, IT staff bandwidth and the prevalence of legacy infrastructure.
It’s best to start with a customized strategy that targets specific issues, advises Simon Longbottom, vice president of product marketing and digital media for business at Adobe.
“It’s really about trying to understand what the biggest pain points are and solving them,” he says. “We’ve typically found that problems fall into the two main buckets of employee or customer. For example, a company could be trying to hire and onboard tens of thousands of new employees or might want to move from a paper-based customer acquisition process to an electronic one.”
Companies also need to decide which solutions to prioritize and invest in. Advanced workflow programs based on artificial intelligence, machine learning or robotic process automation are still not widespread—representing, on average, only 15% of the work being done today, according to the Forbes Insights survey. That number will increase to 17% in the next two years.
“In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, there was a knee-jerk reaction to get systems installed as quickly as possible,” says Muscolino. “Organizations now need to go back and evaluate what’s worked and what hasn’t to make sure they’re fully leveraging these technologies. It’s possible to simply digitize a manual process, which doesn’t mean that you’re fully leveraging digital technology.”
Muscolino adds that organizations now have a unique opportunity to examine what systems may need re-engineering and what should be eliminated altogether.
“Workflow solutions should be codified so they’re not just an ad hoc solution to a crisis,” she says. “They need to be designed into an organization’s infrastructure and plans going forward.”
As more organizations adopt modern workflows, tools like Adobe Document Cloud with Adobe Sensei, will help teams streamline collaboration and boost their bottom line.