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Together with our customers we have made quite some interesting process changes over the years. I wanted to share some of the most important insights we have gained and give a few examples that might help you rethink your processes.

#1 Simplification

It may seem superfluous to say, but many processes can be simplified. Many companies are doing things the way they do just because they have always done them this way. A good way to start, is at the data that is used in the process. Look at every field of data used in the process such as for example employee number, customer social security number, etc. For each of these fields find out why you need it. If you can’t find out why, simply cross it out.

We have noticed that many times data is used in a process that is needed by law. However, laws change and it is easy to then forget that the data in a process is linked to it. One of our customers was once still storing customer’s identity information while that was no longer needed by law. We changed the process to a much simpler one, which got rid of everything related to the customer’s identity information.

#2 Automation and exceptions

One of the most interesting changes to make in a process is to automate it so that it becomes manageable by exception. This means that most of the times the process is executed, it can be handled completely automatically. Only if there is an exceptional case should a human employee intervene. This may sound a little bit abstract so let me give you a real world example.

A customer had a process where they hired external people on a regular basis to supervise exams. Those supervisors would declare their travel costs and time they spent. All this information was sent by regular mail. The information was then typed into SAP after being checked. Before paying the amount the entire declaration was checked again. This took a lot of time obviously and was seriously error-prone.

What we designed together with our customer is a process that is almost fully automated. From their online exam booking system we get all the information needed to determine the declaration; home address of the supervisor, address of the exam location, the duration of the exam and whether the supervisor was present and the financial information to transfer the money to the supervisor. With this information we use an internet service to automatically calculate the travel expenses. The duration of the exam is used to calculate the declaration for the exam.

All declarations for a month are combined for the supervisor, who can then simply download the declaration for his administration. The declaration is automatically transferred to the supervisor, who has an option to file a complaint if he thinks something is wrong (which is an exception, because most information is provided by the supervisor in the first place through the online exam booking software).

In this example the success rate is higher than 95% which is a good rule of thumb to aim for when designing such processes. You want to be able to achieve as close to 100% automation as you can, but certainly not lower than 90%. The process in this example eliminates a lot of copying of data manually, almost fully automates the process and provides time saving for both the company and the supervisor. Win-win.

#3 – Responsibility and self-service

A final tip on automating and rethinking processes is to take responsibility into account. Some processes require some input from a customer, supplier or employee. It helps enormously if you can design it in such a way that the person who has most to gain, is the one responsible for supplying the information. This creates a natural pressure to perform, which can then be further helped by sending a reminder if the data is not yet supplied after a certain amount of time.

One example of such responsibility is when we designed a process for an educational institute where the participant could indicate his company would pay. In this case, we would send an email to the company asking them to sign off on paying for the education, which would expire after 7 days. This places the responsibility to make sure the employer will sign off right where it is best put: at the participant who wants to take the course.

This step greatly reduced the amount of time spent handling requests, both because the educational institute no longer had to call after the employer, but also because there were far less issues with people trying to get a course paid by their employer without permission.

If your company manufactures goods or products, it will have a certain process in place to do so. However, ensuring that every step of this process goes efficiently and smoothly isn’t easy.

An inventory that isn’t up to date, for example, can cause serious problems – up to the point where you need to stop production until missing parts arrive. Oftentimes, automation provides an excellent solution, especially if you use a tool like Triggre. In this blog, we’d like to share an example which illustrates this perfectly.

Inventory management and up-to-date information

One of our customers in the automotive industry recently asked us to create the concept version of an application within two weeks. After that, they would continue developing it independently.

The goal of the application: automate inventory management based on production, so car parts are always in stock. Obviously, this greatly facilitates the car manufacturing process, as it optimizes efficiency and eliminates the hassle of having to stop production due to a missing part.

But we took it one step further by mapping the individual process steps, based on which we added information to the application. It is now possible to indicate the production stage at which each car part is used.

As a result, employees have an instant overview at every stage. They get to see a list containing all the required parts, and once they use these, the application automatically updates the inventory.

