Automation for more efficiency: This is how you can speed up your workflows with digital workflows.
What is a workflow?
The English term "workflow" translates into German as "work process" or "workflow". Thus, a workflow is a repetitive sequence of well thought-out and planned work steps and tasks to achieve a result.
Examples for workflows
- The purchase of products, release by authorised representatives and invoice processing follow individual workflows in each company.
- When customers complain to your support hotline and the requests need to be handled properly, you need customer-friendly workflows for this.
- Posting jobs, interviewing and hiring result in an applicant process.
Digital workflow: What does that mean?
Properly implemented digital workflows accelerate individual work steps as well as the processes as a whole. This saves resources in the form of time, costs and human labour. In addition, the error rate is significantly reduced, which increases the quality of the work processes.
Digital workflows also ensure greater satisfaction among your customers: for example, if your company offers services quickly and reliably or produces products of the highest quality, this pays off positively in terms of customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers often become regular customers who bring you more turnover than new customers.
Why should you set digital workflows?
Take advantage of process digitisation and trim your workflows for efficiency. Efficiency means, among other things, that you do not use your professionals' time for unnecessary, redundant or monotonous tasks. Instead, have your employees perform more meaningful tasks. In this way, you can promote individual know-how and ensure better work motivation.
Where and how can workflows be digitised?
Very many work processes can be partially or even completely digitalised. Here are a few examples:
Digital invoice workflow
Incoming invoices (e.g. by e-mail) are automatically opened by a system, checked and assigned to the clerk for approval. Payment transfers, bookings and archiving can also be digitised and automated very well.
Digital Inbox Workflow
With digital incoming mail processing, letter mail is scanned, the contents automatically assigned to the appropriate recipient and made available via a document management system.
Special systems can significantly speed up the processes in a print shop. These ensure more efficient order acceptance, press preparation, packaging and delivery of the printed products.
Digital workflow in a car dealership
Appointments via online calendar, notifications via SMS, paperless processing of orders, contactless vehicle handovers via QR code and much more: many processes can also be digitalised at car dealers and garages.
Digital workflow in dentistry
From capturing with 3D scanners to modelling on the PC to transferring to the dental technician via the internet: Workflows at modern dentists and dental laboratories are very digital in order to save time and costs.
In mechanical engineering, too, many processes can be digitalised and thus made more efficient. For example, simulations on the PC ensure that as many errors as possible are found before production, and digital twins map the behaviour of the real machine. Predictive maintenance should also go hand in hand with this.
Digital workflows at personnel service providers
Posting vacancies via social networks, automated appointment scheduling for job interviews or onboarding new employees via video courses: The recruiting of new employees and the subsequent onboarding can be significantly accelerated by digital work processes.
Digital workflows in administration
The times when documents were processed and archived in paper form should really be over. For example, document management systems (DMS) make it possible to do the "paperwork" fully digitally.
How can you digitise processes?
Digitising workflows is a project in which you should invest sufficient time, energy and budget. Because it does your company no good if you digitise bad processes or digitise good workflows badly.
Therefore, you should invest sufficient resources in planning the project. It is important to address these aspects, among others:
- Selection: Which workflows should be digitised? Why these and not others?
- Objective: What do you want to achieve with the digitisation of the workflows? Which key figures do you use to measure success?
- Overview: Create an as-is inventory by closely examining and documenting the workflows.
- Conceptualisation: Work out solutions on how you can make the selected workflows more efficient and better with digital tools and systems.
- Innovation: Do not copy the old workflows 1:1, but create new, more contemporary and streamlined workflows.
- Testing: Try to test your concepts in advance on a small scale via prototypes or MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) before you start with the big implementation.
- Target group tests: Are the new digital workflows really better? Get user or customer feedback early and continuously.
- Optimisation: Your digitisation project should not have an end. Instead, continuously work on adapting and improving your workflows.
From the idea to the finished application in the shortest time: How low code significantly accelerates your development processes and saves costs in the process.
What is Low Code?
Low code is a way to create applications such as online tools and apps with little programming knowledge. As a rule, the results are developed via so-called low-code platforms in a drag-and-drop process. You only have to write a few lines of code.
How do the low-code platforms work?
The "software construction kits" are often quite simply designed and function according to the LEGO principle: individual elements and functions can be conveniently clicked together.
For fine-tuning the logic or implementing special functions, it is necessary to do a little programming. However, programming is usually quite simple, which is why it is called "low-threshold coding".
