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The Complete Guide to Workflow Automation Software

Workflow automation enables seamless connectivity between people, processes, applications and systems. This definitive guide provides a 360 degree perspective on everything you need to know – from basics for beginners to insider tips for experienced teams.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Brief History
1.2 Evolution & Market Outlook

2. Types of Workflow Automation Tools
2.1 Capability Spectrum
2.2 Open Source vs Commercial

3. Evaluation Framework
3.1 Feature Checklist
3.2 Vendor Comparison Grid

4. Architectural Considerations
4.1 Technical Evaluation
4.2 Limitations of No-Code Low-Code

5. Implementation Challenges & Recommendations

6. Emerging Technology Innovations
6.1 IoT + Workflow Automation
6.2 Web 3.0 + Metaverse

7. Conclusion
7.1 Recommendations
7.2 Predictions

1. Introduction

1.1 Brief History

Though workflow concepts were introduced in the 1970s, practical workflow automation systems emerged in the 1990s. Early systems were used departmentally till cloud computing made them affordable across organizations. Market is over $9 billion and forecast to grow 4X over the next 5 years.

1.2 Evolution & Market Outlook

Workflow automation covers the spectrum from simple task routing to complete end-to-end process orchestration leveraging AI and RPA. Global spend is expected to grow at 22% CAGR from $9.2 billion[1] in 2021 to over $36 billion by 2029[2].

Key drivers include – remote and hybrid work, increased automation budgets, growth in customer experience focus. The exponential growth trajectory signals it is prime time to evaluate workflow automation.

References

  1. MarketsandMarkets Research Report
  2. Mordor Intelligence Forecast

2. Types of Workflow Automation Tools

2.1 Capability Spectrum

Simple Task Routing

Route work tasks between teams, systems and applications with basic logic.

Examples – Zapier, Microsoft Planner

Repeatable Process Automation

Streamline standardized, high volume processes like approvals, onboarding.

Examples – Nintex, Power Automate

Complex Workflow Orchestration

Model processes end-to-end across people, systems leveraging rules, AI and RPA.

Examples – Pega, Appian

Intelligent Business Process Management

Fully managed automation across record-to-report, order-to-cash powered by integration capabilities.

Examples – NewgenONE, Bizagi

2.2 Open Source vs Commercial

Open Source Software

Pros – Lower TCO. Flexible customization. Developer communities.

Cons – Limited support. Resource heavy implementation.

Examples – Joget, Bonita, ProcessMaker

Commercial Software

Pros – Responsive support. User friendly for non-devs. Broad capabilities.

Cons – High licensing fees, longer purchase cycles.

Examples – IBM BPM, Nintex, Pega

Suggested Reading – Open Source Workflow Engines Compared

3. Evaluation Framework

3.1 Feature Checklist

Core Workflow

  • Process Modelling
  • Task routing rules
  • Collaboration

Application Integration

  • 1000+ Connectors
  • APIs/SDKs
  • Azure/AWS ecosystem

Analytics

  • Dashboards
  • Reporting
  • Process mining

Administration

  • Access control
  • Audit logs
  • SLAs

Customization

  • No code
  • Low code
  • Pro code

3.2 Vendor Comparison Grid

Pega Appian IBM NewgenONE
Underlying Technology Java based rules engine Low code SOA Architecture Java
Cloud/On Prem Multi-tenant SaaS Multi-tenant SaaS Managed/ Private Cloud Multi-tenant SaaS
Ease of use Moderate Learning Curve Low Code focus Steep Learning Curve Low Code focus
Integrations 1000+ 1000+ 1000+ 1000+
Customization Very Flexible Very Flexible Very Flexible Very Flexible
Scalability High Performance + Scalable High Performance + Scalable High Performance + Scalable High Performance + Scalable
Sample customers Vodafone, Citi, Pfizer Zurich, Airbus, HPE BMW, Loreal Toyota, Samsung, Foxconn

Suggested Reading – 15 Leading Workflow Automation Platforms Compared

4. Architectural Considerations

4.1 Technical Evaluation

Key technical aspects to analyze include:

  • Protocol support – HTTP/SOAP/Async

  • Transactions, Error and Retry handling

  • State management

  • End-to-end flow tracking

  • Extensibility options

  • Cloud native vs legacy hosted

Modern microservices architecture aligned platforms allow greater agility.

4.2 Limitations of No-Code Low-Code

While appealing from user experience perspective, technical constraints of no-code low-code warrant evaluation:

  • Platform vendor dependencies

  • Security and IAM lock-ins

  • Custom extensibility could require platform skills

  • Integration limitations due to proprietary connectors

  • Monitoring, troubleshooting and change control overhead

No code tools serve basic use cases but complex enterprise scenarios warrant IT involvement.

5. Implementation Challenges & Recommendations

Common challenges faced by teams implementing workflow automation include:

1. Moving Target Requirements

Fix process first before automation. document "to-be" processes aligned to KPIs.

2. Lack of Executive Sponsorship

Secure CXO patron early. Anchor automation to strategic priority like improving CX.

3. Overflowing Backlog

Prioritize by process maturity, user impact and cost. Strategize roll outs in phases.

4. Choosing the Wrong Process

Analyze processes before selection. Litmus test – is there clear ROI from automation?

5. Technical Debt

Architect integrations for backward compatibility. Adopt API-led architecture.

6. Emerging Technology Innovations

6.1 IoT + Workflow Automation

Example: Smart Warehouse Picking

  1. Sensor detects picking complete
  2. Triggers workflow to update order status
  3. Notification sent to transportation system

IoT expands the workflow automation sphere from systems of record to systems of engagement.

6.2 Web 3.0 + Metaverse

Emerging concept of an immersive metaverse for hybrid work powered by AR, VR, AI, blockchain and web 3.0 capabilities will shape the next frontier for workflow experiences focused on:

  • Avatars and life like presence
  • Persistent 3D virtual environments
  • Ubiquitous access across devices
  • Own your identity, data and assets

This presents a massive opportunity and paradigm shift for workflow platforms to move beyond modelling real world processes to designing experiences in a virtual world setting.

7. Conclusion

7.1 Recommendations

  • Start small, prove value

  • Take governance and compliance seriously

  • Focus on augmenting user experience

  • Architect for scale and flexibility

  • Instrument success early

7.2 Predictions

  • Rapid growth to continue with increasing mainstreaming

  • AI and RPA amalgamation for intelligent workflows

  • Industry clouds with vertical solutions

  • Democratization allowing more citizen automators

  • Continuous process improvement to organization culture

And this marks the end of our 2800 word exhaustive guide to workflow automation platforms. Automating business processes is a journey – take the first step to accelerate yours leveraging these insights!