When used effectively, workflow automation can be a powerful tool for improving efficiency, reducing errors, and saving time. By automating routine tasks and business processes, real estate and property management organizations can streamline their operations freeing up time to focus on more strategic initiatives. However, implementing workflow automation can come with some challenges when implemented without a cohesive strategy. So, this article shows you how you can leverage workflow automation to maximize efficiency with a consistent automation strategy.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation refers to the use of technology for automating and streamlining repetitive, time-consuming tasks. It typically involves using software to automatically route information between different systems or to trigger specific actions based on certain conditions or events. Automating these types of tasks helps businesses reduce errors, improve productivity, and free up time for more valuable work.

What is an example of it?

Automating the tenant screening process serves as a great basic example of workflow automation. With automation, property managers can quickly and efficiently process rental applications, verify tenant information, and conduct background checks. Each of these processes can be fully automated based on the results of previous processes for a fully automated workflow.

Different types of workflow

A workflow refers to a series of interconnected steps or tasks performed to complete a specific business process or project. They typically involve multiple individuals or teams with each step in the workflow depending on the last. Here are a few types of workflows in property management:

  • Maintenance workflows: By automating maintenance workflows, property managers can quickly assign and track maintenance requests. They can also communicate with tenants about progress and timelines, and ensure that maintenance tasks are completed on time and within budget.
  • Tenant onboarding workflows: Automating tenant onboarding workflows can help property managers improve the tenant experience. It helps streamline the application and move-in process, reducing the time required to process applications, and improving accuracy in collecting and verifying tenant information.
  • Lease management workflows: With lease management workflows, property managers can easily create and manage lease agreements, track lease terms and renewal dates, automate rent collection, and generate reports to stay on top of lease-related tasks and deadlines.
  • Move-out workflows: These workflows can help property managers minimize vacancy times and ensure that units are quickly turned over for new tenants. With automation, move-out workflows can include automated inspections, processing security deposits, coordinating repairs or cleaning, and updating listings or advertising for available units.

Why is it so important?

By automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, businesses can free up employees to focus on more important tasks that require human intelligence and creativity. This can lead to improved job satisfaction and a more engaged workforce. It also enhances overall operational efficiency.

In addition to improving employee productivity, workflow automation can also improve the accuracy and consistency of processes, reducing the risk of errors or oversights. This can ultimately lead to increased tenant satisfaction and retention, as well as improved profitability for property management companies.

How can you use it in real estate?

Here are a few ways to use workflow automation in real estate:

  • Accounting and finance: Workflows such as rent collection, invoice processing, and financial reporting can be fully automated and only require human intervention when unexpected events occur.
  • Equipment maintenance: Property owners can automate equipment maintenance based on maintenance log data, behaviour data indicating actual wear and tear and equipment sensors. Workflow automation software can notify appropriate parties of maintenance needs and even schedule maintenance services with vendors.
  • Vendor management: With workflow automation, property managers can track and manage vendor contracts, ensuring that all necessary contracts are in place and that vendors are performing according to their agreements.
  • Utility meter readings: By automating utility meter readings, property owners can set up alerts for irregular energy usage which acts as a notification of equipment malfunction. Then, they can repair damage quicker resulting in less overall damage.

List of the biggest advantages

While workflow automation can come with a never-ending list of benefits, the top 5 biggest advantages of workflow automation include the following:

  1. Increased efficiency
  2. Better resource management
  3. Scalability
  4. Improved compliance
  5. Faster decision-making

How to implement automated workflows

To implement automated workflows, start by identifying the processes you want to automate. Look for repetitive, manual, or time-consuming tasks. Map out the existing processes and identify areas where automation could be most effective. Find the bottlenecks or inefficient areas as automating these portions of a process typically bring the largest benefits.

Next, choose a workflow automation platform compatible with your existing systems. Also, look for a platform that offers the features you need to automate your processes. With your platform selected, begin designing your workflows by breaking down your processes into smaller tasks. 

Check to ensure your automation platform works with both your OT (operational technology) and IT data sources. By integrating OT and IT data sources, you can more effectively automate manual processes. These data sources include sensors, IoT devices, and databases. For example, integrating data from HVAC sensors and maintenance logs can help automate the scheduling of HVAC maintenance and repairs.

Use your automation platform to create a visual representation of each workflow. This includes the tasks, the order in which they need to be completed, and any rules or conditions that need to be met.

With your workflows created, start testing and refining each automation then make any necessary changes. Along with this testing, start training staff on how to use your workflows and encourage them to provide feedback on how you can improve the workflows.

Once you start automating workflows, you also start producing positive externalities. One automated workflow produces QAd data sets that make automating the next process easier and less expensive. For example, if you automate conference room billing, setting up dynamic pricing for the conference room becomes easier. Or, if you automate utility meter readings, automating on-site inspections for broken meters or equipment becomes less expensive.

Workflow automation software

When it comes to workflow automation software, it always aims to help automate routine tasks and streamline operations. In the property management and real estate industry, the software typically automates maintenance requests, lease renewals, and tenant communication. Most software also offers tools for tracking and analyzing data on workflows and processes.

Some popular workflow automation software options for property managers include AppFolio, Buildium, ProptechOS, and Yardi. These software platforms offer a range of features and tools designed to help property managers streamline their operations and improve overall efficiency. They can also help property managers to communicate more effectively with tenants and other staff members, reducing the risk of miscommunications or delays.

Can it be used in any industry?

Virtually any industry can use workflow automation. Every industry relies on at least some repetitive tasks that automation software can handle. From healthcare automating sign-off processes to real estate automating home inspection scheduling, workflow automation can improve efficiencies to reduce costs and errors.

Process automation vs workflow automation

Process automation and workflow automation are two related but distinct concepts. Workflow automation involves automating a series of interconnected tasks or processes that make up a larger business process. This can include automating tasks like approvals, notifications, and handoffs between different departments or systems.

Process automation involves using technology to automate specific business processes or tasks. This can include automating tasks like data entry, file sharing, and approvals, with the aim of reducing errors and saving time.

While both process automation and workflow automation can help businesses improve efficiency and reduce errors, they differ in scope. Process automation focuses on automating individual tasks, while workflow automation focuses on automating entire processes.

Differences compared to RPA

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a type of process automation that uses software robots to automate tasks that would normally require human intervention.

While RPA is best suited for automating highly repetitive and rule-based tasks, workflow automation is better suited for automating more complex business processes that involve multiple tasks and decision points. By understanding these differences, businesses can choose the right automation approach for their needs and improve their overall efficiency and productivity.

Dr. Erik Wallin

Chief Ecosystem Officer, and founder of ProptechOS and RealEstateCore is recognized as a leader in Building Operating Systems (BOS) and making the buildings of the world smarter. He holds an MSc and a Ph.D. in Media and Computer Science from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Read his full bio and information here.