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Many SMBs are hampered by inefficient manual processes, but feel that it would take too much time, money and effort to automate them. Not so!

If I asked you to list the ways in which time and money are being wasted in your organization, I’m pretty sure you would cite one or more inefficient processes near the top.

Across the public and private sectors, most organizations are held back by processes that take too long. The reasons for the inefficiency vary. Maybe a process is poorly defined, or not defined at all. Maybe it relies on paper forms, manual data entry and people remembering to put forms in the mail. Maybe the chain of approvals is unclear, or involves too many people. Often it's a combination of all these factors.

Every business manager instinctively knows which processes are inefficient, and probably has a vision of how they ought to work in an ideal world. But there's also a sense that a lot of effort would be required to make this happen. Three-letter acronyms such as 'BPM' recall other three-letter acronyms, such as ‘ERP’, conjuring up unappealing thoughts of expensive, months-long implementation projects.

In reality, though, many inefficient processes can be streamlined quickly and effectively using inexpensive business process and workflow automation tools. This is particularly true for paper-based processes that involve a lot of human intervention. A common example is expenses reporting, which is still frequently carried out on paper forms that must be passed from person to person for approval and processing. But every industry and organization can cite its own examples too: insurance underwriting, engineering change requests, return merchandise authorization for faulty goods, and many more.

The key to making a quick transition from inefficient, paper-based process to efficient, automated process is selecting the right workflow automation software. There are many to choose from, ranging from low-cost open source tools to all-encompassing high-end suites from the large ERP vendors. The bottom line is that you should choose one that best suits your organization's size, budget and requirements, but here are six key features you should look out for:


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