Five Standout Examples of Workflow Automation, Seen in the Wild

One of the reasons clients come to us at Pro2col is because we have years of experience with managed file transfer (MFT) and the automation capabilities within the wider MFT product set. We have a dedicated technical team on hand to provide both professional and managed service activities for customers. Many customers use services time to request us to build complex workflow logic to meet new use cases.
What is Workflow Automation? Workflow automation refers to methods (and systems) that streamline the movement of tasks, documents, and data within work processes by automating them to fit with organisational processes and policies. This automation enables increased efficiency and accuracy, a reduction in manual intervention and, importantly for companies operating within a quality management system, a significantly reduced error rate. Workflow automation results in faster, easier, and more consistent work.
Automation concept with hand pressing a button on a technology screen
This blog looks at five advanced workflow automation examples that Pro2col have recently delivered to customers. As you will see from these examples, automation can take different forms: System-to-system automation, triggering regular batch transfers and onward data gathering processes; person-to-system automation, such as web form data capture or order management with automate onward processes; and system-to-person automation which can manage the secure distribution of data. 

Real World Benefits of MFT Automation

There are benefits in relation to security as workflow automation can encrypt and transfer data between systems and endpoints. This eliminates the need for manual processing, scripts, and multiple FTP servers. There are also benefits related to time savings in that replacing time-intensive manual processes and managing multiple outdated scripts frees up all that maintenance time, and significantly reduces error rates. Through automation, businesses can re-invest those  team resources and focus on higher priority, value-adding assignments.
In addition to saved staff time, automation helps prevent financial penalties associated with SLAs and data protection regulation violations by virtue of its real-time auditing and error reporting. Automation on a central platform brings visibility to the entire workflow portfolio in the business, and this best-in-class level of reporting is invaluable for compliance with regulations like the GDPR.
Most MFT automation modules have an easy-to-use tool to build and schedule workflow automation. For example, monitoring folders to execute workflows when new or changed files appear. A scheduler allows you to set specific times to execute workflows, such as out of office hours to minimise load on the server.
Another great benefit of an MFT Workflow automation system is that the technology is scalable. As an MFT customer, you can add additional modules or workflow capabilities as your operational requirements grow; so, the functionality you start with does not set a permanent limit to what you can later achieve if your business case evolves.
One of the most valuable benefits of automation is through increased accuracy, in that automated file transfer solutions help to remove ‘human error’ from critical processes. If you’d like to understand the different automation capabilities of the top MFT tools in the marketplace, check out our MFT software tools list
This article discusses five different types of workflows that Pro2col have built for customers. Each of these types of workflows has a standout quality either in terms of an innovative solution, or in terms of the business value that the solution brought through solving a problem for a customer.


1. Dynamic File Distribution to Different Destinations

Global network connection. World map point and line composition concept of global business illustrtaing  Dynamic File Distribution to Different Destinations

The first type of workflow to be discussed here is a workflow that allows files from one single source to be dynamically distributed to different destinations.
One of our customers approached us with a challenge. They were receiving multiple files from an external financial system. The external system was delivering all files into one single directory but the client had a requirement to collect these files from this one source folder and copy each file to its correct country destination.
The ‘simple’ approach to this featured the gloomy prospect of creating up to 20 separate workflows to push the financial files to the right country location. But, the client was growing their international offering rapidly and this approach would mean a new workflow would need to be created every time the client added a new country location to their portfolio.
So, they asked us to design and build just one dynamic workflow capable of processing each file to its correct banking destination.
The dynamic workflow that Pro2col built uses both nested MFT functions to match and extract filename parts, and a bespoke mapping data file. The use of a mapping table also allows for additional information to be brought into the workflow.
A mapping file is read into the workflow, and via nested logic loops, each matching mapping record is found. Using an external mapping file also allows for additional data processing; in fact, there is no end to the dynamic possibilities that mapping files present!
The result was a single dynamic workflow with the capability to expand as new countries or customers were onboarded, without the need for additional workflow creation. Simple, effective and a huge time saver!

