How to Streamline Digital Workflows to Empower Your Team

Ralph Otto author photo
Ralph Otto Director of Product
DevelopmentDigital Marketing

For organizations needing to retain control of their processes, the digital marketplace has introduced new layers of both power and complexity. From ensuring content receives approval before publication to maintaining regulatory compliance within web apps, there are variables in constant motion. Fail to account for the wrong one, and there could be harmful consequences. That’s where a streamlined digital workflow comes in handy.

With the prospect of costly errors looming over both your content and IT teams, you must establish an effective digital workflow, which involves a delicate balancing act. Ultimately, you can’t sacrifice productivity for security. Introduce too much complexity, and your teams feel like they’re navigating mazes of red tape to get something done. But strip away these structures and you run the risk of missing important steps, the right approvals, or worse, being out of compliance.

Designed properly, a streamlined, automated workflow allows for accountability and transparency while simplifying complex processes. The specifications may vary depending on your business and regulatory requirements, but through planning, training, and tailoring each workflow to best serve your needs, the right approach ensures that the work you need is done both efficiently and correctly.

What is a Digital Workflow?

A digital workflow is an electronic system that automates and streamlines business processes. It allows organizations to go paperless and to audit and cross-reference data for better business outcomes. It can also free up employees to focus on other things. Whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise, you can benefit from digital workflow technology. Here are some reasons why you should invest in a digital workflow for your business.

Managing an office requires a significant amount of time and effort. One of the most time-consuming tasks is managing documents. Research shows that approximately 30% of an employee’s time is spent on document management. In addition to taking up space, four-drawer filing cabinets can also cost a business as much as $2,100 a year to maintain. With a digital workflow, you can streamline your business processes and cut costs. Ultimately, you’ll be able to offer better customer service.

Outline a Plan to Illustrate Your Digital Workflow Needs

If your organization is mired in production delays and departmental approval issues, then you need to establish a better workflow. In larger organizations, these issues often revolve around publishing digital content.

When your marketing team is responsible for updating the company’s website, you primarily must ensure each piece of content is accurate, error-free, and approved before publication. For some industries, such as finance and healthcare, you may also need to ensure the use of proper disclosures and compliance approvals. Before implementing any changes, you should outline how your current workflow operates.

Programs like Microsoft Visio provide an effective way to map operational workflows, but even a hand-drawn diagram is useful. What’s most important is to illustrate each step in the process, including involvement of various departments and approval levels. As you document these stages, you recognize areas that can be streamlined, automated, or eliminated.

As your team outlines its current workflow, outdated processes come to light that endured for years after their initial justification. Or, as an organization has grown, bottlenecks develop simply because there’s too much volume for the existing workflow to support.

Along with recognizing workarounds and legacy approaches, mapping your existing process identifies the most important stages of your workflow. As you better understand what your organization needs to work more effectively, you can determine the specific roles for your users as well as their level of access.

A streamlined digital workflow can help your team save time and automate repetitive tasks.

Train and Automate to Further Streamline Production

Whatever your team is producing, they should always recognize their role in its production and how far it has progressed. To use a sports analogy, everyone should know where the ball is, whose court it’s in, and what needs to be done to move forward.

With a flexible website backend, you can assign access levels for users at a programmatic level. Whether a user functions as an administrator, editor, or author, the CMS should surface tasks key to their role and corresponding to the stage of production. And, at the same time, the CMS shouldn’t allow them to venture any further.

This level of governance introduces security and process enforcement while also empowering the users. By knowing which part of the production process is their responsibility, users are free to focus on the task at hand. When implemented properly, a digital workflow functions like an assembly line by simplifying everyone’s responsibilities.

That being said, hiring someone to write more code isn’t always the right solution. Often, when organizations recognize the details of a process, their first instinct is to codify every step. But sometimes the missing piece is internal communication. By scheduling training around a task or a meeting to talk through decisions, you streamline your workflow in a way that eliminates the need for automation. Overcomplicating your workflow will only burden your system and team.

Ultimately, the purpose of an established workflow is to ensure a specific outcome from a task, either within a system or outside its boundaries. If you can find a balance between implementing a programmed solution versus a brief meeting, your workflow will be more cost-effective as well.

Customize Workflows to Serve Your Business Needs

A well-designed workflow is essential for any organization that envisions a more streamlined and efficient operation. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every organization.

In systems with highly technical users with regular trainings to keep their skills current, strict workflows may not be necessary. In cases like these, establishing distinct user types and identification will provide a sufficient accountability trail. Sometimes, however, we need a well-designed workflow to identify a bottleneck or check point, especially for business critical functions.

For instance, in the finance department, a controller is responsible for final approval of expense requests, which constitutes a necessary and important bottleneck. For your marketing team, your need to ensure management approval before publication may not be business critical. In that case, instead of creating a bottleneck that adds to your workload, it’s better to build more trust around your team.

Depending on your industry and its technology, your processes could grow more complex. For example:

  • Accounting firms require backend applications to track approvals and conform to regulatory and tax concerns.
  • Accessibility guidelines are a concern for every website, but government facilities must ensure their content meets varying levels of ADA compliance before publication.
  • E-commerce sites feature multiple moving parts involving the customer experience as well as orders, production, and fulfillment. Through a centralized digital workflow, status changes from every system are monitored, communicated, and, where possible, automated.

Optimizing digital workflows also improves the experience for user-facing sites such as SaaS tools and internal portals. The first time a user logs in, they could see different messaging, such as prompts indicating how to find what they need. These small callouts serve as a welcome guide and, in subsequent visits, don’t appear again.

As organizations evolve and scale, even the most carefully designed workflows grow out-of-date. But by remaining attuned to how your team functions and what they need to succeed, you can always find areas to improve.