The way businesses approach processes today overlooks the massive opportunity of automation.
We all know business processes, also referred to as workflows, are made up of the tasks we do in our jobs every day. Our specialized skills, understanding of business rules, collaboration with co-workers, and interactions with apps are how we operationalize business processes to get work done and keep the company running.
A typical enterprise has tens of thousands of business processes, but most of the attention focuses on a critical 1% minority, such as order-to-cash, claims processing, and RMA. This narrow focus distracts from the tremendous automation opportunities for the thousands of other processes that make up every organization.
Many of these processes are as important as the top 1% but are less commonly automated. The natural assumption is either that they require expensive custom development or are entirely out of range of automation, leaving the manual busywork as the inevitable cost of doing business.
Yesterday, we announced $110M in Series D funding to accelerate our work, enabling organizations to unlock the productivity buried in their business processes. This investment sets the stage for the low-code/no-code (LCNC) approach to automate the “long tail” of neglected business processes that can significantly improve operations and performance.
The long tail of business processes
While it is easy to talk about processes in the abstract, those closest to any one business process are most likely to feel the pain of inefficiency. For example:
- Sales reps are caught off-guard during renewal discussions when they find themselves unaware of critical issues the customer reported earlier in the week.
- Account teams feel uninformed and unequipped for quarterly business review calls because insights on customer data take a few days to stitch together from many apps.
- New employees are left stranded for long periods without access to email, applications, computers, and sometimes even their paycheck owing to unconnected HR, IT, and Payroll systems.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone in sales ops confronted by the first challenge:
After hearing from frustrated reps caught unaware of major customer escalations mid-renewal, you turn to your default data process: exporting, manipulating, and importing CSV files. Now, you are stuck with a daily 30-60 minute exercise to bring support ticket data into the CRM to ensure account teams have access.
The downsides of this approach are obvious: time commitment, fragility, and simple human error. This also does not address the ‘severity’ detection logic and account team notifications.
After growing tired of this error-prone busywork, you turn to IT, hoping they have time to build a custom solution. IT figures that it will take 2 weeks to build, but they are backlogged. You add it to the IT queue and wait. And, voila, a couple of months later, it is ready. The developer uses the CRM and support app’s APIs, describes the logic in code, uses a database for storage, and a Telephony API to send text messages. It works beautifully!
Comic credit: XKCD
Business processes are always improving and changing. Once your new automation is rolled out, you realize that it is better to have reminder text messages sent to the regional VP for escalations. It’s time to get back in the IT line and wait since the original builder moved on to other projects.
This is not an IT issue—it simply doesn’t make business sense to hire an army of developers to code automations across the company while keeping up with DevOps and maintenance. Besides, working with a developer for every process change impedes a fast iteration learn/update cycle.
There are tens of thousands of such processes that don’t meet the hurdle of being critically important and urgent. Even when developer bandwidth is available, custom coding is time-consuming and expensive to build and maintain.
So, what then?
Related: An overview on cloud integration
The LCNC movement: Power to the people
Technology must become simpler and easier so more people can use it. This is at the heart of the LCNC movement’s quest to empower non-developers and developers to accomplish tasks that traditionally required coding faster and more affordably. Gartner projects low-code platforms will account for 65% of all development activity by 2024.
In the earlier example, someone from the sales ops team could have used a LCNC tool to automate the business process. But what does a LCNC tool for automation look like? Let’s take a look:
Automation of business processes comprises a series of steps that require an exchange of data across different apps, the application of business rules, sending alerts and notifications, assigning work, and the execution of tasks. The build experience, including how you describe and test automations, needs to be intuitive and not require an understanding of technical concepts. It should be fast to build simple business processes and scale to support complex ones as well.
Access to all data and apps
Data is locked and scattered across a variety of apps. An LCNC tool needs to provide out-of-box connectivity to 1000s of SaaS apps, databases, file servers, message queues, partner APIs, and unwieldy legacy systems. Additionally, power users must be able to extend connectivity by customizing or building their own connectivity components.
Build fast, iterate faster
Business processes are constantly changing due to striving for efficiency, changing business strategy, or just failing to anticipate all the requirements upfront. The LCNC approach needs to make learning and iterating friction-free. For instance, when an automation is updated, the platform should automatically switch over to the new version without a gap in the service.
A Github-like community
No matter how easy it is to build, building from scratch is never easy or fast enough. Automations are about making processes efficient, and starting with a community of ready-to-use automations shared by peers accelerates success.
The ability to connect applications, manipulate sensitive data, and automate processes is powerful and needs to be treated as such. A comprehensive, centralized governance model around design and runtime operations is crucial to driving adoption.
This is the most critical component and is responsible for much of the ease of use and productivity. The runtime should free the users from thinking about security, scaling, fault-tolerance, delivery guarantees, batch/bulk/event handling, failure recovery, and more by solving for this under the hood. When done right, the runtime should require zero DevOps and be completely invisible to the user.
Bending the curve on automation adoption
LCNC promises that the reach and impact of automation can grow exponentially when the people closest to the problems are capable of solving them. We are seeing this happen in our customer base.
Over 7000 companies are using the Workato platform to automate business processes across IT, engineering, finance, marketing, HR, support, and more. We have a rapidly growing community of members with roles ranging from business analysts to developers. Nearly half of the users that build automations with Workato are in non-IT functions. On average, our customers are nearly tripling the number of automations they build each year.
Many of us have worked in the integration and automation space for decades, but we have rarely seen this level of adoption and usage growth that we see now. This simply wasn’t possible because of the complexity and need for technical skills.
I am incredibly excited about the road ahead. When the power is in the hands of the people to automate, businesses are no longer limited to improving just 1% of their business processes.
I recommend reading David Patterson’s article on ‘Why “no code operations” will be the next big job in tech’ (it inspired this post).