The concept of workflow has been around for quite a while. It’s a sequence of tasks where completing one task or part of a project triggers a move to the next step in the sequence with the goal of improving efficiency, reliability and consistency.
In the last few decades, computers have been used to automate workflows by detecting triggers, assigning tasks and generating progress and status reports. In the early days, users had to know how to write code to create a new workflow. Recently, non-technical users benefit from using low-code or no-code workflow engines that come with a set of pre-defined workflow templates with built-in industry-specific workflows. For example, the workflow to prepare an individual tax return might include:
- Receiving the client’s tax documents
- Scanning documents into the firm’s document management system
- A preparer completes the return
- The reviewer reviews and approves the return
- The client signs and returns the e-file authorization
- The firm e-files the return and invoices the client
These basic workflows allowed firms to benefit from workflow automation without needing to hire employees with computer science degrees, but what happens when the firm’s unique processes don’t match the pre-defined template? What if they want to create workflows for other firm areas, such as business returns, audit, client onboarding, employee onboarding, engagement letters, and other business processes?
That’s where rules-driven workflow comes in.
What is rules-driven workflow?
Rules-driven workflow allows a firm to build business process logic into its workflows instead of forcing the firm to fit its workflow into the software’s pre-defined steps.
The application intelligently opens, closes and assigns roles and tasks based on the rules of the firm. This ensures the right person is involved in the engagement or project at the right time, resulting in better control, management and visibility into the firm’s work. This “if this, then that” logic is important in business process management.
Rules-driven workflow can improve the execution of any engagement or project by:
- Routing documents. In reaction to a trigger, the workflow solution moves the project or engagement to the next step, notifies the person responsible, and routes documents to that person.
- Managing tasks. The workflow solution can create tasks and assign them to the appropriate person and assign the right deadline. Some steps in the process can be completed simultaneously, but you can establish rules that require certain tasks (such as receiving a signed engagement letter) to be completed before moving on to the next step.
- Customizing questions. Using boilerplate questionnaires, it’s easy to ask questions that don’t apply to the project or client while overlooking others. Rules-driven workflow allows users to establish rules that will customize questionnaires, processes or tasks within a process.
- Notifying users. The workflow solution can notify users of different events, such as an engagement binder being created, an email or attachment being opened, or a task nearing its deadline.
This allows users to waste less time managing projects and tasks and spend more time delivering value.
Getting started with rules-driven workflow
Firms that are just getting started with workflow automation start by simply tracking tasks. This is a major step up from paper routing sheets because the workflow solution is a much more efficient due date tracker. However, workflow automation shouldn’t stop there.
The next level is to track the flow of projects – knowing what is happening and where your bottlenecks are so you can look for ways to improve processes. But where you really want to be is automating business processes – not just the tasks of an engagement.
So what can rules-driven workflow do for your firm? Consider the following use cases:
- Require additional reviews based on the complexity of the tax return, engagement or project
- Show or hide e-file steps depending on the filing method
- Ensure audit fieldwork doesn’t begin until the client has signed the engagement letter, provided a trial balance, and planning is complete
- Alert the tax department to begin preparing the tax return when the audit process is nearing completion
- Initiate billing once deliverables have been issued
- Adjust the questions asked on the client acceptance questionnaire based on the risk assessment
As you begin thinking through your business processes, it’s easy to get bogged down in complex workflows and personal preferences. These indicate that your processes aren’t optimized, and you have an opportunity to streamline and improve efficiency beyond simply automating steps.
If you want additional insight into how and where your firm can benefit from business process management, schedule an Amelio demo.