The Role of Workflow Apps in Digital Transformation

1. Introduction: Digital Transformation

You may have heard of the phrase “digital transformation” in various contexts.

Digital transformation refers to the business trend or strategy of digitizing as many aspects of work as possible to fundamentally revamp a firm’s business processes, internal culture, and customer experience, therefore also revamping the business model. As large global IT firms including GAFA revolutionize global business, other firms are on the lookout for ways to stay competitive.

The impacts of a properly implemented digital transformation on business efficiency and an improved customer experience are undeniable. Notably, Japan, traditionally having a paper-based business culture, has had its Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry establish a DX (Digital Transformation) Certification program where certified firms can receive financial support and tax breaks on their efforts and successes in digital transformation. This initiative demonstrates Japan’s recognition of the importance of digital technologies in business.

1.1 What is Digital Transformation?

Simply put, digital transformation is the process of digitizing various aspects of work. This encompasses a broad spectrum from digitized document creation and signatures to communication methods changing from letters and in-person visits to emails and online meetings.

For example, a shipping and logistics company might register their logistical data in a database and optimize their trucking routes. Manufacturers can more easily track spare part usage, and retailers can closely track sales ledgers to eliminate waste using just-in-time orders; the applications vary aplenty across industries. Many examples exist outside of these, and there is more room for efficiency gains through digitization than you might imagine.

In summary, by switching from the use of analog to digital tools in the workplace, you can work smarter, improve efficiency, decrease costs, and produce more.

1.2 The Role of Workflow Apps in Digital Transformation

One part of digital transformation that is receiving attention is the use of workflow applications. These apps contribute to decreased costs and increased productivity by automating processes and improving overall efficiency, contributing to increases in productivity. By eliminating clerical tasks, they also contribute to faster decision-making, creating wide-reaching waves in terms of productivity improvements across an organization.

In this article, we’ll go ahead and explain what exactly workflow apps are, what benefits you can expect from adopting one for your company, what issues you might face in adopting a workflow app, and what the future holds for workflow apps.

2. The Basic Concept of Workflow Applications

We’ll first explain what exactly is a workflow application and what its core functions are.

First of all, what is a workflow app? We can break down the compound word “workflow” into “work” and “flow” to see that it is an app related to the flow of work, or tasks. More specifically, workflow apps provide transparency to the flow of your work, automate menial tasks, and improve the overall efficiency of a company. From this simple explanation, it should be easy to see the added value that a workflow app can provide.

At Collavate, we believe that at the heart of that “work” is the various documents including important files like business planning documents and contracts to purchase requests for office supplies and meeting notes that are the cumulative sum that defines a company.

Every task has a corresponding document, and the moment your employees record their ideas in those documents is the moment that collaboration, co-creation, and value creation all happen. Supporting those documents through creation, due process, and realizing their value proposition to the world is the job of workflow apps like Collavate.

3. The Role of Workflow Apps in Digital Transformation

Workflow apps play a central role in advancing a digital transformation strategy through process automation and efficiency enhancements. Below, we explore some core and non-core functions of workflow apps and how they contribute to your business.

3.1 Automate approval processes

Approval processes automate your daily approval processes to improve the efficiency of your business, and this processing system is at the core of any workflow app, with many allowing for complex approval pathing and branching.

For example, when requesting the purchase of some office supplies, you may need to fill out a purchase request and submit it to your boss. Once your boss reviews your request and approves it, they likely need to pass it on to the purchasing department for final approval before again passing it on to the appropriate person to actually conduct the purchase. Such a process might take days and is time-consuming for all parties involved.

An approval process using a workflow app can cut out a lot of the fat in this process through automation, helping its users to save valuable time they could spend doing other work. Automatically generate the appropriate request form from a template, fill out the predetermined designated fields, and submit it to your boss with one click. Based on the template’s settings, the request form will automatically be sent on to the next party after your boss approves and requires no extra configuration by you or your boss.

