What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is the process of using predefined business rules to automatically trigger various actions for completing an activity, such as approving a document or capturing a signature. It can be achieved using low-code software with drag-and-drop features. By using workflow software, companies can automate manual tasks to reduce human error, remove bottlenecks, and boost productivity.

From placing action items in a Microsoft Word file to requesting an e-signature on a PDF, each automated workflow helps drive business forward. As workforces become more distributed, the automation of these tasks is essential for maintaining consistent “anytime, anywhere” access.

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How does workflow automation work?

Consider the following workflow:

  1. Using a secure workflow automation tool, one team member shares a Word document with an external business partner for review. Instructions automatically populate the file.
  2. Later, the recipient gets an automated reminder from the workflow automation tool about a pending deadline for submitting feedback and approval.
  3. As revisions are made within the workflow management platform, changes are automatically tracked and documented for streamlined version control.
  4. After addressing comments and re-submitting the document, the original sender gets an automatic notification about its approval when the recipient securely e-signs.

Other workflow examples include generating invoices, capturing structured data in a form, and sending emails to new hires during onboarding as they complete various tasks. Workflow automation can be applied to a wide array of use cases, but it is particularly useful for processes with numerous documents and apps—especially when the business needs to reduce operational complexity and security risks.

Why workflow automation is essential to document workflows

With the right workflow automation tool, businesses can modernize virtually any document-based task. Reliance on long email chains, complex spreadsheets, shadow IT applications (such as personal cloud accounts), and manual processes can be sharply reduced, which in turn helps boost overall productivity and security.

The main benefits of workflow automation for document-centric workflows include:

One tool for everything

Traditional small business collaboration has often entailed multiple apps and document repositories. Manually coordinating a workflow across all of them, usually via email, is a time-consuming, error-prone, and repetitive task, with real risks to both version control and project deadlines.

In contrast, automation software consolidates the entire workflow into a single tool. All documents can be automatically and safely exchanged, reviewed, updated, and approved within the same solution, with no need to manually send bulky email attachments. Suggestions and approvals both trigger automatic notifications and appear in one convenient view, too.

Secure mobile access

Workflow automation is built to scale to any device or location. The same rules can automate a document-centric task whether it happens on a phone, PC, or tablet, in or out of the office.

Small businesses and enterprises alike can scale operations, support remote work, and give employees a better experience. Business workflows can even be customized for individuals who are frequently on the go so they can capture data (such as insurance information) on mobile devices and then automatically route it back to systems of record.

Simplified, automated approvals

Getting approval on a document can be a headache as collaborators exchange lengthy emails and provide conflicting directions. Workflow automation ensures that such disjointed processes do not impede collaboration by:

  • Automatically attaching comments to items of concern, directly within a document
  • Tagging relevant contributors for each item and configuring automated reminders for them about timelines
  • Incorporating a signoff field inside each document for easy, automatic tracking of approval status
  • Integrating e-signature capabilities for secure approval and automatic archiving of the document afterward
  • Providing automatic one-click sharing and similar actions that don’t require additional communication channels

Easier document management

Sharing documents with internal and external stakeholders doesn’t have to be a risky manual task. Instead of wrangling with version control and worrying about people using their personal email due to the complexity of their workplace tools, team members can route all document workflows through one intuitive solution.

Assets ranging from human resources paperwork to vendor contracts are easily accessible and manageable, plus their contents can be automatically shared across different systems. For example, the HR department might choose to:

  • Create a form template with workflow rules
  • Automatically gather structured data for that form via a mobile app
  • Send that data to multiple custom workflow APIs
  • Have the information automatically sent to business intelligence tools and SharePoint

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How to get the most mileage from workflow automation

The basic concept of workflow automation is straightforward, but automating actual workflows takes careful planning and appropriate tools. The right workflow management software will deliver:

Tight integrations: To serve as a one-stop shop for every document-related business process, workflow automation software should be easy to integrate with other tools. Solutions for project management, remote access, file sharing, and business intelligence can be securely connected to a workflow automation platform. Such integrations enable reliable access to documents and the ability to use specific features like e-signatures across all of them.

Flexible storage: Modern content collaboration requires plentiful data storage. As more documents get shared and archived by workflow automation tools, organizations will look to connect their critical workflows to cloud and/or on-premises storage. Automation software can connect a company’s files to the best available storage options so that they have ample space and maximize cost savings.

Robust security: Workflow automation must be highly secure to guard the sensitive information often exchanged between internal and external stakeholders. Encryption at rest and in transit, proactive analytics for tracking application and document access, and integration with leading data loss prevention solutions all contribute to a safe platform for enhancing productivity.

Citrix solutions for workflow automation

Citrix supports workflow automation through multiple solutions that streamline content collaboration while offering simplified and secure document access:

  • Citrix Content Collaboration accelerates approvals and other workflows through features such as integrated Citrix RightSignature and real-time revision tracking.
  • Citrix Analytics for Security analyzes network and user activity to minimize security risks during sensitive document workflows.
  • Citrix Workspace integrates with these solutions to create a unified digital workplace for users no matter their locations and devices.

Learn how to secure document access and automate workflows with Citrix Content Collaboration