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How to Begin Automating Your Company's Business Processes

Posted by Harold Engstrom on Aug 8, 2017 11:57:45 AM

Often, leadership wants to automate a business process to increase efficiencies, make processes consistent and repeatable, ensure quality, and gain real time insight into business progress and status.  But, despite the identified business need and solid justification, these proposed initiatives stall because it is very difficult to get off to a good start. It's important to organize the effort and define exactly what and how to automate the areas that need it. Below outlines the top 5 ways to organize your efforts.

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1. Reports: What information do you want to see from your automated system?

I know, this sounds really basic, but starting at the end is the best way to go.  Take an excel spreadsheet or a pad of paper, and design your reports.  Do you want to see:
 - A list of tasks with start and end dates?
 - Original and revised completion times?
 - Responsible parties listed?
 - Links to documents and other artifacts?
 - Throughput and cycle time?

Whatever helps you understand your business...mock it up!

2. User interfaces : What do you want people to be able to do and how do you want them to do it?

In a PowerPoint slide deck, create the basic look and feel of the user interface that you imagine will be most useful.  To begin, include the low hanging fruit, for example:
 - A page to request the reports you defined above
 - A page where you can see your tasks and start basic processes or forms
 - Forms that you want people to fill out or that you want to present to people to accept or modify

After you have build a couple of interface pages, don't be afraid to think of more.  This is a process! Putting down your ideas for yourself and others to criticize constructively is a huge help in defining the business automation needed. 

3. Define your Business Objects

OK, Business Objects sounds technical, but the term really isn't.  A business object could be a material, a container, a location, or a product.  A business object has properties - for example, a material has a name, a material safety data sheet, a type (liquid, solid, something solid in pieces like cups, etc.).  These Business Objects will be used, created, and modified by your automated business process. 

Business objects can be managed through BPM forms - and business objects may have their properties sourced from multiple systems.  BUT DON'T WORRY ABOUT THAT, yet (the technical solutions will sort themselves out later).

4. Define how your Business Objects are related to one another

Now that you defined your Business Objects, white board out how they are related. For example, materials (business object) are contained in drums (business object) which are stored on a rack (business object) in a warehouse (business object.)  The relationships are important because these are things which will often be dynamic when your business runs: a drum may be held by one rack in one warehouse on one day, but held by a different rack in a different warehouse on another day. Each company will have their own set of niche Business Objects. 

5. Define your Workflows

Now that you have done these first 4 steps, you can begin to describe how you want your process to run.  The next questions will help give you guidance into building your workflows to solve your needs. What business objects do you want to create, use, modify and at what points in your process?  What relationships between business objects do you want to create or modify or remove , and when?  What decisions do you want people to make, and what decisions do you want the computer to make?  Are there quality checks you want to build in at certain points into your workflow to ensure compliance?  Do you want to escalate or delegate decisions based on time or importance?  Are there time-critical parts of your process that you want to make sure are getting attention?

By going through this exercise the key elements of your Automated Business Process will emerge.  You will find yourself 90% of the way towards specifications that will enable business automation to go forward.  It is not only an important exercise for businesses to go through, but also a fun one. 


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Topics: BPM, business process improvement tools, Business Process Automation