The Case for Workflow Automation
Volatile Change as the New Normal
No business leader today can deny that every business is not only becoming more complex but also experiencing an accelerating rate of change in this complexity. New competitors are springing up overnight, the breakthrough products of a few years ago are being rendered obsolete and market disruptions are springing up from the most unexpected areas. It’s true there are plenty of industries where this doesn’t seem to be the case, the industries that have traditionally been afforded the luxury of glacial speeds, stability and certainty. But we’re seeing that even in these industries the change is occurring, although perhaps more insidiously, with gradually increasing instability. Most business leaders recognise, if grudgingly, that they can’t keep doing things the same way and / or at the same speed and continue to prosper in this environment – which has been referred to as the new normal.
The new normal demands agility
The new normal demands agility, the ability to respond to surprising externally and internal changes / events rapidly, effectively, sustainably and without derailing strategic momentum. The organisations we’re seeing doing this well speak of agility as a dynamic capability. They also don’t just see it as being enough that they are agile, but see themselves as needing to be more agile than their competitors. That is, they see agility to be one of their most important levers for sustaining an edge on their competitors.
Of all the clients we work with, we’ve found those in the IT (we have a lot of design agencies, mobile app makers and electronic device companies as clients), Media, Telecommunications and Financial Services industries to be experiencing the most volatility. Perhaps different industries gradually reach the volatility inflection point at different times. Irrespective, we’ve observed that we’re predominantly undertaking workflow automation engagements with most of these clients.
Workflows as the enemy of agility
Workflows are the sequences of decision making, documents and activity flows that lead to particular deliverables being achieved. For one of our current design agency clients, for example, a design document is required to be routed from a designer to a technical director for approval and then to the software engineering team and the testing team. At each stage in the workflow, someone is responsible for making a decision, creating /reviewing / updating a document, undertaking an input activity or some other task. Once the task is complete, the individuals undertaking the next step in the workflow need to be notified and receive the necessary resources they need to complete their step in the workflow. The effectiveness and efficiency of the whole workflow then needs to be analysed to identify bottlenecks, waste and improvement opportunities. Changes to the workflow then need to be undertaken to realise the improvement opportunities. If such a workflow isn’t done digitally and automated, it can quickly become the enemy of agility. That is, it derails an organisation’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively to customer needs and to change. It can do this in numerous ways, with the most obvious being hiding the stage the workflow is at or hiding which steps in the workflow take the most time to complete. In doing so, such non digital / non automated workflows incentivise waste and glacial speeds.
Workflow automation as Agility’s low hanging fruit
Achieving true agility may require significant business transformation. But in defining the software investment payback of our clients’ workflow automation initiatives, we’re finding that they are achieving significant improvements in agility by simply digitising and automating key elements of their workflows. That is, that workflow automation is their low hanging fruit. Take our design agency client from above – we were able to automate their workflow so that as each stage was completed, the next responsible person automatically received the notification, decision requirements, documents and required activities they had to complete. Time tracking was then built into the workflow so everybody could see the elapsed time since each stage was started by the stage owner. Time targets were set so that the necessary people could be automatically alerted when stages took longer than the acceptable time. Automated analytics was then built in to show trends in workflow productivity over time by stage and stage owner. This level of automation in the workflow, visibility of productivity improvements and accountability for performance led to the agency more than halving the average time to complete the workflow. They were then able to faster and better serve their customers while at the same time making higher margins than their competitors.
Codium is one of Australia’s leading providers of custom software development and support services, with a particular focus on Cloud Application Development, Business Process Automation Applications, website development / integration, Database Development and IoT services. Our Clients include ASX listed resources companies, innovative small and medium sized entities across Australia, Federal and State government institutions and community development agencies. From time to time we write about emergent themes and practices from our broad technology engagements across industries, organisation types and value chain activities. Where we have the permission of our clients, we also share case study examples of these themes and practices in action. The most recent of these can be found on our website at codium.com.au