In last week’s post, I talked about how you can innovatively (?) use system-to-system integrations to make information flow freely in your business and to remove a lot of non-value-added work.
Yes, I put a question mark in brackets after “innovative”. This is because we have been doing it for 30 years. But it still hasn’t caught on in some places. Either because they don’t understand the need, or because they don’t think it’s worthwhile entering information over and over again into different systems. Maybe you’ve become so used to it that it doesn’t occur to you that you could do it any other way.
It is only when you see your value creation flows by mapping and then designing your processes that you truly understand the need. The need to make information flow as freely between systems and departments as the process flows.
Basic laws in a business
There are, among other things, two basic principles of business development:
- A business cannot move faster than the information can move.
- An activity cannot be of a higher quality than the quality of the information.
The speed of information controls
The first principle is that no business can work faster than the information can flow in the business. Information is at the heart of our business, whatever it may be. We need to know in detail what to do for whom and when, as well as what others have noted about things that concern us.
- Who should you send the product to?
- When should the user receive help?
- Why isn’t Donald at school today?
- Which assets need maintenance this week and what maintenance actions are involved?
- And so on.
If we need to wait for information to get on with our work, then we have to wait for the information to come to us or we need to start looking for it, both of which take time.
The quality of the information controls
The second principle states that no activity can operate at a higher quality than the quality of the information. We make decisions and create things based on the information available to us.
- So if we have poor quality information, it will directly control the quality of what we do.
- Wrong time about when the meeting starts makes you late or miss the meeting.
- The wrong address means you are sending the item to the wrong place.
- Poor instruction about the user’s needs means that you cannot meet the user’s expectations or need to do so for a longer period of time after you have understood.
- Poor description from the regular teacher means that as a substitute you cannot prepare and conduct the lesson well.
- And so on.
The quality of our work is based on the quality of the information. Consequently, it is important that we put effort into the quality of our information.
With that, we move on to look at another element to increase our efficiency, our job satisfaction and most importantly the quality to our customers (whatever you call them). And that’s automation.
What tasks would you like to avoid doing? Imagine if things could just happen in the business without you as a person having to do them. This is related to the system-to-system integration that I described in last week’s letter, but is a step further.
The process controls the automation
Firstly, it is incredibly important that we are sure that the automation is based on our true processes.
The first is that you have actually taken the time to design the process you want, and then you can see where you want automation. Without knowing how the process creates value and what the requirements of the process are, you cannot create a good automation.
There is a clear risk that automation becomes just a “cool thing” that you start without knowing what you are trying to achieve in the process. Like everything else about IT, IT should support the process of creating value in a smarter, more efficient, better and more fun way. Not for its own sake.
Business rules also govern automation
Automation also needs to be based on the rules you have in place. These rules need to be scrutinised as you go through and design your process so that they are “up-to-date” and not based on the old way you thought.
Here is a good example from the municipality of Boden which I mention below.
Robots on the rise
Today there is a lot written about “robots” that will do things for us. It is in the right direction. However, the phenomenon is not new, far from it.
The concept of “robots” is called RPA – Robotic Process Automation.
What is unique about “robots” is that they can, like highly advanced macros, use the system support you use in your business. They can thus retrieve or enter information from or into your business systems using the same user interface as you do. In addition, they can use logic to interpret information and make decisions along the way.
Automation has been with us for a while
But as I said, automation is not entirely new. I helped build a process for exemption management in the environmental field for the municipality of Boden around 2005.
The process ranged from the property owner’s notification via an e-service, all the way through the decision, to the waste contractors being notified of the change in collection and emptying. It was a fully executable and partially automatic process.
The key here was that we had first reviewed the current process and then by designing a vastly improved process, we came up with the desire for automation.
Mapping showed paper and waiting
The process we mapped showed long turnaround times with a multitude of steps of scanning paper documents, brown mailing folders for internal mail, walking in corridors, various paper forms, and more.
From 57 different ways of making decisions to 7
When we went through the operating rules that covered the management of exemptions, we listed 57 different ways in which the administrators and inspectors had to deal with them. Of course, we could have jumped in and developed automation for these 57 ways, but the smarter thing was to question them.
We did and we discounted as many as 50 in number. What remained were merged and well-described rules on when exemptions could be granted and whether human intervention would be required. These could then be more easily automated and incorporated into the new process.
Profit with automation
Automation of the decision itself reduced the need for environmental inspectors to deal with manual paperwork and simple cases by 90%. This allowed them to deal with other important matters on their desk. Matters that could not be carried out by anyone other than a highly trained person.
– Finally, I can focus on what I’m trained to do, said an environmental inspector when we commissioned the new executable process but the developed automation.
From 35 days to two seconds
And from the customer’s perspective, it was also a huge increase in service. From cases taking an average of 35 days to process, 90% of cases took only two seconds. These were the cases where decisions could be taken automatically.
The remaining 10% of cases that required manual handling and decisions now took only five days on average. This means a reduction of 30 days.
The cases that could be handled automatically never needed any manual intervention. Without the case being driven forward by a so-called process engine, decisions are made automatically and information flows through system-to-system integration to financial systems and with automatic messaging to waste contractors.
Which automation makes it easier for you?
What automation would you and your business need?
To know the answer, you need to be in control of your processes and design them the way you really want them to work. Then you’ll know where automation can come in and help you become more efficient and improve service to your customers.
Would you like assistance in discussing automation opportunities in your business? Or do you want to know more about how Boden municipality succeeded, or others for that matter?
Contact me and I’ll help you and tell you more.
In the next newsletter, I’ll look at two newer areas that are undergoing major developments at the moment: virtual reality and augmented reality.
Until then, I wish it a week in the name of automation. 🙂