Automate all processes from document creation to approval to archiving and reduce wasted time and human error. Some apps allow you to submit scanned documents, but creating and archiving documents digitally supports a more holistic digital transformation strategy.

3.2 Use Templates and e-signatures for Easy Document Creation Using a Unified Format

Templates are a function that lets you register a document with a predetermined format, such as a request form, meeting minutes, or proposal document, to the workflow system and create a copy document based on the template at any time.

For example, Human Resources needs various forms for on-boarding such as an employment contract, agreement to internal policy, acceptance of the handling of personal information, etc. These documents can be prepared beforehand as templates and have information input according to each specific new employee, allowing you to quickly create a consistent archive of on-boarding documentation. Once those documents are approved, you can have an e-signature embedded to use it as an official document right away.

3.3 E-stamps and E-signatures

Stamping and signing important official documents is also important in document and workflow management, and many popular workflow apps, especially those popular in east and south-east asia, will have this functionality.

When a workflow document is approved, it will be stamped or signed by the people who approved it, making it usable as an official document. The legal effect of documents signed and stamped electronically is up for debate depending on which countries the signing/stamping body operates in, so be sure to check your local requirements before choosing your preferred workflow app. Remember, even if an e-stamp or e-signature doesn’t have legal effect, you may be able to find an integration with an app that does provide legally effective e-stamps and e-signatures, or you can use the app’s e-stamp and e-signature function for non-official, casual documents as a form of receipt.

3.4 Attach Files to Promote Data-based Decision Making

You can attach files to workflows to manage and centralize all data relevant for a workflow, promoting data-based decision making.

For example, many reference documents may be needed for a workflow involving a new business venture including market trends and consumer behavior analysis reports. You can attach those reports to a workflow and manage them together in one place, making your strategic business decisions that much easier to make.

Some workflow apps can even combine these attachment files into a single PDF to output, allowing your decision makers to act smarter and your business to react dynamically to a changing market.

3.5 Get a Quick Summary of Documents by AI

Generative AI is a huge business trend these days with LLMs (large language models) allowing normal people even greater access to information than before in the form of a chatbot. As a part of the GenAI movement, Google’s Gemini helps its users to save time in writing emails and documents, quickly understand search intent to summarize search results and quickly find the right answers, and more to provide leaps and bounds of improvements in efficiency. As for applications to workflow apps, GenAI can help you quickly understand the main points of a submitted document. Collavate will also be soon releasing its own AI summary feature.

3.6 Summary: The Role of Workflow Apps in Digital Transformation

Through this introduction of the basic functions of workflow apps, hopefully you now understand the main role it plays in digital transformation strategies of improving business efficiency. Approval processes oil the decision making machine, and e-signatures allow for quick official use of the documents. Additionally, approvals will soon be made even faster with the coming applications of AI. There are various other features that workflow apps offer, so it’s a good idea to decide beforehand what you want out of your workflow app and find one that fits your needs.

Additionally, some workflow apps allow for custom development projects. Collavate has a wealth of experience in custom development projects, and we are always accepting inquiries for more.

4. Main Benefits of Workflow Apps

Up until now, we’ve discussed the core functions of workflow apps and what you can expect from them. Next, let’s discuss what special quirks workflow apps have and what specific benefits they offer.

4.1 Process Automation and Standardization

As explained in the previous section, one of the main functions of workflow apps, approval processes, allows you to automate menial tasks, reduce human error, and standardize tasks. Reduce the sending of emails back-and-forth when getting a document approved, and use templates, another core function, to guarantee that documents are created according to your company’s standards. These functions allow you to automate and standardize various tasks.

4.2 Flexibility and Scalability

Another feature of workflow apps is their flexibility and scalability. As companies change, the customizability of workflow apps allows you to respond to new needed tasks and changes to your workflows.

For example, if a new section is created for a new project, then that section might need some special report forms and unique approval pathways. In this case, you can create a new report form and register it to your workflow app to immediately use a report form specialized for that section with the new approval pathway also already applied. In these ways, workflow apps flexibly respond to the ever-changing needs of companies.

