Why Use Process Digitalization?
Business Process Optimization
I have been involved with process for my whole career, from within manufacturing operations to an executive level with multiple business functions reporting to me.
I was always frustrated that even when documented and displayed on a flow chart, business processes were often seen by the task participants as difficult to understand, fractured. Especially when they crossed functional boundaries. Processes did not always seem, to these people, to make sense, or at least seemed incoherent.
Flow charts are an excellent visual aid for mapping and having an overview of a process. But unless enhanced, they do not capture all the actual elements that enable processes. That is, all the supplementary participants, or when an individual's task is completed, and how this triggers the start of the next one in the process.
Viewing the information built up within an instance of a process, or how it was passed to next people/tasks is often, at best, difficult. A coherent, aggregated view of this accumulated business information should be easily available to view (often it is not).
In business, our processes are contained within both systems and manual tasks. Manual input to forms or systems, is not going away anytime soon. Systems help to automate many tasks, but they need people’s input first, and often after.
Peoples interaction within our business processes is a vital aspect of the success of any process, and thus the overall business.
For example: When a person joins a company, or transfers to a different role within one, there is often a steep learning curve to understand what is needed, by whom or system, in what order and when.
This learning is expensive for any business. Poor or confusing process is not only expensive, it also causes discontent and frustration for employees. This will contribute to a higher employee turnover.
Poor processes or process definition are also inefficient and difficult to manage, both from a business task perspective and an employee one.
If the business requires external certification involving its business process, e.g., ISOxxxx, the business processes must be documented, and proof must be available it is being followed as defined.
This is usually tough ask, resulting in a spike of workload. The root cause of this is usually because process related investments may be essential but are usually a low priority.
I saw these symptoms firsthand. Particularly when setting up, from scratch, a high-tech operation in South East Asia. Understanding your processes is the first step. Everything around implementation is just as important. That is why I became so interested in workflow solutions.
Historically, such solutions have been difficult to implement, restrictive and expensive.
But technology continues to improve, especially in the software environment. In the last few years, I became aware of software technologies that had the potential to help with these business process problems. So, I asked myself, ‘what would I want from these to make them a workable proposition’?
The need was for an easy-to-use business process workflow solution, that could act as a ‘wrapper’ that could hold all the disparate tasks and information for any type of business process. This would need to be an aid to the process participants, one they would, by hands on experience, understand to be a practical solution.
What would we need from a workflow system that cures these problems, not adds to them? Could the technologies I was looking at provide this? It turned out to be an iterative process of discovery.
Workflow Management System: Specification
- The Workflow solution must be acceptable as a formal business process within any Company and have a low cost of ownership – process will not attract big investment.
- Must be scalable: From Department to Corporate level.
- The ability to enable Agile, iterative workflow development and implementations
- Workflow processes that can be created to include differing participation and access by roles or specific people. This to give maximum flexibility, required levels of confidentiality and security
- Workflow Process versioning control and updates are not disruptive to the current ‘active’ workflow instances or their participants
- A dedicated workflow home page for each of the process participants.
- Enable easy remote access using a mobile device - notebook computer, tablet, or smartphone, for remote working, including travel (Web browser based)
- An individual logs-on to the Workflow System from within their normal company IT environment (Overall Security and workflow participation rights)
- Each Workflow log-in, within a participant's browser, is dedicated to one individual (participation traceability)
- A list of new and unfinished tasks will be automatically presented in a Task Console; the task equivalent of an email inbox, in a browser, which is a universally understood concept
- A task required to be worked on is presented in the Task Console list, to the ‘specific person’ or ‘specified role - collection of people’ participating
- Tasks only appear in the console that are distributed by the workflow system to the person, or to each of the people within the specified ‘role/group of people’ who are logged-in
- Ability to reassign a task to another person with the same workflow role accreditation (absence cover)
- Once a ‘role’ assigned Task is started by a person, they then own that task to completion. If that cannot be achieved, it may be reassigned by a person authorized to do so
- All interactions for tasks within a workflow are recorded in a Database (reporting and audit ability)
- Time sensitive tasks to have automated reminders and/or escalation ability
- Smart forms available to replace manual/paper forms
- Completed input is available within any of the workflow tasks, usually smart forms/uploaded Office Documents, that are available to review in real time
- Input to the process, smart forms and attached Office Documents, plus the complete process history, is available after the process has completed. That is, audit information and process metrics are easily accessible
- Workflow can handle different types of tasks, within two main categories
- Those used by people within the process
- Those that are automated tasks to enable the workflow product and the business process
- Automated tasks are not normally visible within status, graphics, or reports, but should be easily available to those with authorization (essential for debugging)
- A record of all information entered previously within the workflow to be attached to each workflow instance. This will then be available to those participants with authorized access to that specific information
- The following information must be accessible from the Task Console for those participating:
- Process Instance Details: Process and Task name, all information entered to date, a table with the details of each completed task (history) and current workflow status.
- The person who started the process must always have easy access to an individual process instance status and information contained within it. This for both when the process is ‘active’ (live) and when it has been ‘completed’ (archived)
For a workflow manager that is presented to participants within a browser, smart webforms are an important part of the solution.
They will act as the primary information input method within the workflow system.
Therefore, their ability must match the following.
- By Role, the ability to create, edit or view any form must be controllable.
- The ability to view a form may be controlled down to individual field level. For example: A person's roles may have authorization to enable viewing a specific form, but may have certain input fields within it excluded from view (not authorized to view) e.g., due to confidentiality level.
A Workflow may be started by completing a specific form.
Each of these process specific forms are only available to people with a matching specific Role, as recorded in the workflow database
- Required to have multiple types of input fields to cover all business requirements
- All fields have titles, but should also have help text, as required
- Fields must have the ability to be chosen as mandatory input
- Fields can have conditional rules, as required. For example, hidden or visible - dependent on the choice/value of other fields.
- Fields that can check for valid input (alpha/numeric/string length etc.)
- Aggregated fields. For example: Person/Address (Name, Street, Town/City, Post Code...)
- Fields that can have a computed value
- Input fields as Tables
Having worked out what I wanted, I looked for a solution. When I could not find one that was affordable, I built it myself!
It is now available from my company, Intelligent Actions, who supply a low cost and flexible product and for process mapping I recommend Skore.
Director: Process Consultancy and Automation