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Should power users automate business processes?

Today I had a discussion with a consultant on who can or should automate processes. Would you give power users access to the tools to automate processes themselves?

Let me start with the example the consultant brought up: A large company took a look at a BPM solution and found it very easy and intuitive to use. A senior manager then stated that this would be ideal for power users, since they would be able to implement their processes themselves, without having IT to get involved. Triggered by the experiences of large scale BPM implementations that require architectural discussions before implementing processes, the consultant pushed back on this idea.

I have heard this many times and I believe there are many projects in the IT space that failed due to a lack of experience and knowledge. But isn’t this a great place to start? Why don’t we make sure experience and knowledge becomes part of every implementation and empower people to develop processes themselves?   Children lose confidence in themselves when parents do or arrange everything for them. They miss out on experience and confidence that they can accomplish tasks themselves. Just like overprotective parents harm their child’s development, we limit business people’s capability to solve their problems and limit the competitiveness of the company.

Therefore the question is not whether power users should be able to implement processes themselves, but what we need to provide them with so every project they start becomes a success. This starts with training but continues with knowledge transfer, project support and recommendations for best practices implementation. BPM is the first technology that allows business to build their applications themselves. Empower them to be successful and force vendors to make BPM as easy as possible!

Other thoughts?

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Pragmatic Business Process Management in Human Resources

Having spoken so much about what Pragmatic Business Process Management is and what benefits it provides, it is time to turn to real world examples to understand the implications that this BPM approach has on companies.

The first example is of a company that was in search for a Regional Manager for their operations in the Middle East. So far they had businesses in the western countries as well as in Asia. Filling similar positions in other regions went without problems, but when posting the job offer for Dubai on Monster, more than 400 applications poured in just within the first two days, the operations couldn’t cope. Quickly the new hire process was automated, which allowed automatic replies on application entry, distributed reviews for application processing and automatic answers for inadequate applications and interview scheduling. The process remained in place after the position was filled and cut time and resources for all consecutive job applications.

This is a perfect example of how a company was capable of dynamically reacting to unexpected circumstances. Even though this situation might seem unique, think about the following: Consider you have to hire new people constantly and your staff is spending more time writing rejection letters than working on tasks for new or existing employees. Applicants are calling in all the time for inquiries on the status of their applications, why they haven’t heard anything yet, or even if their application arrived. Setting up a process can take up as little as two days to have the process automated – from application entry, automatic confirmation, evaluation and automatic rejection. No integration necessary, implementation without coding and with the ability to change routes, recipients, rules, etc. within minutes. The HR team can now focus on the important tasks of selecting the right applicants, scheduling interviews or even setting up new employees in the company. While the process obviously doesn’t cover the whole application process nor all options possible, it provides tremendous value and can be extended at any time. Do does this sound more familiar?

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Advantages of Business Process Automation

April 8th, 2010 | 3 Comments | Posted in business process automation

Before looking at the benefit of pragmatic BPM, let’s make sure we are all on the same page for process automation.

Most everyone has done process discovery and definition at some stage in their professional career; when handling an unexpected situation or defining a procedure. Business Process Modeling organizes these activities in a structured approach to systematically discover, document, analyze and optimize business processes to improve operational efficiency.

When restructuring processes, companies transform the way of doing business, save money and time by streamlining business processes and increase quality of operations and products.

In some areas modeling and analysis is sufficient, but companies increasingly go beyond this stage and implement process automation software to reach a new level of performance or solve process immanent problems that can not be controlled in manual processes.

Let’s look at the challenges of manual process flow and examples of customers who have used process automation software to increase competitive advantage.

Shorter cycle times

Modeling allows companies to define and streamline business processes, by eliminating unnecessary tasks, realigning steps and optimizing information flow. While this typically shortens cycle times tremendously, the improvements often aren’t sufficient to reach a defendable competitive advantage.

A midsize manufacturer for electronic components and security solutions who specialized in mass customization had a custom quote process in place that would take three weeks from the initial inquiry to providing the client with a formal quote. At the same time competitors were able to deliver the quote within one week. The company not only wanted to improve their process to at least that level, but also wanted to beat the other players in respect to response time to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. While manual process execution would have limited them to an average response time of one week, they cut it down to only three days in average and thereby manage to permanently outpace their competition.

