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Planning for Workflow Automation

After looking at workflow automation from basic to advanced levels, we might also consider how to approach implementation and rollout using the same framework. What follows are some hints, tips and considerations based on our experience implementing workflow automation across many different markets.

Basic. A comprehensive strategy is not always necessary if you’re just getting started. You might spend a few hours configuring a simple workflow with a tool you already have; or after watching some YouTube tutorials figure out how to do something small but meaningful to help you or your team in MS365.

At this level templated solutions are your friend – they’ll get most of the job done and allow you to get started quickly. Once your requirements evolve with experience (you won’t always understand them fully upfront), you can replace these early efforts with more bespoke or complex solutions if necessary.

There shouldn’t be too much ‘change management’ required if the user group is small, but if it is a broader initiative, find a willing test group of a few key users with a regular cadence to provide feedback, fine-hone requirements and later help foster adoption within the broader user group.

Measuring success can be challenging when starting out: there is little data available to quantify a baseline, and estimates form the backbone of your RoI until you build the data up over time. To some degree, users impacted by workflow and automation, however basic, should feel a significant improvement – so at this level calculable RoI is great, but a close second would be vocal support from those whose bugbear process has just been dramatically shortcutted.

Intermediate. The resources will start to extend to include business analysts, process specialists, and technical experts. Within all but the biggest corporates, such resources would need to be made available to the legal department. Fortunately, law firms are now also hiring more of these skillsets, and service providers focused on the delivery and technical aspects of workflow automation are springing up to meet such needs.

Such projects are often the next iteration of what’s already in place, rebuilt with a better understanding of requirements. They take more time and planning (months, not years), and require project management: scope, budget, resources, communications and stakeholder management. Prospect of failure becomes real: misunderstanding the requirements; underestimating the cost of delivery or RoI; or sometimes the business moves and requirements became redundant. Perhaps above all else, a key predictor of success is dedicated management or guidance by someone who has prior relevant expertise.

Integrations are typically required at this level. As a general rule, the more business-critical the system (finance systems, practice management etc.), the more complexity involved; such integrations can add months to your plan if the project is not a top priority for the business.

‘In-life’ requirements also become more important. Think about ongoing support and key documentation: if all the ownership, knowledge and support for your scaled automated processes can walk out of the door, this can represent significant operational risk!

The threshold rises on demonstrating a business case and RoI, and the emphasis on data becomes stronger: both what you have available today, and what will be produced once delivered. As workflows serve more internal business clients and other functions in the organisation, it is worth calculating the value of direct benefits to these groups too.

Advanced. A holistic strategy is essential. At this level, projects can range from many months to multi-year as you move into a continuous improvement cycle of workflow automation and expansion, and as such often have the attention of the C-suite. Such workflow and automation initiatives will often correlate to overall business objectives beyond cost savings: examples might be ‘improving the way we work in a remote-first environment’; or ‘building a new platform to change how we engage customers with new products’.

As part of your strategy, you will need a flexible, extensible workflow automation solution trusted to meet not just the requirements of today, but those in 3-5 years’ time. A team will be responsible for scoping and initiating projects, ongoing change management and communications, and in-life support. Scale of ambition and potential business value can (and should) justify ongoing investments in technical expertise to support these efforts; we are even starting to see hiring of data scientists who understand how to maximise value from combinations of legal and other data within and across your business functions. Data security can also become more important to the extent automated processes reach outside the organisation.

Ultimately, resources (people and tools), time scales, stakeholders, support and measurable value, as well as inherent risks, shift at each step of automation. A plan that accounts for each element will make the difference between having good ideas and delivering good ideas.