Taking the next steps to digital transformation – model & improve your organization’s processes
The phrase “digital transformation” is one that could be described as misleading, in many cases. Creating new ways of working which utilize technology is often not a case of changing the technology in the workplace (although bringing in new software & systems is usually part of the process), but rather one of getting personnel to use technology in new ways, or indeed for the first time, in some cases.
Digital transformation therefore may be started by simply ensuring staff use email properly, or perhaps begin using messaging platforms instead of written memos. In Finance departments, paper-based systems such as purchase orders or invoices may be replaced by digital versions. Or in Sales, sales-tracking CRMs present new & efficient ways of working, quite different from Excel sheets or physical rolodexes of contacts.
Stage two of digital transformation is often the joining-up of the disparate technological elements comprising any organization’s processes. At the very basic level, automating systems can be achieved by a series of simple logic-driven, boolean steps. This sounds complex, but it isn’t.
At this kind of level, there are several tools on the market suitable for this low-level automation. Perhaps the most well-known is the aptly titled If This Then That, or IFTTT. Although it is not suitable in the enterprise for all but the most trivial of tasks, its syntax serves our purpose here:
(IF I receive an email from person A, AND it has an attachment) THEN save the attachment to SharePoint directory B
Clearly most organizations of any size will have much more complex workflows with greater numbers of steps, decision points, and multiple outcomes. It’s at this stage that businesses begin to look for more capable business process management and automation systems – several of which we examine; see below.
But before any meaningful automation can take place, organizations need to create working maps of their processes as they currently exist – whether or not said processes are efficient or desirable in the long term. Business process modeling software creates simple yet powerful virtual models of processes. As individual tasks or separate “pieces” of work travel through the business, they will involve people and interactions (defined by roles – customer, service user, IT personnel, HR staff etc.), systems (such as enterprise software), and be subject to tests, decisions, and possible multiple sub-processes.
Creating models of these sometimes-complex flows has its own challenges, but is essential for the next step of the digital transformation project; that of workflow automation. Business process management has several competing syntaxes, some widely used, other proprietary to the modeling software.
The staff tasked with modeling an organization’s processes are often not highly technical, and so the most effective tools in this area use graphical interfaces to represent each element involved in a step-wise business process.
Models of this type, while highly effective, can – with the right software solution (see below) – also act as the virtual framework from which the different systems interconnect. A virtual representation of a SQL database can actually connect to the “real life” database, and have its information flow through to the model’s other elements.
Automated systems (sometimes referred to as robots or robotic processes) take the menial, repetitive (and therefore mistake-prone) tasks away from humans to be completed by software systems. Such systems are capable of drawing together often disparate systems (databases, data repositories, web forms, user inputs, and so forth) and removing the need for human intervention.
Something as seemingly simple such as staff leave requests may in practice be highly complex procedures involving multiple layers of approval and associated actions. An automated system can pull individual records from databases, create push notifications to an approver (or approvers), alter project schedules and act as a resource monitor for the whole process.
The final element of an efficient, cost-saving automated workflow management system is touched upon in the example above – that of the garnering of business intelligence of the processes’ efficiency and utilization.
By tracking workflows and resources utilized as tasks move through the organization, management and supervisors can see where there are bottlenecks, resource over- or under-utilization, and where systems can be streamlined or otherwise improved.
Any digital transformation project is something of a journey, beginning with the examination of existing processes. Second comes the deployment of technology to replace manual systems. After that, automation can remove a great deal of manual labor – and therefore cost – and drive efficiencies, ensuring better outcomes. Finally, those processes can be further refined as an on-going drive for improvement, by examining the data drawn via monitoring the systems and the way they are employed, on a second-by-second basis.
To begin the business transformation journey’s next stages, we at Tech HQ have chosen four suppliers of solutions that we think have the aptitude to create impactful results for your organization.
FireStart’s powerful BPM Suite can be deployed in a variety of topologies, including in hybrid clouds and in-house, on bare-metal. The company’s offerings produce non-proprietary BPMN data, which reflects the company’s overall ethos of becoming an integral, driving element of existing systems and technologies.
