The Most Important Features to Look For in Workflow Tools

Emiliano Pardo Saguier June 10, 2022
- 9 min read

In our never-ending quest to improve everything about service delivery and workflows, one word rings out louder than others: automation. And that’s because workflow management, in particular, offers plenty of rewards that you can start reaping right away.

Gone are the days of having to handle every little menial task manually, wasting valuable time and money. Now, it’s all about optimizing what is ripe for improvement, from the smallest task possible, and building effective systems from the ground up. In short, then, here’s how workflow tools can give you a leg up in this process. 

We’ve all been there, right? Having to notify somebody for the umpteenth time that we’ve sent that email. Or watching important messages get lost to the sand-traps of faulty inboxes, recycle bins, or inattention. Or how about all of those multi-department approvals that seem like they get lost in their own form of development hell? Not to mention service requests, and maintenance for broken hardware —  the list can go on forever, with everyone’s own version of workplace Bermuda Triangles. 

Workflow tools try to fill in this gap with the best that modern technology can offer. Repetitive, low-effort tasks have been part of every professional’s life at the office for time immemorial. But, the thing is, when they’re coupled with other more important jobs being left on the “to do” list, they can make even the most loyal employee fume. The result is them either leaving the important stuff for tomorrow because they had to micro-manage a million small chores, or watching the pile grow ever-bigger. 

ITSM workflow tools — a key component of workflow management — can help whittle down that pile to nothing. Here’s how. 

How can workflow tools help?

Workflow tools are meant to assist in every possible area of Business Process Management (BPM). The idea is to automate common business processes while requiring less coding and programming than other tools. This allows them to be more accessible by those closest to business processes, rather than only by specialists. 

Another way these tools help with project management and the general business process is by providing visual aids. As workflow tools are meant to provide accessibility first, they can — and should— provide clear layers of structure and visibility. 

But why, though? Because the idea behind these tools is to provide a way to channel a project’s flow from start to finish. And a reliable workflow tool will clearly outline each task that needs to happen along the way. The result is that you don’t jump into half-formed, inchoate projects; rather, each project is defined clearly, which helps reach successful outcomes faster. 

And, of course, ITSM automation can help make this process leaner, meaner, and faster

“Any procedure or process that can be documented as a set of repeatable steps can be automated. When service desk and service management personnel are repeating the same answers, responses, and fixes again and again, they are not doing more creative, productive, human work; for instance, updating and adding to the knowledge base, working on projects, solving problems, and communicating with colleagues and customers.”

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, we should evaluate the role of workflow management in this equation.

The role of workflow management

Management software, as part of any ITSM solution, gives you an added layer of visibility and structure to workflow processes. In turn, you can get an idea into production faster. Thus, the idea for these tools is to make sure that by the time you’re done, you still have the same quality standards maintained throughout the project, and that you reach the end-zone as you intended. 

Another way these tools will give you a leg up is by: 

  • Letting you schedule your tasks.
  • Increasing collaboration among team members and between teams. 
  • Making workloads far more manageable. 
  • Allowing you to create and share documents faster.
  • Making progress evaluation something clear and easier to visualize — and therefore, follow.
  • Using automation in any and all of these processes to alleviate human workloads. 

As part of workload management, these tools allow teams to work in a more unified manner, something of ever-increasing importance now that teams are going global. In an age where ever-increasing amounts of teams are distributed, it’s crucial to use reliable tools to not just keep everyone in the loop, but on the same page.

Companies use InvGate Service Desk for its easy, straightforward visual workflow editor.

The role of automation in workflow management

And, of course,  ITSM automation brings tremendous opportunities to the fore. The growing capabilities of automated workflows, coupled with increased availability of data for decision-making are making processes far more efficient than they used to be.

With good ITSM tools that leverage automation, the sky’s the limit. There’s a huge amount of business process management software that can help teams create optimized workflows. 

Our previously quoted automation article on ITSM automation brings up some great additional points: 

“Automation has two characteristics that make it very desirable: First, it does not vary, but does the automated task the same way every time. Second, it can be very much faster than when performed manually by humans. Therefore, if a procedure is not optimized first, we can end up with an automated task that is extremely inefficient, like a Rube Goldberg construction. It isn’t enough to have an automated task that accomplishes your goal; it should be as streamlined and as precise as possible. (Call it Lean if you’d like.)

We need to be selective about which tasks we are going to spend our time automating. We want to extract the biggest “bang for the buck” from our automation efforts; so how do we select those tasks that will yield the best results for us when they are optimized?”

Areas that are ripe for automation 

For our money, when it comes to workflow management, here are some ideas that seemed to turn out extremely well, in general.