This way, everyone within the organization always gets topical information on the status quo. Moreover, employees make less mistakes during the manufacturing process, as they always know which parts they should use at what time.

Cost-efficient and tailor-made solution

Although deadlines were tight, we met them all, and the application was up and running within the set time frame. More importantly, the results are satisfying.

Especially when running a smaller business – like our customer’s – major ERP systems are rarely money well spent. Therefore, a stable solution such as Triggre provides an excellent solution: it’s cost efficient and entirely tailored to your process!

Once you have decided which processes you’d like to automate, it is time to build your application. There are several ways to do this: you can deliver it all at once or break down the process into short time intervals, completing small steps every two or three weeks. No matter which route is right for you, at some point you will be ready to launch the first version.

In this blog, we’ll tell you how to go about it – and we’ll explain what’s next.

Going live: from first version to perfection

It is recommended that you launch the first version for a small number of preferred customers or suppliers who are thoroughly familiar with your company culture. By processing their feedback, you will eliminate major hurdles and inconveniences.

After doing so, you can make the application available to a larger group of users that continues to grow over time. Such a ‘phased launch’ is always preferred, as it avoids peak loads (which may occur when you receive all user feedback at once) and allows your organization to gradually switch to a new way of working.

Next steps: one idea leads to another

You are likely to notice potential connections to other systems during the development and launching process. Of course, you can try to incorporate these immediately, but often, it is wise to ensure that the application runs properly first.

Once it does, employees – even those who were initially skeptical about automation – will actually experience the benefits. For example, your application probably speeds up efficiency and eliminates the need for completing tedious manual tasks.

As a result, they will be on board with it. They might even come up with some fresh ideas for your next automation steps. And in this stage, it is easier to start new initiatives or make adjustments to your existing application, which is now running smoothly.

In conclusion, we’d like to repeat what we’ve said throughout this blog series: start small, so you’re able to show tangible results quickly. When selecting a process that will benefit from automation, opt for a department that adopts a welcoming attitude towards it.The rest of the organization will follow once you can show them the advantages of your application in practice!

Now that you’ve discovered your own processes and have a clear idea of processes that can benefit from automation, it is time to roll up your sleeves and get something tangible off the ground. In other words, it is time to automate your business. Answer these four questions and you’re off into the right direction.

1. Can you sketch an overall picture of your processes?

Many people don’t know much about company processes that extend beyond their own department. However, it is paramount to familiarize yourself with processes at the overarching organizational level. Only then, you will know who should do what at which time in a process.

Once you’ve acquired this information, you need to focus on the so-called happy flow: What do things look like when everything is going the way it should? Don’t focus on incidents that hardly ever occur. The effort and money spent on automating these incidents can cost you more than it saves.

Users are often happy with less and simpler options if it results in easier use of the system. Ask your stakeholders the question ‘how often does this occur’ and ‘how much time does it cost you to solve this by hand’, to really estimate the value of automating the step.

2. Why do people perform certain actions (and should you rethink these)?

If a process is carried out in a certain way ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ you might be holding on to an inefficient flow of actions. Try to track down and rethink such processes early on, because translating analogue or ineffective processes to digital versions is often a waste of time and money.

Sometimes, it is wise to eliminate certain steps or reverse the order in which things are done. A question like ‘Wouldn’t it be more efficient to do this much earlier in the process’ can be very helpful in optimizing the process. Be flexible in this regard, so you can truly benefit from automation.

3. What are your acceptance criteria?

What should the outcome of a process look like? As with the first question, it is important to leave out any details and focus on the big picture. Define a broad yet crisp-and-clear answer to this question to ensure that everyone involved understands the ultimate goal.

Of course, to achieve this, several smaller goals can be defined, for instance for each of the stakeholders.

4. Can you create a simple design to test it with stakeholders?

To explain your plan to all the stakeholders, break down your process into five to six steps (at most) and summarize it on a single page.  At this point, however, you don’t know what your application will look like, so make simple, tangible sketches to add further details to the steps.

This will allow stakeholders and/or key users to visualize the process and ask for any clarifications right away. For example, ask why a form field or button is at a certain place or stage in the application blue print. Not only is this a great way to test the waters with them, you also involve them from the very start, ensuring that they’re on board.

