Noah Ullman

Automated workflows for manufacturing: Long live the process. Do it for less and get more out of your people.

If you’re in the manufacturing business you understand the importance of process and process management – and you likely have workflows to help your organization manage processes with efficiency, consistency and quality. In many cases there are people in this process that need to check and verify the work along the way… and this is the way it’s been done since the first industrial revolution over a century ago.

In the digital age, workflow automation is a way to ensure all the benefits of a structured process while reducing the amount of time your valuable human elements spend on repeatable tasks. With all due respect to Henry Ford, humans are not good at doing the same thing repeatedly. Machines are. They don’t get bored or tired, and perform the same task with 100% consistency, almost 100% of the time (nothing’s perfect… but in most cases we’re talking about “Five 9’s” - 99.999% reliability).

Any process that is documented and repetitive should be automated. I know that’s a big statement, but this is how global competition is streamlining their business for greater market share and maximized profit. Humans are expensive and have amazing adaptive qualities – when you automate routine tasks, the human resources can (and should) be realigned to tasks that humans are great at – complex problem solving, thinking “outside the box” in dynamic environments and interacting with other people (internal and external).

Where should you start? Poll your organization and find out what routine tasks are eating people’s time. Research shows that up to 21% of a worker’s time can be consumed “pushing paper” – automating work orders, requisitions, inventory control and statements, procurement and more can be reduced to a couple of clicks – and even better – a 100% consistent process with full visibility into the workflow.

Benefits of Workflow Automation?

Looking for some evidence? Nintex, our preferred workflow tool commissioned some research with Forrester in 2014 and determined that the ROI of workflows automation is 176% with a payback in 10.5 months. What’s even more interesting is that the productivity per user jumps 8%-15% - “finding” an extra 4 hours a week per employee. Note that this is not a manufacturing specific study, but the impact of workflows is consistent across organization types.

There are some common, cross-organizational workflows that are commonly automated. These include:

  • Finance: travel requests, purchase requests, contract management, expense reports, invoice processing
  • Sales: opportunity management, proposals, discount approvals, contract management, contract renewal
  • HR: recruiting, onboarding, training, vacation/leave requests, performance reviews
  • IT: onboarding/offboarding, provisioning, HW and SW requests, notifications and alerts, Help Desk.

It’s important to note that workflows don’t know organizational boundaries – for example, that request for a new computer can go from the employee to their manager across to finance for approval and to HR to amend the employee asset record automatically. We will cover HR workflows in the second article of our Workflows series.

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