How to streamline and automate processes and workflows in your company

Mateusz Tajak

Many companies have implemented an electronic document workflow without proper thought. That is why we can find even today companies which struggle with outlandish and intricate processes executed in an even more outlandish way. This is the upshot of the digitisation boom moved into full swing several years ago.

Back then, the original idea for making improvements in the back office was: “Lets implement an electronic workflow.”

In most cases, this was a great move. Often, too, a lack of awareness meant that the company and its processes had to adapt to the workflow system, when in fact it should have been the other way around.

As a result, there are quite a few companies that have an electronic workflow system in place, but their processes are far from streamlined.

Why automate processes and workflows in your company?

IT systems should by definition play a specific role. This is also the case with document circulation systems, which can serve multiple purposes, such as:

  • Streamlining the document workflow processes
  • Eliminating human error from the document flow process
  • Ensuring control over the document circulation processes
  • Error reduction
  • Central repository for documents
  • Putting in order messy and unstructured processes.

So, before we start an automation or digitisation project, it is a good idea to ask ourselves: what is our primary objective and what makes us even consider this type of solution? Already at this stage, we would do well to know more or less which processes we would like to digitise/automate.

Steps to success in automating workflows and processes in your company

When we have decided to automate business processes and workflows, and we know what goals the automation is supposed to achieve, we can put together a road map for our project.

To do this, several areas need to be thoroughly considered:

  1. Create business process and workflow maps.
  2. Identify processes and workflows for digitisation.
  3. Define the requirements for digitisation and automation software for your business needs (Business Process Automation Platform, Business Process Management Platform)
  4. Select software to support process automation according to predefined requirements.
  5. Define KPIs to gauge the achievement of predefined digitisation milestones
  6. Start implementing a pilot business process or workflow
  7. Implement, monitor and improve further business processes

Let us elaborate on these points a little bit.

1. Create business processes and workflows maps

In order to automate processes and workflows in a company well, we must first of all understand them well. Being at this point, we already have an initial vision of the processes and workflows that we want to automate or digitise. So, it is important to begin by elaborating on these processes a little more.

Business process mapping helps with this. This is a task in which business people (and not necessarily engineers) are able to visually represent how business processes work. There are many ways to achieve this. From textual description, to graphical visualisation, to sophisticated tools to help identify and visualise.

One of the more popular ways of mapping and visualising all kinds of processes and workflows is BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation). It allows you to clearly show how even a very complex process runs.

Below is a sample BPMN diagram showing the sales approval and credit limit verification process.

Business Process flow example

You can read a little more about this in our other post available here: Business Process Management – how can we do it effectively?

This step is extremely important because it will influence our actions further down the road. That is why it’s a good idea to put in a little bit of elbow grease here. We need to start by ensuring that the person assigned to deal with this issue within the organisation has a comprehensive understanding of and an analytical approach to how processes work and interface with each other. You can also use a consulting company, which will help to identify and map processes and circuits to reflect your predetermined goals and assumptions.

2. Identify workflows and processes for digitisation

If we have correctly completed the steps in the first point, we have in place process descriptions and maps. Now, we should consider which of the processes will be the best candidates for pilot digitisation/automation.

Why is this important? Because making changes to the way processes are executed in an organisation is quite a challenge. Not so much from a technological point of view, but from a human one. It is important to remember that the human brain does not like change and the vast majority of people who will be affected by change will simply oppose it.

This goes to show that the digitisation of business processes is also a process. And in order to succeed in the field of digitisation and process automation in a company, it must be an evolution, not a revolution.

So what makes a good candidate for a process for pilot automation?

  • It should have visible outcomes – some business processes have to happen, but we don’t really see any organisation-wide effects. Therefore, we should pick processes whose results are clearly visible.
  • The process should have a simple flow and few exceptions – this will help to quickly demonstrate the benefits and ease of implementation. As a result, it will be easier to implement change in more complex processes.
  • The process should reflect and show progress towards the objectives we set ourselves before implementing automation and digitisation.

3. Define the requirements for digitisation and automation software for your business needs.

If we have defined and mapped the processes and chosen a pilot process, we need to move to the IT side and decide what software or set of applications will support us in digitising and automating our business processes.

In order to decide this, it is worth defining your requirements in relation to this type of platform. The problem is that these requirements can be very numerous, and some of them may even be unknown. Often we would like to grab everything we can get our hands on, but this only adds to the cost.

