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Workflow Automation; Why do it yourself when a program can do it for you?

Do you think twice when you get an automatic SMS notification because your prescription is ready? (Neither do I.) This seamless experience is driven by “workflow automation”, a key feature that OpenFn provides. The OpenFn Integration Toolkit is a Digital Public Good (DPG) used by governments and NGOs to boost efficiency through workflow automation. The automation that OpenFn provides includes automatically sending SMSs, automating stock updates across supply chain systems, tracking clinical visits, and helping plan vaccine rollouts. We support our partners’ work by lifting the burden of manual data transfers between platforms.

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This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn article from Open Function Group.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is an approach to making the flow of tasks across platforms run independently. A prescription SMS notification feels seamless, but it probably requires complex automation across multiple systems like clinical registries, pharmacy stock databases, and SMS gateways. Tools like OpenFn run “behind the scenes” to perform calculations and transfer relevant data to/from different systems autonomously, minimising the risk of human error and ultimately saving time and money that an agency would spend on manual data transfers. The goal is to preserve data integrity, uphold data security, and enforce compliance with policies and data standards.

Since 2014, OpenFn has been at the forefront of workflow automation in the social sector, providing a platform to help governments and NGOs focus on the human aspect of their work rather than wasting time trying to exchange data between systems or perform calculations manually.

MyAgro

MyAgro, an NGO helping West African farmers increase their yield, uses OpenFn to power its SMS-based savings deposit system for small-scale farmers. MyAgro distributes and tracks saving vouchers using the CommCare app. Smallholder farmers purchase pre-paid myAgro saving scratch cards and text the one-time code to secure the voucher credit in their account. Once the amount has been added to their balance, a confirmation notification is sent to the farmer. MyAgro works with the farmers to reach their savings goal, which they then use to pay for seeds, fertilisers, and training courses. OpenFn:

  1. Syncs voucher codes from CommCare to Salesforce so the relevant offices can track who purchased the saving vouchers.
  2. Matches incoming SMSs against the database of vouchers to deposit correct funds into the individual account.
  3. Allocates savings to farmers’ accounts in Salesforce and updates the account status.
  4. Sends a confirmation SMS with updated account balances to farmers, so they are aware of their credit.

OpenFn helps myAgro reach more farmers with less administrative overhead by automating these key steps. MyAgro calculated that even at their 2014 levels of scale, OpenFn saved them 260+ hours per year and increased customer confidence as they worked to serve poor farmers.

Sinapis

Sinapis, an NGO that empowers entrepreneurs through training courses, uses OpenFn to automate its payment collection process. Every time a client’s new M-Pesa payment is registered in Kopo Kopo, OpenFn:

  1. Automatically matches incoming payments with existing Sinapis accounts.
  2. Logs new payments and updated payment status in Salesforce to track entrepreneurs’ charges.
  3. Updates account balances to help staff monitor outstanding balances and overdue fees.

With OpenFn handling the routine data processing, Sinapis has more time to support its entrepreneurs. Precious staff time can be spent delivering training, the essential face-to-face coaching that transforms their clients’ fledgling enterprises. Their team does not have to worry about the accuracy of payments and account balances; the OpenFn implementation replaces error-prone manual data entry with a systematised, intelligible, fully automated process.

DIAL

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), an organisation that works to overcome digital development barriers, wanted to prototype a “building-blocks based approach” for their upcoming GovStack.global project. They configured an HR workflow solution that connects mobile data collection apps, databases, and payment apps using OpenFn. Every time an organisation registers new workers via ODK Collect, OpenFn:

  1. Automatically registers new employees in an iHRIS database to oversee all new hires.
  2. Makes payments to workers via Mifos, ensuring all wage transfers are direct.

While it’s not in use at scale, this prototype is a powerful illustration of how automation enables scalable, component-based solutions to become more than the sum of their parts. The processes that DIAL implement with OpenFn help unlock the true potential of these powerful underlying DPGs.

What’s the big picture here?

OpenFn’s goal is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the social sector. Why should health and humanitarian organisations waste precious resources manually moving data across systems when workflow automation can do it more safely and quickly? We want to ensure employees focus on using data to do their work, not transferring data between systems and running rote calculations.

Saving organisations time and money is part of the picture, but we also deliver better program outcomes through efficiency and effectiveness. Suppose OpenFn securely automates the complex digital processes critical health and humanitarian interventions require. Reducing error rates and security vulnerabilities and getting higher quality data into the hands of a doctor faster actually saves lives. Responsible automation leads to better health and humanitarian outcomes, enabling larger-scale intervention delivery via efficiency gains and improving service quality by getting accurate data into the hands of patients, clinicians, and policymakers when they need it.

Call to Action

Think about your own experiences; have you found yourself in a situation where manual data processing—some rote, mindless task—has gotten in the way of doing the more exciting parts of your job? Whether you are in the health and humanitarian space or just want to make your life easier, OpenFn is here for you. Our open-source toolkit is available for everyone to automate tasks such as sending SMS and email notifications or automating data cleaning and formatting for faster reporting.

Head to docs.openfn.org to learn more about enterprise-grade automations with our DPG and check out community.openfn.org to connect and collaborate with like-minded social-sector integrators and OpenFn staff. We hope to see you soon!

About Open Function Group

Open Function Group (OFG) is a global team of integration specialists and developers of the OpenFn Integration Toolkit. As a DPG, OpenFn’s core technology is free and open-source. If you want more information about the Toolkit or to sign up for a free plan on our associated SaaS application, visit https://www.openfn.org/.