Important: The programming code you write may seem "low", but in the background the platform generates elaborate and functional code from all the elements. This means that the results "under the bonnet" can turn out to be very complicated and powerful!
From Low Code to Citizen Developer
The low-code tools are an aid to enable non-professionals and less experienced programmers to quickly produce software results. Such users are called Citizen Developers.
The "civilian developers", which is the German translation for "Citizen Developer", regularly implement IT concepts and projects with low-code platforms. They usually do not officially belong to a development department, but sit in marketing or in a creative team, for example.
Where does the concept of low coding come from?
Low-code platforms are currently being pushed by numerous companies and advertised with large marketing budgets. But the topic is anything but new.
The idea of being able to develop software with little programming knowledge has been around for a few decades. Rapid Application Development (RAD) emerged in the 1980s, which then led to Model-Driven Software Development (MDSD).
Forrester Research coined the term "low code" in a publication that appeared in 2014. This established the term for a way in which applications can be implemented with special tools and few lines of code.
Even more streamlined: No Code instead of Low Code
A more radical form of low-code development are the no-code platforms. With these "construction kits" you really don't need to know any programming or scripting language. The tools only work for the users via graphical user interfaces with which you model your desired results.
Examples of low-code platforms
In the meantime, numerous providers are active in the low-code sector. In addition to well-known companies such as Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and Salesforce, many small software companies also offer their own solutions.
One well-known provider from Germany is Intrexx. As a certified Intrexx partner, we at CITRO rely on this low-code platform, among others, to quickly and cost-effectively realise customer portals, intrants, personnel planning software and other digital solutions for our customers.
How and why do you apply low-code tools?
There are several reasons why companies rely on low-code platforms. On the one hand, the tools are very suitable for implementing software ideas and digital concepts with little effort. If you want to develop an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), a prototype or a POC (Proof of Concept), low code is an appropriate tool.
Accordingly, low-code platforms are very popular in departments that take an agile approach. Based on the result, initial customer feedback can be obtained and further developed according to the lean start-up method.
Another reason in favour of low code is the so-called "war for talents" in the IT sector: in Germany alone, there was a shortage of around 137,000 skilled workers in 2022. Due to increasing digitalisation, the situation will get worse; developers are and will remain a "rare commodity".
Citizen developers and low-code agencies are stepping into this gap. They realise the urgently needed digital projects without requiring an army of programmers.
These are the advantages of low code development
- Companies do not need to set up large development departments
- Applications can be realised without extensive programming knowledge
- Citizen developers do not need a long training period
- Concepts can be tested quickly via MVPs and prototypes
- Low-code projects can usually be implemented quickly and cheaply
- Quick adaptations to market dynamics and customer expectations possible
- More independence from the worsening shortage of skilled workers
The result is increased efficiency and output. In this way, projects such as process digitisation can be made possible to advance the digital transformation of your company.
The disadvantages of "low-threshold coding"
- Familiarisation with low-code tools takes time
- Citizen developers need training and space to experiment
- Some results may not turn out as planned
- Customisation and special adjustments may not be possible
- The IT department has to develop new guidelines and specifications
The last point is very important: if applications are created by citizen developers, a so-called shadow IT is formed. This must also be maintained and secured, otherwise dangerous security gaps may arise.
Our tip: pick the cherry!
Low-code platforms offer some plus points from which digitally active companies definitely benefit. But one should also consider the downsides: Despite low code, a certain expertise in software development is still needed. Otherwise, projects develop haphazardly, they get out of hand and/or the results are disappointing.
An intranet offers several advantages. You can use it for your company to improve internal communication and cooperation, among other things.
Definition: What is an intranet?
The term "intranet" is composed of the words "intra" for "within" and "net" for "network". This means: An intranet is a network within an organisation or a company.
What makes an intranet so special?
A company's intranet runs independently of the World Wide Web and other forms of the internet. This means that external people have no access to an intranet - and that is by design. This is because intranets are where internets, confidential information and important documents of a company are exchanged. That is why the networks are deliberately cut off from the "outside world".
What forms of intranets are there?
Intranet is an umbrella term for various forms of internal networks. Here are a few examples:
In the past, intranets were often designed like a website or blog. That is, news and announcements were available here for all employees to read, so that they were always informed about internals.
Knowledge management platform
The focus here is on the continuing education of all employees. For example, training videos, tutorials, online quizzes and guides are made available on this intranet.
Collaboration between users is promoted with this form of intranet. For example, there are tools for data exchange, task management and messaging services.
This intranet is visually reminiscent of a social network and, like the collaborative intranet, serves to promote communication and cooperation. Forums and chat groups are thus the focus.
