Your business is growing, fast.  Processes have grown in complexity as a result.  Employees find themselves spending more time on the processes than actually getting work done or bringing in more business.  How do you improve business processes?  Where do you begin?  How do you improve employee morale and make their lives simpler?  The answer is simple and it is automation.  This can be a scary word to some people because they worry that their position will no longer be needed, but that isn’t always true.  Automation frees up employees’ time so they can do more for the business and your customers.  The more efficient your business is, the more money it can make and the more you can do for your customers.
 

Picking the Process

The first thing we do is pick a process.  Which one?  Typically the simplest, most painful process is the best one to tackle first.  We pick the most painful process because employees see what a difference automation can make and they buy into the improvement.  And we pick the simplest process because we want our first project to be a learning experience and not a huge, ugly project that takes forever to complete.
 

Defining the Process

Ok, you picked the process, now what?  Now we outline every step, decision, and action that is involved in the process.  This step requires some thought, prediction, and honesty.  First, start an outline to define the basics of the process.  Next, go back and fill in the detail of who does what and what decisions have to be made.

Predicting what will happen in a business process is very difficult, but you want to try and plan ahead for those special circumstances.  Should the process be a hard defined process with no wiggle room, or should users be allowed to select ‘Other’ and fill in their own answers?  That is up to the business.  The honesty part comes in when you are getting too detailed.  Do you really need that part of the process?  Don’t spend a lot of time and effort building out an entire part of the process because 1 employee doesn’t want to follow the process.  Build the process with the business in mind and train employees to follow that process.

Process Example

Here is an example of a simple process outline…

    1. A document is submitted/uploaded/emailed by Employee
    2. Employee’s manager reviews document
        a. If disapproved
            i. The employee is notified
        b. If approved
            i. The document is published on the company’s intranet portal
            ii. The employee is notified
    3. Process Ends

Once you have the outline, then you can put a Visio diagram together to help everyone involved to visualize how the information will flow.  Here is an example of the outline above in a Visio diagram…

As you can see, we have a Start and End to the process.  The Start represents the step where the employee uploads a document.  The End is just that, the end of the process when every step is completed.  The diamond is the decision that needs to be made and the green boxes are processes that do something.  They can be a task that is assigned, a script that is started, a web service that is called, or many other actions that are possible.
 

Automating the Process

There are many systems that can be used to automate a process, and we have used some of them.  For the money, it is hard to beat the feature rich platform that you get with a SharePoint + Nintex combination.  Microsoft’s SharePoint is a huge platform that is feature rich and you can get it for very little money through Office 365. Nintex‘s Workflow and Forms products are add-ons for SharePoint that add a huge, feature rich tool set to SharePoint.  With Nintex, building the workflow that we designed above will take minutes to complete and anyone can do it with a little guidance.  We can help you get setup on SharePoint and Nintex, ask us how!

Here is a screenshot of what this process will look like in Nintex Workflow.

This is a simple and easy to understand design tool.  This is built by clicking and dragging actions from a tool pane onto the process.  The green box with the down arrow is the start.  The red box with the box is the end.
 

The Benefits of Automation

    Save Time and Money – Automating your business using workflow automation to consolidate processes, will save resources and production costs.
    Streamline Business Processes – SharePoint and Nintex can streamline complex business processes leading to completion in a time-efficient manner.
    Increased Productivity – With streamlined processes and an efficient workflow, organizations can focus on completing their business-critical activities.
    Enforce Compliance – Businesses have multiple regulations they must comply with to do business. With automated workflows, you can track compliance to make sure that all essential activities are tracked.
    Reduce Errors – Using SharePoint and Nintex can provide a framework that guides teams towards consistency and removes the risk of human error.

 
 

Reporting on the Results

Now that you have your processes automated and your business is running like a well oiled machine, do some reporting on it!  How many documents have been published using the process above?  Who submits the most documents?  How many documents are rejected?  Who submits the most documents that get approved?  These are simple questions that can get much more complex and revealing when applied to a bigger, more complex process.  If you make widgets, then you will likely have lots of data produced by the process of making those widgets.  How long did it take to produce it from beginning to end?  What steps in the process took the longest?  Is there a specific employee that is taking longer than others?  These are examples of the business critical questions that data can answer, but you have to collect it and build reports for it first.
 

Conclusion

In this post, you learned why you should automate processes, how to get started, some examples of how to do it, and how to report on the results.  These tools are extremely powerful and useful.  Use them wisely and your business will improve.  Your customers will be happier, and your business will see the rewards of that.

If you have questions or would like us to help you automate some processes, please contact us!

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