Manual processes have a natural limitation to how fast they can flow. With process automation, tasks can be executed in parallel, are instantly transferred to the next step on completion and allow for notifications and escalations when deadlines are reached. If your company needs to break through manual process limitations or your employees have difficulties keeping up with the workload, you should consider supporting them with process automation software.

Reduce workload

Application software today provides tremendous value that we wouldn’t want to miss any more – from simple spell checking to data analysis or extensive calculations. In manual processes, people conduct steps and tasks that could just as well be handled by process automation software, just like application software helps us get work done faster.

A Swiss investment bank creates monthly reports for their institutional clients on the performance of their portfolio. While application software allowed them to copy and paste information into the reports and thereby save a lot of time, they were looking into ways to automate the creation of the reports without risking the validity of their content. With process automation, they were able to automate the whole process cutting report creation time down from six and a half hours per report to only 30 minutes in which they did quality assurance. The information is gathered from other systems and reports are automatically generated. These are then routed to the appropriate people for quality assurance. The software then takes over again, creates PDFs and automatically sends them on to the clients.

Manual processes are limited to the ability of application software to help employees get the work done. Process automation frees up employees from work that can be handled more efficiently by systems so they can focus on growing the business.

Measure work

Companies are investing heavily in the area of Business Intelligence to generate data that is required to make smart decisions based on business data. While data can be extracted from applications, manual process flow can’t be measured automatically and therefore companies are still driving their businesses purely based on common sense, experience and guts feeling in this area.

A travel and service company knew it had to guarantee a high level of customer satisfaction to maintain their competitive edge. They set up service level agreements so that customer complaints would be resolved within a week for 60% of the cases and within 2 weeks for close to 100%. While standard business intelligence would only have been capable of checking their performance against the goals, business process automation allows the company to monitor and control the complaint process, adjust parameters and analyze the data to identify bottlenecks and opportunity gaps. This empowers the company to further tighten service level agreements and therefore remain competitive.

By implementing process automation, process data is collected automatically and is available for monitoring and analysis. This data helps you make profound decisions and provides you with early indications about process deviations within your operation.

Eliminate Human Errors

Even the best manual process does not prevent people from making mistakes. There are infinite possibilities of what can go wrong. Increasing workload certainly is a key driver of human error causing a lot of rework and frustration and imposing risk on the company. Systems can help prevent human errors on data entry through plausibility checks and are designed to perform the same tasks over and over again with the same high quality result, which is a key advantage of process automation.

A large manufacturer for printing machines automated a process that originally required people to send faxes to various locations, type the information into various systems and at the end to manually compile the information to create a quote for the customer. At every step the company risked to lose information or transfer information incorrectly. Process automation provides process participants with computer aided data entry. The software checks for logical errors and passes the information on automatically to the other systems so human error could be dramatically reduced. As a result the company improved customer satisfaction leading to a 40% increase in order entry.

Quality is a key differentiator in many markets since customer satisfaction is closely interrelated with it. Since there are ways to provide high quality, error free results it has become an imperative for companies to automate business processes with business process management software.

Compliance

While many discussions around compliance today focus on rules and regulations imposed on companies, implementation actually is the more challenging part – similarly to business processes: How do you make sure people follow the rules instead of simply defining responsibility in case something goes wrong?

A large automotive supplier had a paper based process in place that required every employee to gain approval for their purchase and expense requests from their manager. While every employee knew the process, they were very creative in finding weaknesses of the process, by bypassing the manager’s signature or get it when he was passing on a way to a meeting etc. Their finance director searched of a solution that would require the employee to use the available forms and the manager to sign the requests when he was at his desk. Within weeks of implementation, purchase expenses for office goods dropped by 20% while staff productivity remained at a high level.

Efficient processes can only deliver the anticipated results, if employees comply with the defined process flow and task handling. Business process management software ensures that rules are followed, defined steps are taken and processes become transparent.

This was a long post, but I didn’t want to split it up. We will turn to the pragmatic BPM benefits the next time.

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