Last time, we wrote that discovering processes is an essential first step if you want to embrace automation. Once you’ve gone through the three-step plan that we described, you’re ready to answer the next question: Which processes will benefit from automation?

In this blog, we have listed five processes that commonly require automation!

1. Repetitive tasks

Every company has to deal with tasks that are repetitive in nature. For example, you probably have an on boarding process in place for new employees. This might encompass a variety of actions, such as setting up a new email account, creating a personnel file, and providing a new employee with company regulations.

If you create an application that takes care of, or reminds people of all these steps, including a check-mark list for must-do tasks, you will work more efficiently and save a tremendous amount of time.

2. Increased insight for customers and suppliers

Whether you’d like to increase the efficiency of your customer ordering process or your contact with suppliers, automation provides the answer. You can build virtually everything: from a web portal which always shows customers the current status of their shipment to an application providing suppliers with all parcel requirements (including codes and dimensions), which smoothly leads them through the shipment process.

3. Manual data entry work

Optimizing your customer service is always a good idea. If customers email you certain information, it is very inefficient and time consuming to manually enter it into your own system. It would make much more sense to provide customers with login data so they can register their questions, remarks, or complaints in a system, which allows you to respond faster.

Another benefit of this method, is that you automatically have a log of old items and it’s exchangeable between employees.

4. Focusing on people’s interests

Your employees are more likely to cooperate on automation projects if their own interests are involved. So try to find processes that would probably concern them, such as the submission of receipts for work-related expenses.

If you tell them to upload all receipts to your system by the end of the month so you can process these more easily and pay them sooner, it is a win-win situation: they will get paid on time and your accounting department saves time.

5. Deadline-sensitive processes

Wherever deadlines must be met, automation comes in handy. Suppose your quoting process involves multiple people who need to approve a variety of things, from price to delivery time.

As you don’t want to keep the customer waiting for a quote, you can make an application that sets approval deadlines and sends automatic reminders. This makes it much easier to meet your customer’s expectations!

Automation: you’ve heard all about it, and as a twenty-first century company, you want to embrace it. But where to start? In this blog series, we will guide you through the process step by step. First things first: you need to discover the processes in your organization. We’ve put together a three-step to-do list for you!

1. Organize a knowledge exchange meeting with key users

It’s important to sit down and ask yourself what you truly want to achieve with automation. Many decision-makers struggle with this question, because they are not the ones who encounter process-related issues on the work floor.

Therefore, you should organize a knowledge exchange meeting with key users on a regular basis – for example, every four to six weeks. These key users are employees who have been with the company for a while and who thoroughly understand the workings of the organization.

Not only will this allow you to obtain the required information on processes; it will also show employees how automation will help them improve their own processes and prevent problems elsewhere in the organization.

Another plus is that employees will not feel overlooked, which makes it easier to create support for change within the company.

2. Keep a list with points for improvement

There are always tedious or repetitive manual tasks that employees wish a computer could do. Additionally, a new product or service may require the implementation of a brand-new process. List all the points for improvement you can find and set completion deadlines for them, so you can move on to step 3.

3. Prioritize based on several factors

Now that you’ve mapped out all processes that will benefit from automation, you need to prioritize some and postpone others. When determining the value of automation, consider two factors: urgency and difficulty. If automating a process would save you a tremendous amount of time, do it.

However, you should always give precedence to an easy-to-automate process. If changing it is simple and saves a little time, give priority to it over a highly time-saving, but very time-consuming process.

Keep in mind that you are trying to improve customer and/or employee satisfaction. If you can show people the pros of change instantly and approach this change step by step, they will adopt a more welcoming attitude towards it.

Want to step up your game? Listen to fresh voices!

Of course, you need to listen carefully to seasoned employees who know your organization from the inside out. However, you should also take fresh voices into account. New employees often provide a unique look at your processes. They are not stuck in old habits and may spot things that no one else has thought about. Acknowledge their value by allowing them to share their perspective.

Wondering about the next step? We will tell you all about it in part 2!