  • Vacation requests
  • Employee onboarding
  • Invoicing 
  • Task creation
  • Lead management
  • Creating templates for legal documents
  • Support ticket management
  • Expense reimbursement 
  • Making hidden IT issues more visible
  • Helping with service delivery and customer support in general 

And by “turn out extremely well”, we mean they’re part of the low-hanging fruit we were discussing at the very beginning of the article — you know, that part you skipped because you wanted to go straight to the sub-headers you needed. 

workflow management features

Of course, this doesn’t mean that these tasks are worthless. But, what they are is repetitive, meaning that they take up way more human time than they should. And it’s precisely thanks to automation that we’ve been able to put time back in the hands of workers. Sounds a bit like a pamphlet you might pick up at University, we know, but it doesn’t make it less true.

Some must-have features in workflow management software

Now, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. What does workflow management software absolutely need in order to call it a success? We’ve cut down the list to what we believe are the most important components. Check them out below. 

1. Zero-Code workflow design

We mentioned simplicity as a must-have before, right? And that’s because management software is not intended to be used by software developers, but rather by people on the business side of things. 

A simple, straightforward visual workflow editor will make it so much easier for your team to manage without the need of any coding skills.

One of the things your tool should absolutely have, though, is the ability to create workflows with dynamic routing. That is, if the amount for that workflow exceeds a certain amount, the tool will route it over to the pertinent authorities for review. 

2. Responsive design 

Let’s face it, we’re not working 24/7 on our desktop or laptop computers. Mobile devices are a big part of we live, work, and do business. And that means that every tool worth its salt is going to come with a responsive design that allows you to use it from a mobile device. 

The idea is not to have to manage your management tool; if it doesn’t look good or operate correctly on a cellphone, then it’s probably made not with last-decade, but last-century sensibilities. And that’s as big a no-no as wearing a leisure suit to work (although they’ll probably come back in style someday) 

This is why good UX is crucial for streamlining things. Gone are the days of having to do things from different devices because not every feature in your management software is supported. Or, at least, they should be. 

3. Automatic validations

We’ve all been there: correcting ten million forms because of some tiny mistake. And, even after we’re done correcting, it’s very likely that something slipped our watchful eye. It’s just the way of the world, and the way of human error: you can’t account for everything. 

But management software, though, should help prevent those errors 100% of the time. How? Through automatic validations. 

There are many forms of validations, though. Here are the main ones to keep an eye out for:

  • Custom validations
  • Pre-built form fields
  • Dynamic validation
  • Instructions or placeholders
  • Pre-populated fields
  • Required and optional fields
  • Auto-Dynamic routing

All of these save minutes, and sometimes hours of labor. Plus, they’re the sort of menial, soul-crushing tasks that make people think about the movie Office Space rather than rewarding, challenging work. And be sure that your employees will thank you, because these go way further than just being time-saving measures; they also reduce the likelihood of certain errors by as much as 100%.

4. Notifications up the wazoo

You shouldn’t ever miss anything. And no, we’re not talking about the Aerosmith song. Missing notifications means missing out on an event, and maybe a potentially important one. While we don’t want to be notified every time someone makes a right-click, you can configure your management tool to give you a heads-up when something truly important takes place. 

Most likely, you’ll get an email notification, but you can also use in-app notifications as well. And, of course, using dynamic fields that actually mean something will ensure that the email or notification titles are actually relevant and actionable. Just reading “Notification #313299-B” isn’t going to make any actual difference. 

Of course, these notifications should also include helpful reminders, and also escalations when a process expires or reaches a certain stage. 

5. Design forms easily 

It shouldn’t have to be a chore to input data in order to generate forms. Ideally, you want a management tool that can just work with simple drag-and-drop features. And, of course, automation doesn’t mean that your forms should look anything other than sharp. 

Plus, of course, you can customize each item so that it can have the type of behavior and features that you need. From checkboxes to multiple-choice options, it should all be covered, and easy to use by even the most techno-phobic employee out there. 

And, of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s all there is to cover. Your management tool should offer you things like: 

  • Automatic .PDF generation
  • Great-looking, dynamic visual behavior, and components 
  • Integration with Third-Party Apps
  • Great security features 

And it’s not exactly easy to find all of the above features in one tool.  Lucky for you, though, InvGate Service Desk includes all of these and more, with easy-to-use visual features that stand out from the pack, and let your employees manage workflows without needing to take three-week-long courses. 

InvGate Service Desk workflow editor

InvGate Service Desk's outstanding Visual Workflow Editor will help your company improve IT support and service delivery on all levels, using the best automation has to offer to make your life easier. In plain English: things will go faster, customers will be happier, and morale will increase. 

Read other articles like this : ITSM, workflows, workflow automation

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