Onboarding information, leave requests, expense report templates and the like can be found on this form of intranet.
Often intranets are a mixture of different forms in order to reconcile the various requirements. That is the beauty of the technology: it can be adapted to the individual needs of a company.
The advantages of intranets for companies
Why should companies build an intranet? These advantages speak for the use of internal networks or platforms:
An intranet serves to improve communication in a company. News and other important information can be posted. In this way, ideally, every employee gets to know what the new business strategy is, where a branch office has been opened or what projects are coming up.
Modern intranets are moving towards social intranets and collaboration intranets. This is because companies are interested in not only communicating from "top down", but also in exchanging information across all levels. In addition, an intranet helps with exchange when employees spend a lot of time in the home office or as business travellers.
An intranet is very well suited for storing existing knowledge so that as many people as possible can benefit from it. Among other things, it can be used to integrate training documents and videos and to offer interactive training.
An intranet platform can be used to connect collaboration tools that promote cooperation - especially if there is frequent remote work in a company. The intranet takes on the role of a central hub through which, for example, documents can be jointly edited.
An intranet supports the digital transformation of companies. Work processes that were carried out analogue or only partially digitally in the past are carried out completely digitally within the framework of process digitisation. This accelerates the entire digitalisation of a company.
Information that must not be leaked to the outside world is well kept in an intranet. It is important that the intranet is protected by various IT security measures so that no external parties can access the data.
These are the challenges of an intranet
Certainly, an intranet also has its disadvantages and hurdles. These include, among others:
Setting up and maintaining an intranet involves effort, which ultimately costs money. You also need a budget for maintenance and improvement.
If an intranet is not to function "stand alone", but is to be connected to other systems such as a CMS, a CRM or special collaboration tools, this can be costly. Especially if the software solutions are incompatible with each other and there are no suitable interfaces.
An intranet only makes sense if employees use it regularly. If employees do not understand how to use it or if no one wants to participate in its maintenance, the internal network will quickly become orphaned.
If an intranet is not properly secured, hackers and other cybercriminals can break in and steal data. Or the attackers may use the system to paralyse important areas of the company.
Who creates an intranet?
On the one hand, internal IT departments can set up an intranet with "off-the-shelf" tools. On the other hand, there are numerous service providers who specialise in creating individual solutions.
Office work does not have to be monotonous and time-consuming. Quite the opposite! Nowadays, processes need to be digitalised in order to increase efficiency. We show you how your office can be digitalised with the help of examples.
Digitisation of the office: What does that mean?
It's not so easy to explain. Because the term "digitalisation" encompasses countless possibilities. It includes simple things like switching to email as well as complicated technologies based on machine learning.
But: when people talk about the digitalisation of office work, they usually mean the conversion of analogue workflows to digital processes. This also goes hand in hand with the keyword "Office 4.0", which is understood to mean a largely fully digitalised and automated office workplace.
Office 4.0" could also make the dream of a paperless office come true. Because: if information is only available in bits and bytes, you - theoretically - no longer need paper. And thus no more folders, pens and hole punches.
Examples of what digitalisation in the office can look like
As said, there is no one solution for digitising your office work. Rather, you have numerous options to choose from to make your activities faster, more efficient, more customer-friendly and cheaper thanks to digital tools and platforms.
Here are a few selected examples:
The peak phase of the Corona pandemic has shown it impressively: You don't have to meet your colleagues in the same room for many business meetings. Video conferencing tools make it easy to hold virtual meetings, no matter where in the world the participants are located.
When things need to be resolved, you don't need face-to-face meetings or video conferencing. Collaboration tools make it possible to exchange information asynchronously: send a quick message via chat, create surveys or upload documents to the cloud storage.
Project and task management
Agile project management methods like to work with large whiteboards and stickers in the conception phase, but you should manage the administration and assignment of tasks digitally. With cloud-based project management tools, everyone involved can keep track of everything - even if teams are distributed all over the world.
Staff scheduling for larger projects can also be digitised. Find out more in our DB Netz success story.
Despite the increasing digitalisation of the office, there is still traditional letter post. Capturing this and distributing it to everyone in a company can be a major effort. Fortunately, thanks to DMS systems, the documents can be digitised and automatically assigned.
Invoices that are automatically digitised, uploaded to financial accounting systems and independently recognised, allocated and posted by these systems - this is not witchcraft. On the contrary, this is now a very widespread process in the digitalised office.