2. MFT Workflows Referencing SQL

Digital chart on monitor trade stock , Enterprise business representing file transfer Workflows Referencing SQLThe second type of workflow is one that interrogates a SQL database.
The outstanding quality of a workflow to an external SQL system is not only that you can write data straight from the MFT system to an SQL table but depending on the MFT system, it could also allow you to go further and execute SQL stored procedures that fulfil another Business onward automation process – and all in real-time, at the point that the initial file is received into the MFT transfer!
Similarly, SQL queries to the MFT system database can also be invaluable. Interrogating the system database to return usernames, or user groups can then be used dynamically in workflows to send out email notifications using that SQL database data.
MFT database queries are the most efficient and accurate way to produce up-to-date system statistics and performance data.
One of the more impressive examples we’ve worked on is when the client needed to report on file transfer volumes to their senior leadership and infrastructure management teams. They required information on both inbound and outbound data usage figures, reported in kilobytes to be provided on a routine basis.
A complex piece of dynamic SQL was created that would sum the inbound and outbound activity in KB for each active system service. Additional workflow logic was then added to email the two KB totals for each service to the customer via a csv file – creating a reliable and repeatable workflow granting clear metric reporting into the companies leadership structure.
The database could either be the MFT system database itself (if the product and architecture supports this), or it could be an external business SQL database system where data from an MFT file transfer needs to be written to a SQL database table.
Industries that have benefited from this type of workflows are Protection and Security and Work and Pensions – Government.

3. Workflows Deploying Remote Agents 

Dotted earth with a digital communication line. Global network workflow automationThe third type of workflow which can be considered a standout automation process saver for businesses is the use of workflows that execute across remote MFT Agents.
For businesses that have a distributed organisational structure, perhaps in the retail industry where there are multiple remote office locations, sending workflows through to specific agent sites is a way of proliferating automation through such a disparate infrastructure. The other industry where this has shown great benefits is within the healthcare industry where agents provided a solution to the problem of real-time distribution of patient files to wards. We were contacted by a healthcare provider that required an automated solution for delivering patient records to specific wards based on the file name. Utilising mapping files and nested loops, we were able to provide a fully automated solution for ensuring agents on each ward were receiving the correct patient records.
The dynamic distribution of data to agents is yet another example of exceptional workflow automation – well above and beyond the base view of MFT being a one source, one destination transfer platform.


4. Incorporating Web Forms into a Workflow 

Workflow Automation Example of Incorporating Web Forms into a Workflow The fourth standout example of workflow automation is a workflow that uses a web form to gather additional data entry from a user when a manual file upload is performed. The additional data captured on the form can also be used within a workflow to facilitate further business processing.

The entry of additional data through forms was a game changer for one pharmaceutical customer we worked with recently. They required files be uploaded to their systems, but needed additional personalised information and metadata to be added to each of these files. A user uploading a file without context or metadata would never have met their use case for capturing the wide variety of associated clinical information necessary.
Importantly, using a web form to collect additional data entry also allowed the workflow to validate that data entry before the form was fully processed. That enabled the system to serve bespoke error messages which could be passed back to the user. This real-time, immediate feedback to the user allowed them to correct any invalid data entries before the workflow completes its tasks. Only once this check and review was completed and full data validation received would the form be submitted, ensuring the data processed into their systems was accurate from the outset.

5. Automated Housekeeping Workflows 

Managed File Transfer Automated Housekeeping Workflows The fifth and final standout example of workflow automation may not appear to be the most glamorous of the set – however, workflows of this type form the heart of a healthy MFT system. What type of flows am I referring to here? I am, of course, referring to the creation and implementation of automated system housekeeping flows.
Most MFT systems require housekeeping activities to be performed to ensure adherence to data retention policies, data compliance legislation and, just as importantly, to keep the used storage space on the system to a minimum. This latter point also increases in importance if you have storage receptacles that are chargeable.
MFT workflows can be set up to run on a schedule to action such tasks as removing all files older than x days or remove all files over x mb. These housekeeping flows can also be written to exclude certain folders in the data estate where such files may be legitimately held i.e., archive file areas.
The logic written into housekeeping workflows can be as complex or as simple as the business need. They too may also include the use of mapping files which save significant system maintenance time and effort for the lifetime of the system.
A significant number of system errors or outages can be triggered by not carrying our routine housekeeping on your MFT infrastructure. Our support team come up against these types of issue on a regular basis, which is why we so often encourage our clients to spend the time to set up these automated housekeeping activities. We can build these types of workflow in a few hours – but they could save your company days worth of issues, downtime and errors.
Pro2col have assisted many enterprise businesses in building bespoke workflows. We understand the needs of organisations of all sizes and work with hundreds of businesses on a daily basis. Book a call with one of our experts to discuss your particular use case and let us take care of the hard work. 



    About the Author:



Sam Fry is the Senior Technical Consultant at Pro2col. As a data and systems architect, Sam is always looking for ways to increase the accuracy and automation of data for efficiencies. 

Naturally, there’ll be both successes and failures when developing new data processes but Sam believes that each experience is valuable in facilitating continued technical and personal improvement.

Sam is a big advocate for shared learning and makes herself available to the wider team to both share her skills and also learn from them. Find out more about Sam here.