All templates that Collavate uses in its workflows originate from the customer’s Google Drive, so anything you can do in Google Drive, you can also do in Collavate. This includes advanced template customization using Apps Script. Additionally, all workflow data is stored in Google Drive, so if there are no issues with your Google Drive storage, there are no issues with storing your Collavate data. In these ways, Collavate offers flexibility and scalability at the same level as Google Drive.

4.3 Integrations

Many workflow apps allow for seamless integration with other business tools and applications. Most can directly integrate with major groupware like Google Workspace and Microsoft Teams and connect with their file storage systems allowing for fast workflow creation when attachment files are needed. However, some workflow apps are standalone solutions, and their ability to integrate with other solutions depends case-by-case, so be sure to check the compatibility with your company’s groupware before buying.

Integration is an important point to remember in digital transformation in general as well. If everything about a piece of software is great but it isn’t compatible with your existing software or can’t read common files that you use, you’re going to have problems. These days most apps are developed to reach a broader user base and have advanced to the point where this isn’t a problem, but it’s good to keep it in the back of your head to check for compatibility issues.

Collavate is completely integrated into Google Workspace, and all files and data related to workflows are stored within Google Drive. This architecture also has important implications for data security, so if you use Google Workspace or are thinking about adopting it, you might want to check out Collavate.

4.4 Mobile and Remote Access

One of the core philosophies for many workflow apps is to make requests and approvals easier.

To that end, it is normal that they offer mobile apps, web apps which require no local installation, and approval decisions from within email notifications. These features mean that even if you’re at home or on the move, you can always check the progress of your workflow and conduct simple document reviews and approvals.

As work-from-home is normalizing, it’s important to bake considerations on how people work at home and on the move into your digital transformation plans. The above mentioned web app functionality and operability from within an email notification should be considered not just in workflow apps but also when considering what other software solutions to implement at your company.

Collavate is a SaaS (Software as a service) app provided as a web app meaning you can access it from anywhere. Additionally, it also allows for approval decisions from within email notifications.

4.5 Compliance

Records such as approval history, activity history, and version history are needed by compliance to submit to auditors. These records allow companies to prove that they are acting in accordance with both internal and external regulations and that their decisions are going through due process before being acted on.

Workflow apps typically record the time of approval, approver name, approver comments, and other detailed information regarding a workflow meaning you don’t have to do any separate recordkeeping. Additionally, some apps will also guarantee data integrity, meaning you don’t have to worry about data being edited by an unsavory character.

Version control is also another compliance issue. For example, when internal policy goes under regular review or a version upgrade, you may have to undergo a due approval process before enacting the new version. You can use a workflow app to show to an auditor that your new version underwent its due process with the approval history and approved contents.

Collavate saves detailed approval records, file edit records, and activity records all within the app allowing you to use it for your compliance activities as well.

4.6 Summary: Benefits of Workflow Apps

And that’s a wrap for the benefits of workflow apps. With this section, hopefully you now have a grasp of how workflow apps not only provide direct effects through efficiency improvements but also indirect conveniences through integrations.

5. Potential Issues with Adopting a Workflow App

Up until now we’ve discussed various reasons in favor of adopting workflow apps, but you still may have some doubts. Here we’re going to tackle those doubts and aim to absolve any worries you might still have about workflow apps.

5.1 Technical and Managerial Issues

Upon adopting a workflow app, having to tackle issues both technical and cultural is unavoidable. There may be people who are not open to the use of digital tools or simply feel it is a burden to learn a new way of working.

In order to accommodate these kinds of employees, it can help to seek out a workflow app that is user-friendly. Within that “user-friendliness” are various aspects. For example, you can have an intuitive UI, clear fields of where to input data, pre-filled approvers for certain workflows, etc. which allow you to limit the amount that the user has to interact with the system.

These issues are not unique to workflow apps but also apply to digital transformation in general. When dealing with a more conservative workforce, it can help to put a focus on user-friendly technology to limit the amount of internal frictions.

