Beyond the Reef: Workflow Automation


“No one goes beyond the reef. A rule that keeps us safe.”
– from the film Moana (2016)

Automation tool vendors, while growing in their niche, are quickly trying to redefine the automation market within the walls of their individual capabilities. A quick glance at one of the leading RPA vendor’s website markets the product as:

“The only automation software for today’s enterprise”

If you’re not laughing yet, consider that is the equivalent of saying a Ford Truck is the only transportation needed for today’s enterprise.

While recently attending an RPA conference, I listened as one customer said the number one thing not working in their efforts was that they were forgetting that other solutions existed, and developing tunnel vision.

“What if we fish beyond the reef?” – Moana

As a proponent of empowerment using automation, my job is to constantly be evaluating the automation landscape and understanding the business context in order to guide opportunities through the solution waters.

One very accessible, and yet overlooked, option for many enterprises is workflow automation, which is not completely equivalent to robotic process automation, but often is a simpler means to solve simpler problems.

Microsoft Flow is one such workflow automation tool that is part of the cloud-based Office 365 offering and allows users to automate workflows and tasks across cloud and on-prem applications and services. Since many large companies are already leveraging Office 365 for their email and office tools, this is an easy and low-cost option to empower users to improve efficiency and develop an automation mindset, particular for tasks that involve email, office products, and common online services (Flow has several hundred reusable connectors to applications and services)

For more advanced automations, Microsoft Flow naturally extends into Azure Logic Apps, a platform for developers to create more advanced workflows and custom connectors. This facilitates the handoff to developers when needed.

Whereas robotic process automation vendors are primarily licensing according to a capacity model, whether you use the bots or not, workflow automation vendors have grown up in the cloud and typically feature the consumption based pricing mode (“pay-as-you-go”), which can be very cost advantageous in comparison.

For those processes that simply use Office tools and common online services from external vendors, consider cloud-based workflow engines such as Microsoft Flow (or Zapier as another alternative).

“There’s more beyond the reef. There’s a whole ocean!” – Moana

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