5 Ideas To Help You Automate

Tyrone Coupland
Sep 16, 2022 10:28:51 AM

Business Process Automation can make a significant difference to routine work. It can help achieve faster turn-around times, reduce human effort, improve the quality of the process, provide quantifiable data to make informed decisions and allow people to add the human element - the thinking and consideration part of the process - without getting bogged down in the mechanics of the process.

So I've just provided 5 good reasons to automate a process. Let's look at 5 tips to help design a workflow.

  1. Begin with the end in mind
    It doesn't hurt to think about the required result and work backwards. This means defining the reason for automating and doing a sense check to make sure the value is there. Describe the benefits. Did they mention better reporting? Well, think about what needs to happen to make the reporting better.
  2. Map the journey
    Yes, a process map (aka flowchart) is essential. On a whiteboard, in Visio, or even on a napkin. Getting the process steps down and thinking about the potential paths is essential. Your map will start to consider those branching decision points: one approver, or three? An outright rejection, or a loop to Legal for review? Over $100K versus less than 100K? Are parts in stock, or need to be ordered? You may need to map the current process and then consider where you want to tweak it, if you are moving from paper to electronic, for example.  
  3. Identify the actors, system actions, and reviewers/approvers
    Speaking of visual process maps, your friendly BA can introduce you to other visual techniques, such as Swim Lane diagrams. These are great for seeing who is doing what and where the handoff happens. All workflows will generally have these kinds of participants: Actors (people doing something), Systems (computers doing something), and Reviewers/Approvers (someone checking the work and then approving the work - or, splitting those roles depending upon the importance of separating out such tasks for quality and oversight).
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  4. Collect only the data you need
    Ok, so you know the steps you need to go through, and you know who or what needs to do them. Now, what information do they need to do this? Workflows are generally initiated by receiving a request of some sort. This can be in the form of an incoming document, like an application or an invoice, or from a phone call or an email. Consider if you need a form filled out - are you repeating the information? Do you need extra information to help set up accurate reporting and appropriate monitoring of the process? Look at those reports you identified in point 1. Where does that data come from? If you want to know how long each process takes, then you need a start date and an end date. You need to decide if you want to calculate the difference in days or in business days. If you want to know how many requests come from the website, or the service desk, then you need that captured. In designing forms think specifically about (a) what data pre-populates the form, what data is auto-calculated, and what data is manually entered. If manually entered, is there a pick list of values or is it free form? Does the dollar value only valid numbers, or can people type in anything?  (b) What actions are possible on the form? For example, print, save and continue, save and return to the form later (maybe because not all information was provided, so you need to pause and request this), send for review, send for approval (c) what, of those actions can the system actually figure out automatically, so the user doesn't have to?
  5. Start small and extend and enhance over time
    Finally, looking at your complete process and the work ahead, realize you can implement and automate discrete parts of the process, without having to get everything down pat up front. This gives you time to reflect and tune the process and to ensure you don't over-automate to the point the process is so inflexible, that people work outside of the system. If it isn't making things quicker and easier for people, you have got it wrong. I have observed many a process that, in reality, works differently from the stated policy guide. Success is when the policy is achieved by refactoring the process in a way that helps users work with reality. for example, one workflow process had to do with handling Parliamentary Questions asked of a Minister and sent to the agency for response. Answers often needed to be turned around within minutes, so we designed the process to get the response done first, and then the logging of the event second. However, the workflow process was successful because we could get the machine to read the document and pull out the random number of questions and log them all with their respective categories to ensure the reporting by topic was accurate, as was the number of questions dealt with.

Modern content management systems have workflow tools built in or easily connected. At TEAM IM, we work with products from Oracle, M-Files, and Microsoft. We have all the powerful automation capabilities on tap that can take your content management to another level. We also receive many heartfelt thanks from users where the repetitive aspects of their work are reduced, leaving them more time to focus on providing the human-critical thinking elements of the process.

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