As Collavate completely integrates its workflows with Google Drive, all workflow documents are in the customer’s Google Drive. You can create your form as a Google Drive file (Like a Google Doc or Google Sheet), and by registering it as a template, you can also pre-set approvers. Further specify who is to input what into what field to reduce human error. Additionally, as all workflow documents are also Google Drive files, users can fill out request forms and proposals in the UI of Google Docs and Google Sheets that they’re already familiar with.

5.2 Security and Privacy Issues

Data security and privacy are also a large issue to tackle. By adopting a workflow app, you are providing the company that runs that app with your company’s data including the forms you use for various requests and, in some cases, the data submitted using those forms, saving it to that company’s servers.

As such, it’s necessary to adopt a workflow app with a strong security and legal posture. If you’re a large company, you may be able to request documentation of their security system or even ask that the workflow app’s company improve its security posture as a contract stipulation.

These security considerations apply not only to workflow apps but also any other new technology you are looking to adopt, so make sure you understand the various risks at play and how much they can impact your business.

As Collavate is completely integrated with Google Drive, we limit the amount of customer data that is stored on our servers to the minimum. Additionally, you can check our security and privacy policies from our website or ask us any questions in an email or by phone.

6. The Present and Future of Workflow Apps

Workflow apps, as digital products, can easily have updates applied to them leading to a wealth of possibilities for growth. In this section, we’ll explore the present trends and future possibilities of workflow apps.

6.1 Increased integrations with AI and ML (Machine Learning)

With the evolution of AI and ML, workflow applications will be able to provide functionality on another level. Quickly understand the contents of a request through an AI summary, receive recommendations to approve or reject based on past approval history, and auto-input data into forms based on emails and other resources. The future of workflow apps is rich with potential for business efficiency improvements, and the current data-crunching AIs are laying the foundation for that future right now. AI can eliminate inefficiencies, cut time spent on time-consuming yet menial tasks, and speed up your decision making processes.

As mentioned earlier, Collavate is also working on AI applications, and an AI summary feature will be released some time in the near future.

6.2 Movement to Cloud-based solutions

Additionally, it’s a good idea to not stop at “go digital” and look specifically for cloud-based solutions. With solutions like Google Cloud by Google that offer services like cloud storage and cloud app hosting, the emergence of the cloud is putting a tailwind to digital transformation and is an important industry trend to observe.

By moving to the cloud, many software companies are easily sending out updates to all their users from new features to bug fixes to security patches, meaning they can easily keep their software up-to-date. Cloud architecture also allows for robust back-ups and continued service provision through disasters. As a SaaS app, Collavate also provides its app through the web, keeping it up-to-date and providing regular updates and new features.

6.3 Sustainability and Environmental Awareness

In the current business environment asking for sustainable business, an eco-friendly approach is also being asked for by shareholders and the like. At first you might be confused as to what exactly a workflow app has to do with sustainability. However, workflow apps, along with digitization of internal company data, will limit the use of paper. With workflow apps, you can limit the use of paper for drafts and printing, strengthening your company’s eco-friendly stance.

7. Summary

In this article, we provided a simple introduction of digital transformation, introduced the benefits of workflow apps, discussed some issues you might face while adopting them, and projected the future of workflow apps. I hope that you learned something about workflow apps and digital transformation through this article.

7.1 Summary: Why Workflow Apps are Important for Digital Transformation

Workflow applications are an essential tool for a company’s digital transformation, and that importance will only grow in the future. The key reason for that is the importance of improving operational efficiency. Countries like the US place a large focus on shareholder returns and financial statistics such as ROE (Return on Equity), a measure of a company’s bang-for-buck on its costs and capital. How companies will implement workflow apps in their digital transformation strategy and utilize them will be a key factor in determining their competitiveness in the future. For the readers, think about how you can use workflows apps at your company and be the first to move!

7.2 Try Out Workflow Apps with Collavate!

Collavate offers a 30-day free trial for our workflow app. If you read this article and want to find out how much smarter you can work, please give our app a spin!