There are many ways to define requirements. One of them is the MoSCoW approach (not to be confused with the capital of Russia 🙂) where we divide requirements into 4 categories:

https://mlodyhandlowiec.pl/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/moscow-1024x512.jpeg

Explanation:

  • Must have – the solution must have a specific functionality, as it is crucial for the successful implementation of digitisation and automation of predefined processes. Example: we use ERP SAP in our company, so the solution must have the ability to integrate with SAP. If a solution does not have this functionality, we do not consider it.
  • Should have – the solution should have the functionality, but it is not needed at the moment. In other words, we will not need the functionality at the moment, but we need to be able to add it in the future. Example: in the future we plan to implement an OCR system for automatic text recognition. Therefore, the solution under consideration should have a module available for purchase or should integrate with one of the OCR platforms.
  • Could have – it would be good if the solution had the functionality, but it is not critical. Example: we have an idea for a mobile application for employee self-service in the future, but it is not critical to the digitisation goals. Therefore, it would be good if the solution had this functionality, but we can drop it
  • Won't have – these are the least important requirements, which we can easily drop, because they contribute little real value. Example: the solution offers the possibility of electronic signature, but if we have already implemented such a system in our company, this functionality is not important for us at all.

4. Select software to support process automation according to predefined requirements.

There are a huge number of business process automation platforms on the market. Below is a link to the G2.com website showing a global ranking of such systems: Best Process Automation Software.

As we focus on platforms for business process automation and electronic document workflow, in addition to the requirements specified earlier, we should also consider the fact that such a platform:

  • Should make it possible to map internal processes using, for example, a lowcode approach,
  • Should have a user-friendly, block-based graphical interface for creating and managing processes,
  • Should have extensive integration capabilities with internal systems as well as with other process automation tools like RPA.

Examples of workflow platforms for managing, automating and digitising business processes: Nintex, Microsoft Power Automate, PMG. If you are wondering which platform would be best for your business, you can use a 30-minute free-of-charge consultation meeting to help you decide in which direction to go. You can make an appointment for a consultation HERE.

5. Define KPIs to gauge the achievement of predefined digitisation milestones.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are measures that assess whether digitised and automated processes meet predefined objectives. In other words, they tell us whether our automations achieve anything. This is a very individual matter, but below are some examples of indicators that you can look at.

  • The time of a single process cycle or the time needed for a document to complete its approval process
  • Number of errors compared to all tasks carried out
  • Cost of process implementation

You should keep in mind that processes are a bit like an iceberg. Most of their costs and benefits are difficult to calculate and point out at the outset, because they are hidden or invisible just like the underwater part of an iceberg.

Iceberg

6. Start implementing a pilot business process or workflow.

When we have defined all the previous requirements, we can move on to running the first processes. Usually, the first automated or digitised process is called a pilot, or PoC (Proof-of-Concept). This means nothing more than a kind of verification of our initial assumptions.

For example, if we assumed that implementing an electronic process for the circulation and approval of cost invoices will speed up the process by half, a pilot implementation will allow us to test whether this is the case and whether any challenges arise along the way that we didn’t anticipate. Through testing, we can also refine the assumptions that can further streamline the process.

Therefore, processes should each time be run on a test basis. At this stage, the test run should not affect business operations, but those responsible for its implementation should be aware that they are testing the process and can have a real impact on its final shape and effectiveness.

After successful testing, we can transfer the process or information flow to production, i.e. start basing operations on the new system.

7. Implement, monitor and improve.

As I wrote earlier, implementing automation and digitisation of processes and workflows in a company is also a process. If we are serious about digital transformation, this topic needs to be continually addressed, as we try to find processes to automate and improve those already automated.

It is a good idea to build a company culture around the digitisation of processes and their systematic improvement over time. In modern companies, teams are being put together to address the development of automation and its associated culture. These teams are called CoE, or Center of Excellence.

Summary - How to streamline and automate processes and workflows in your company.

The focus on digitisation and automation of processes in today’s world can be a future competitive advantage. On the other hand, the efficiency and effectiveness of digital transformation implementation largely depends on the plan and strategy.

Many of these areas cannot be outsourced. Sometimes a strong commitment is needed, even by several people working together in a functional structure.

There are also areas, especially technical ones, where you can confidently use external resources to support your in-house team. Then, we should look for partners who take a broad view of the process automation aspect and combine both process and technological knowledge.

If you are wondering how to start or improve the implementation of automation and digitisation of processes and document flow in your company, you can benefit from a free consultation. This is a free-of-charge consultation where you will get tips on what to focus on first.

You can make your consultation appointment HERE.