Here a piece of paper with notes, there a file: In the past, it was common practice to file customer data in analogue form. This way of working is a no-go when digitising the office workplace. Instead, it is better to use CRM systems and similar tools to centrally store all information about your customers and business contacts.
Repetitive tasks eat up a lot of time and cost nerves. That's why you should digitise and automate as many tasks as possible as part of a process digitisation. So-called RPA bots can help here. These are software robots that independently perform a variety of repetitive office tasks.
What does the digitalisation of the office bring?
If you carry out a consistent digitisation of your office workplace, you will benefit from several advantages. For example, from these:
- Your processes become significantly faster
- Repetitive tasks are automated via tools
- Fewer errors occur, which improves the quality of the results.
- You save resources, for example paper and office supplies
- Professionals can concentrate on the essentials
The bottom line is that "Office 4.0" brings more efficiency in various areas. This can be a decisive advantage in the ever tougher international competition.
Is the paperless office coming with the digital transformation?
Yes and no. You probably can't do without letters, printouts or files. But you should work hard to work with as little paper as possible. Because paper is a symbol for old, analogue ways of working.
Instead, develop completely new, preferably fully digital processes for your office! Try to automate work steps where possible by letting more or less "intelligent" tools take care of the tasks.
End-to-end digitisation is important to speed up your processes and make your business more competitive. Read more here.
What does end-to-end mean?
End-to-end, also written End2End or E2E, refers to a comprehensive process. This process includes a chain of actions that begins, for example, with a customer, triggers activities at your company and then ends again with the customer. The beginning and the end are therefore the same.
Example of an end-to-end process
A customer orders a product from an online shop. The retailer packages the product, ships it, issues an invoice and the customer finally receives the desired goods.
End-to-end digitisation: a brief definition
When all steps in an E2E process - which can sometimes be very long, complicated and even complex - are done digitally, it is called end-to-end digitisation. Optimally, no human intervention is required in an end-to-end digital process.
Example of good end-2-end digitisation
When a customer orders software from an online shop, the system automatically creates a PDF invoice and sends it by e-mail. The buyer receives the software via download. Or it is a SaaS solution (Software as a Service), where the application is in the cloud and can be used without installation.
What is a bad E2D process?
During the Corona pandemic, people who were vaccinated against the virus received a certificate. For this certificate, the patients had to go to a pharmacy with their vaccination certificate, where they received a slip of paper with an individual QR code. Afterwards, the patients photographed the QR code with their smartphone to have their vaccination status displayed in the CovPass app.
The process consisted only partly of digital elements. Therefore, numerous actions were performed by people (doctors, pharmacists, patients), which made the process cumbersome, error-prone and slow.
What are the benefits of end-to-end digitisation?
Digitisation is mainly about one thing: increasing efficiency. For example, when you plan to digitise your processes, you should always keep in mind that in the end you will have to use fewer resources in terms of time, expenses, means of production or manpower.
When each step becomes more efficient, the end result becomes more efficient. Through these economies of scale, you can, among other things, significantly speed up your processes and make them more cost-effective. In addition, you relieve your (perhaps already scarce) skilled staff because they do not have to do redundant and unnecessary tasks.
Your customers will also appreciate end-to-end digitisation. Processes that are simple, convenient, fast or even fun create a positive customer experience. And that gives your company an advantage in an increasingly competitive market.
What you should also not forget: Consistent digitalisation from start to finish or from End2End enables completely new, innovative business models. Business models that create a unique selling proposition for your company and thus a competitive advantage.
How do you digitise from end to end?
This is not a simple undertaking, because it consists of various elements and steps that build on each other.
For example, get extensive customer feedback at the beginning: What are your customers' wants, challenges and obstacles? How is your company responding to these pains and gains so far?
In addition, create an as-is inventory of what your processes and toolsets currently look like. Find out what problems there are in fulfilling customer wishes. And also look at how efficient the processes are. Some may be too slow, too expensive or no longer up to date.
Then develop a concept of how you can improve everything from end to end by digitising as much as possible. But don't make the mistake of simply transferring analogue processes into digital workflows! In the best case, develop completely new workflows that are leaner and forward-looking - among other things, via Robot Process Automation.
Examples of how you can digitise processes
For example, you want to sell products via the internet. An online shop is an established solution for this. But think further, for example:
- How can you advise your prospective customers digitally so that they like to buy from you online?
- How can downstream processes (managing customer data, creating invoices, etc.) be realised without human intervention?
- How can customers manage their data themselves?
Possible solutions for this are chatbots for customer advice, RPA bots for the automation of recurring processes and a customer portal as a self-service platform.