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workflow tool

3 questions you need to ask before choosing a workflow tool

by Teresa Meek
 
The workplace is full of automation tools that can save businesses time and money. Which ones are right for you?

When it comes to selecting tools for automating workflows and boosting productivity, businesses today have a multitude of options. 

When it comes to selecting tools for automating workflows and boosting productivity, businesses today have a multitude of options. Competition among providers is intense, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by dozens of solutions with different prices and varying subscription models.

What’s the best way to go about choosing a workflow tool that’s right for your business? Here are some questions to get you started.

Where does it hurt?

Start by being your own software doctor.

You don’t have to know anything about software to diagnose your pain points. There are automated solutions for a huge variety of business functions, including workplace collaboration, CRM, financial tasks, HR and IT processes, marketing and communications, customer service, business analytics, and both release and change management.

The solutions are endless, but your budget is not. One of the main purposes of automation is to increase your ROI, so start by determining what workflow processes are costing you the most time and money.

For example, are you losing customers because of poor response time? Maybe it’s time to update your creaky CRM system. How much are delays in product shipment costing you per year? If that’s a pain point, add order processing software to your automation list. Do you have an accounting staff spread out across several offices? If so, take a look at financial software that can manage budgets from a central location and display real-time information to your remote workers.

In addition to looking at budget spreadsheets, talk to department managers to find out about your employees’ sore spots. If they can’t use tools that would make them more productive, you’re losing money you didn’t even know about — and on top of that, you may experience attrition.

If your staff is complaining about endless meetings, for example, a solution like Slack, Flowdock, or Zoho Meeting might help. These systems use “bots” to set up online meetings, sending invitations and asking people questions such as, “What are you working on now,” and “When do you think the project will be complete?” The bots collect responses from everyone simultaneously and share them, creating a conversational thread workers can follow without having to spend time at an in-person round-robin, waiting for their chance to respond.

Customized bots can also deliver progress reports to a project team, or collect performance reviews for the HR department.
 

​One of the main purposes of automation is to increase your ROI, so start by determining what workflow processes are costing you the most time and money.

 

Does the shoe fit?

Once you have prioritized your needs and chosen one or two workflow processes to automate (or more, depending on your budget), it’s time to make a comparison table. One column will list providers, and others can cover concerns such as startup costs, licensing costs, ease of adoption and customer support.

But how do you find providers to begin with? Discuss your goals with your IT manager, who can research them and ask colleagues for recommendations.

You can also do some research yourself. Yes, the process of choosing automated processes is itself automated, at least to some degree. Check out sites like GetApp, TrustRadius, go2crowd, and Cloudsave, which offer online reviews in searchable categories, including industry, pricing model, devices supported, platforms, business size and geography.

If you find providers you like, circle back with your IT manager. Workload automation must be closely coordinated with IT so that data can be transferred between systems securely and reliably.

What about support?

Finally, you need to make sure your automation program works well and offers robust customer support. The online review sites will offer helpful information, but don’t stop your research there. Before shelling out your precious dollars, have IT test the tool, trying out scenarios your company is likely to encounter. Sometimes they can create a problem with the tool, then call or email the help desk for support, monitoring response time and effectiveness of support. You should also let the workers who will actually use the tool try it out and provide feedback.

What solutions make the most sense for your business?

When it comes to selecting tools for automating workflows and boosting productivity, businesses today have a multitude of options.
 
Teresa Meek
Teresa Meek is a Seattle-based writer with 15 years of experience in journalism. She has covered business, technology, health and culture, and has written for the Miami Herald, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, and the Seattle Times. She has also worked with a number of corporate clients, including Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, and Microsoft.