Finding the right workflow software is hard.
How much should you trust organic search results, online review aggregators, and display ads that seem to follow you around wherever you go? Do you go with an on-premise solution, or something cloud-based? SaaS offerings seem to be cheaper, but will you end up paying more in the long-term?
When it comes down to it, the single most important thing to evaluate in a workflow software is its features. Does it do exactly what you need and a little more? What are some of the features you assume will be included, but end up disappointing you later?
As you start your search for the best workflow software, here are seven features that need to top your list.
1. A Human-Centric Approach to Process Design
For a long time, the only people capable of designing automated workflows were software engineers. It took a lot of programming skill even to make a simple, linear workflow.
However, as workflow software has matured, two styles of process designers have emerged. One looks like a dressed up version of the old style. The layout may be nicer, but you still have to think like a computer programmer to be able to make it work. The process designer wants to you think through every exception and identify all of the activities that need to take place.
The other style, called human-centric, starts with how humans think about workflows. We see a series of business steps that work 99% of the time. We see people and systems each participating in the workflow and adding input or giving approvals.
Your process designer should make sense immediately as you start using it. If you find yourself with a steep learning curve to design a simple process, move on to the next option.
2. Intelligent Forms
Nearly any vendor can string together a form designer to capture the data that needs to go through your workflow. But there is a clear difference from those who offer a very generic form designer and those that understand workflows.
For example, in an intelligent form, as soon as a user opens it, she should have many fields auto-populate with data already stored in the system. When a purchase order is created, all of the vendor’s information should automatically display with a simple click. If a user wants to assign a task to someone else in the workflow, he should be able to quickly choose someone from a list of users who will be automatically included later on.
These differences are obvious to anyone working with process automation. If you aren’t immediately wowed by what your form designer can offer you, it’s probably already out of date.
3. Cloud-Based Technology
This one may shock you. Many enterprises looking for new technology have been told to be wary of cloud-based technology, mostly for the concerns over data privacy and ownership. While those concerns may have been valid ten years ago, incredible advances have taken place since then that make keeping all of your software on-premise look like a bad choice.
Cloud technology not only allows users to access their data from any location, it also puts the responsibility of the maintenance of the software in the hands of the vendor. With on-premise software, your IT team must manage everything including storage, updates, and licensing.
Concerns about data privacy are still valid, but all serious cloud-based vendors will have excellent answers to these questions and can show exactly how securely your data is kept. When it comes to ease of access, maintenance, and cost, cloud-based offerings have become the clear favorite.
4. Integration with Other Key Software
Workflow software cannot exist on an island. All of your departments rely on other software to stay running and don’t have time to manage yet another application that can’t connect with their core systems.
The best workflow software will come with some pre-integrations with large office tools like Office365 or G Suite, and also be able to connect to any cloud-based software through an easy-to-use 3rd party service like Zapier.
5. Brilliant Reporting
Perhaps the main benefit of automating your systems versus a manual approach is the amount of data you can generate from automation. Rather than only having a guess at how different processes are performing, good workflow software will show you exactly how long each step takes, the average time to complete an item, and where you find the biggest logjams. This kind of data is essential to running a smooth operation.
Take a long look at the reporting features of your workflow management system. Does it impress you with how much data it gives, or does it underwhelm? An offering that doesn’t take reporting seriously now likely won’t in the future either.
6. Mobile Support
Having your workflows available on a mobile device should be an absolute given in today’s world. There’s no reason that someone travelling through an airport shouldn’t be able to knock off a few approvals while waiting for the flight to take off.
Developing a native mobile application for workflows isn’t an easy task, but the best vendors will have very well-designed, user-friendly options for you to take advantage of.
7. Role-Based Access Control
A lot of information that passes through a workflow is sensitive, but how does your workflow management software treat it? Are you able to hide certain data fields from users? Do you have the option to make some fields editable and others read only? What kind of data trail is created when edits are made? Does everyone have access to master data sets, or does it need to be shared?
For example, your HR team might want to handle salary adjustments through an automated workflow. But they don’t want to give access to that data to any other administrator in the system.
A lot of these questions aren’t asked until after a workflow software is already purchased. Make sure your vendor already has clear answers to these questions that satisfy everyone in your organization.
Ready to choose?
Picking the right workflow software is challenging, especially when you are bombarded by ads and claims that you can’t be sure are authentic.
The best approach is to take advantage of the free trials available out there and really come up with a clear distinction of the vendors that exceed your feature requests and those that don’t make the cut. You may have more than seven workflow features you are looking for, but this is a great start.
Try out the best workflow software available today and come up with your own list of must-have features!
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