The various elements of the enterprise’s existing technological base can be represented quickly and easily in the Suite’s modeling applications, plus the virtualized model instances can then be used as connectors to the systems they represent.
In this manner, there is no disconnect between modeling, planning and deployment of automated systems.
Additionally, the same interface syntax is used to constantly monitor system use and efficiencies going forward in the Business Process Intelligence Toolkit. Business process change initiatives can prove their worth via custom reports (or use the in-built templates), and the live monitoring facilities allow key performance indicator data observation in real-time.
FireStart’s solution can draw powerful business intelligence for process managers and IT staff alike – this is a business-centric solution which can model, and thereby automate and improve even the most complex of processes, sub-processes and decision instances. The solution’s Condition Editor captures complex rulesets, and the Form Wizard allows the creation of powerful forms which play an intrinsic part in driving work forwards.
To read more in detail about FireStart’s offering, click here.
The no-code underpinnings of FlowForma’s solutions was recognized as a key selling point by Forrester, who praised the company for its easy to use digital interface.
The company notes that some providers of BPM (business process management) software have offerings which struggle to encompass automation systems in addition. Often these are seen-as bolt-ons to pure BPM systems. FlowForma’s solutions are founded in no-code (or low-code) and it’s the easy take-up of its solutions that enthuse many of the company’s customers.
FlowForma relies on Microsoft SharePoint 2010 or later in-house and can run as an Office 365 app, or alternatively on Azure. This firm focus on the Windows stable of products is no bad thing, as the OS & solutions represent a good swathe of the enterprise installation base. The company is, of course, a Microsoft Gold Partner.
Companies looking to maximize their return on investment in a SharePoint system will look to FlowForma as its award-winning user interface makes a SharePoint deployment for non-technical (or indeed, uninterested) users a breeze.
The company boasts a user base of over 150,000 worldwide, and the collaborative solutions on offer allow companies of all sizes to automate repetitive or technically-complex tasks more quickly & efficiently.
Pakistan-based AXPulse are primarily a consulting company which helps its customers who want to make full use from their Microsoft Dynamics installations. Many Dynamic instances require a degree of customization for individual companies which simply can’t be handled natively in the Microsoft product itself.
Dynamics’ modular nature means it is suitable for most verticals, but specifics clearly cannot be catered for in every single instance. Sales operations, manufacturing, traditional heavy industries and the service sector each have their own particular requirements (that’s not to say foibles!) and even those departments or divisions such as HR which rely heavily on manual processes can benefit from automation.
Power BI is a suite of analytics tools which can help drive change in any organization, connecting with AXPulse’s expertise providing bespoke add-ons and extensions to enable a full return on the initial investment. The Dynamic Retailer Dashboard, for example, lets retail operations have an oversight and deep analytics into all the retail channels of an individual organization.
The company is a Microsoft PowerApps partner, which enables it to build business applications for many different areas of business, such as production, resource management, financial services (loans & mortgages) and even supply chain management.
K2’s solutions are all about getting people outside the IT department to use technology to do their jobs more efficiently and with more accurate, cost-conscious results. K2 software is available as a service in the cloud, or can be installed in-house, thus keeping valuable business assets safely within the enterprise’s secure network.
The company’s solutions help compliance efforts, with its comprehensive security and governance features, which cater for different geographies across the globe.
Another no-code workflow mapping solution, K2’s offerings then extend the same paradigm into automation, connecting graphically-represented instances of systems and applications with the actual back-end systems via a point and click interface.
This level of automation means that no difficult API configuration is usually necessary (unless the resource’s deployment is particularly obtuse) and this out-of-the-box functionality extends to the pre-built business apps (think of them as templates) which the company supplies.
These ready-mades can be used as-is, or can be further configured according to the bespoke requirements of the K2 client. With mobile-readiness and deep analytic capabilities, K2 offers the complete digital transformation.
*Some of the companies mentioned in this article are commercial partners of TechHQ