Digital Workflows: How Approval Processes Should (not) be Done

Published: March 3, 2023

Reading Time: 6 min

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What are approval workflows and where are they needed?

Approval processes are among the central procedures in all departments in the company. They should ensure that internal (compliance) rules, data protection and budgets are adhered to, and that decisions can be made on the basis of all relevant information by the authorised persons. A well-structured approval process has clearly structured responsibilities, is transparently traceable and efficiently organised.

Document-related approvals are required within and between numerous departments, including for invoices, orders, contracts, applications (e.g. HR, business trips), delivery notes, order confirmations, financial documents, offers, tickets or even letters. The individual processes and their concrete requirements are correspondingly diverse.

Common problems

Especially with a paper-based implementation of approval processes, problems occur again and again. Documents can get broken or lost on their way through different departments. Sometimes they are forgotten and there is no clarity about where the process got stuck. The manual transfer of information to Excel files or mails, for example, is error-prone and time-consuming. Work steps that are easy to automate, such as reconciliations, formal checks or calculations, are carried out manually at great resource cost. As a result of all these delays, deadlines are ultimately not met, orders are delayed, potential customers are lost or cash discount periods expire unused. In addition, the issues of sustainability and environmental protection are also playing an increasingly important role in many companies, but these can hardly be reconciled with the sometimes immense amount of paper, printing and storage. The good news is: processes can be easily digitised and the aforementioned points can thus be eliminated.


The digitalisation of approval processes brings a significant savings potential in terms of costs and time. A suitable solution automates the first comparison and checking steps even before the document enters the actual approval process. The workflow itself corresponds to the document-specific processes or company-specific logics, is multi-client capable and offers simple tools for queries and feedback loops. Multi-level approval processes enable the separation of content-related and formal approval by at least two different bodies. This means that approval is only granted after confirmation by all parties involved according to a dual control principle – an important compliance and quality management feature.

Good software supports the process with a sensible display of information, appropriate notifications, reminders for any deadlines and more. This way, the process stays on track and is not unnecessarily delayed or held up. Clear dashboards, mail approvals, mobile approvals, mass approvals and similar functions give the individual person support for a fast and timely processing of all tasks.

Workflow can also be made much more flexible, for example through location-independent and mobile working, deputy arrangements or directly integrated communication options. As a result, the processing times per document are less dependent on (the presence of) individual persons and can be significantly reduced overall.

Instead of linear manual processing of individual documents, electronic workflows can enable a significantly higher output with less effort for the employees. This is a double benefit: in addition to the savings in resource expenditure, there are also positive effects from meeting cash discount deadlines and similar important deadlines.

Further links: Examples of digital processes in the company


Purchase-to-Pay, Order-to-Cash & e-Invoicing


Electronic invoice processing and approval


Automated (travel) expense reporting

What can electronic approval workflows look like?

Step 1 Automatic recognition OCR

In order to digitise document-driven business processes, the document is first read with the help of OCR (=Optical Character Recognition) and the available information is then intelligently interpreted. AI-supported tools can be used without lengthy training and are self-optimising, so they learn more with each cycle. A large part of the documents can be read intelligently and automatically after a short time, irregular cases are marked for the user to check. The decision applied by the user is learned for the next cases. A second possibility is the processing of already digital or structured documents, which are imported e.g. by drag & drop, defined inbox or manual import.

In both cases, the relevant data is extracted from the document. Already during this extraction, the first compliance, consistency and validity checks take place. The company can define the values to be expected or the data to be compared and thus fully automate a fundamental work step. Documents can also be classified and divided into individual follow-up paths.

Automated Document Recognition


Automated Document Recognition

2. Approval Workflow

In this step, the actual approval workflow takes place with the involvement of all responsible departments. Depending on the document type and approval scenario, the relevant persons or groups of persons are automatically integrated into the workflow and informed about the pending task. Predefined rules can trigger additional modules, for example if edits to the document trigger further approvals. The process thus adapts to events until the final approval.

Documents and communication channels coincide in digital workflows, so queries and feedback can be clarified quickly and easily. With a clear history including the status quo and an outlook on the next steps, it is possible to assess at any time which phase the process is in and what needs to be done next.

An important component of digital workflows is a clear history of all individual control and decision-making steps. This not only serves the purpose of traceability and transparency for the participants: in many cases, the history must be saved as a report and archived together with the document, e.g. due to the documentation obligation towards the tax office. This should definitely be planned and integrated in a good release process.

3. Posting in the subsequent system

After the approval process, the documents are sent on in structured form to an ERP, CRM or archiving system for further processing or archiving. After setting up the necessary interfaces, this is usually possible without any problems. The entire process can thus take place without media discontinuity, i.e. purely digitally.

What distinguishes good release workflows?

Good workflows are reduced as much as possible to the relevant participants and modules. They are defined jointly, are easy to implement and adhere to, remain transparent and have the necessary flexibility that is needed at times in everyday work. Communication is focused and takes place in one place, the effort is kept as low as possible.

It must be remembered that process requirements can change over time and workflows should be continuously validated and optimised. This is the only way to ensure that processes remain efficient and optimally support the company in achieving its goals.

We would be happy to show you what a digital approval process can look like in a live demo in a personal (online) appointment. Please feel free to contact us without obligation.