Are you taking too long to respond to sales leads? Falling behind with your timesheets? Lacking visibility on critical customer support requests? Do you feel like you don’t have the business insights you need to take your business to the next level?
As small to medium business owners and operators we wear many hats - particularly in the IT space. PHP Developer one day. Strategic Account Manager the next. Throw in a smattering of accounting, consulting and people management and … you get the picture! Although it’s easy to become addicted to the buzz of juggling balls, the unavoidable fact is that without certain processes in place, opportunities will be missed, customers will be impacted, and your people won’t be operating as productively as possible.
If you want your IT business to remain sustainable and give yourself a chance to grow, having the right workflow processes in place is critical. So what’s the solution?
Automate your workflows.
The term workflow refers to the process of completing a series of requirements until the task reaches its endpoint. A workflow can include one person, or several team members. Whilst some activities must be performed manually by a team member, there are many everyday processes that are handled more efficiently by automating them. In fact, statistics show that it’s these repetitive tasks that are the most prone to inefficiency and error.
If you’re responsible for a small or medium business in the SaaS, PaaS or development space, read on to discover our 9 key benefits of automating workflow management for IT companies.
1. Error Reduction
Every person counts in a small IT business, and errors (even minor ones) can expose the company to significant operational risks. A well-defined workflow will help to ensure each required step in a process is carried out with the right people involved. Automated workflows also:
- Bring consistency to the way teams complete their tasks
- Provide transparency and integration between functional areas
- Enable automated escalation of exceptions and issues – particularly important if you’re working on site with clients.
2. Enabling People
Automated workflow processes, like notifications and task assignments, enable your team to become more efficient and more productive. They’ll spend less time trying to work out how to get something ‘through the process’, and more time focused on solving the next client problem through improved collaboration and connectivity. Automated workflows:
- Reduce the supervision overhead by allowing tasks to be assigned and tracked automatically. Reminders, follow-ups and escalations can also be factored in.
- Simplify change implementation so workflows can be more easily tweaked and tuned as processes mature, company operations expand or contract, and new technology is adopted.
- Establish a single source of truth for all task-related activities, bringing a high level of consistency and predictability to company operations.
3. Improved Productivity Through Communication
Automated workflow reduces process ‘noise’ – the non-value-adding steps that take your team members away from the important stuff.
Your team will benefit from noticeable productivity gains thanks to:
- Automatic notification of next steps
- Improved integration between functional areas and teams
- Faster onboarding time
4. Lead Nurturing And Marketing Automation
Many IT-related companies (particularly software providers) experience high volumes of web traffic that result in sales leads of varying quality. One of the challenges is sorting out the good from the bad, whilst maintaining a consistent prospect experience.
Marketing tasks can be automated, to free up your team’s time for lead conversion. For example, creating automated email responses through a platform like Hubspot is a great way to introduce one-time or existing clients to new services. A few of the benefits of automating your marketing efforts with well-structured workflows in this space can include:
- An increase in responses to requests for trials and demos
- An increase in conversions on sales leads
- A more effective way to assign tasks to sales team
- A consistent and seamless experience for prospects and customers.
5. Trial Management
If your company offers prospective clients a free version of your software or application for a trial period, automation can help you maximise the value of the trial so the client converts to a paying customer, often within a set timeframe.
Automating your marketing processes ensures regular communication with each prospect, and can even be structured to show different features of your application each day (such as pre-recorded system demos embedded in emails). Think about:
- Setting up a workflow that sends your prospects a specific message at regular intervals (daily/weekly etc)
- Auto-scheduling follow up tasks for your sales team to action.
6. Project Management
One of the real challenges experienced by many application providers is project managing the prioritisation, development and release of enhancements, functionality requests and bug fixes. Transparency of these processes is often limited. If you have a preferred project management methodology or model, setup job templates that align with each step in your process. For example, you might:
- Setup project stage gates that can only be passed once certain criteria within the template have been met.
- Auto-assign tasks to project team members based on gate progress.
- Funnel all project approvals through a defined workflow.
- Report automatically on daily/weekly/monthly process.
- Use project templates, such as those you can create in WorkflowMax, to create pre-defined tasks for specific jobs.
7. Software Development LifeCycle (SDLC)
Similarly, if your processes are slightly more mature and you have a defined SDLC, you can really bring it to life using workflow automation.
Each stage of the lifecycle can potentially be automated so there is full end-to-end transparency of what’s in the latest release, where the risks and issues lie, the potential testing outcomes and so on.
By ensuring a solid workflow around your change management processes, you’re significantly decreasing your operational and commercial risks by ensuring that each internal key stakeholder has reviewed and/or approved the changes. Use workflow management software to:
Automate the scheduling of tasks for each stage of the SDLC
Setup milestone billing and work-in-progress invoices - these are sent as the development cycles hits key gates.
Build in stage gates to the SDLC
Define technical change management flow before release into production environments
8. Timesheet Management
The bane of every consultant or developer’s life!
Automated workflow can make timesheeting so much easier – especially if your workflow is linked to your project management and billing systems. A seamless flow of data between your employee timesheets and payroll and billing system will reap significant productivity rewards.
Thanks to strategic integration points and some great workflow options, timesheets can even be auto-created and sent to each of your people when they are 50-60% completed. All team members need to do is add their hours.
As a starting point, automate the process of sending the timesheet to your team members (who would much rather be developing code or gathering user requirements than searching for the latest timesheet template).
A couple of things to think about:
- For a quick win for you and your team members, automate the creation/distribution of their weekly timesheet.
- Automated routing to the timesheet approver is a massive time-saver and ensures there is transparency in the approval process.
- Integration with billing and payroll applications – probably one for the more advanced operators, but workflow management software makes it possible to automate the timesheet > pay > bill process.
9. Technical Support
Automated workflows really come into their own when architected for technical support functions. WorkflowMax, for example, can integrate with tech support powerhouses Zendesk and Freshdesk, ensuring a seamless experience for your tech support gurus, improved visibility for you and a better overall client experience.
Workflow management is a great way to ensure:
Support tickets are automatically routed based on any combination of rules that might include urgency, customer type, request type and so on.
Management and local leadership teams are kept informed of ticket progress thanks to exception reporting and automated escalation.
Support team KPI’s and application performance reporting is auto-scheduled to be received by key people within the business.
There is visibility and transparency of the support queue.
You can take advantage of automated customer feedback opportunities (eg. when a ticket is closed, a workflow can be triggered and sent out to customers).
IT service companies thrive in an environment where workflow is automated through a product like WorkflowMax. Without a central hub for managing workflow data, all the little jobs pile up and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. If your staff are suffering, then your business is suffering.
Managing workflow more effectively will be your company’s biggest win in 2014. What can you do right now to add more automation to your workflow?