Workflow Automation Software

Magic and madness

How can it be that there is both magic and madness when it comes to implementing workflow?  The magic is when you experience the efficiency of a successfully completed process – the approved budget, the signed contract, the approved scholarship.  The madness is getting to that point.

Getting a digital workflow process designed and implemented is fun for people like me who love the challenge of figuring it all out.  But it can be complete madness for others as they work to define the real process and consider options made available by the technology.  If you want the magic and to avoid the madness as much as possible, follow these steps.

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Is this the real end of paper?

The paperless office concept has been talked about for years.  In fact, at least for all of the 25 years that Millennia Group has been in business with that as our focus.  But, here we are and our facility is full of boxes of paper documents that our clients want scanned.  And more boxes arrived today.

But now the concept is no office, not just no paper.  So if there isn’t an office, that pretty much means no paper, right?  What else does it mean?

There is scanning work to be done.  If there was an office and now there will be no office, then any legacy paper files will need to be scanned.  This is achievable with either internal or external resources.  Scan, verify and then destroy the original paper documents.  Unless those paper documents happen to be negotiable securities or documents that are legally required to be in paper form.  Keep those somewhere safe.  This effort is probably long overdue anyway.

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Connected to Compliance

As we roll out compliance workflow I am reminded how information technology (“IT”) is so tightly connected to the concept of compliance.  Information, as in vulnerability reports, access requests, firewall logs, hiring statistics and much more, is the key component for compliance.  Technology, as in firewalls and workflow, is both the end purpose and solution.  You know the headlines, data breaches, ESG issues, government regulations, these are all issues that require corporate compliance measures.

Compliance is basically setting up policies and procedures that ensure best practices for corporate security, effectiveness, goals, etc. and then auditing the adherence to those policies and procedures so that risks can be avoided.  The best solution to minimize the deviation from the policies and procedures and to lessen the burden of audits, is to use technology to track the process of gathering, reviewing and approving the information.  Wow, that sounds like a great fit for a technology solution, workflow. 

Human Process Augmentation – I’m not scared

Robotic Process Automation.  The description is a little deceiving based on how it is used.  Generally, people think Robot and they think mechanical apparatus, computer brain, a bit scary.  However, the current use of that description is more broad and is also used to describe software based workflow solutions.

With or without a mechanical or physical component, it seems that a better description might be Human Process Augmentation (“HPA”).  Or at least it seems that if software is the apparatus, it is just augmenting the human process.  You could say that using digital signatures is HPA.  You no longer need to pick up a pen and send out an overnight package.  You’re no scaredy cat.

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Let’s talk X’s and O’s

Small businesses are always looking at ways to grow and prosper.  This is a ritual that is practiced regularly but more now than ever and it’s not limited to small businesses either.  But while owners and executives throw sh** at the wall, whiteboard ideas or put on our rally caps to generate that grand, economy saving solution, it’s important not to forget the X’s and O’s.  That means do the little things right so in the end the chances of winning (or surviving, depending on your perspective) improve.    

That is sound advice even if it is from the sporting world and not Wall Street.  So what are some of the little things your organization can be doing to increase its chances of winning?  Remember, its little things we are talking about, not “Increase Sales” or “Outsource Production”.  More like – does your CRM have the correct industry code for every client or do we have fraud controls in place for our wire transfers?  Let’s take some clues from those head coaches who at half time always say, “we need to do better at the X’s and the O’s.”

As an example of doing little things, we see the use of simple workflows increasing substantially.  A workflow to ensure that every outbound wire transfer goes through the proper authorizations and is recorded properly.  A workflow to help manage bad debt write-offs, which is unfortunately a hot topic at the moment.  How about a simple workflow to process journal entries, typically a manual process of email with supporting documentation attached.  Convert the old methods of doing these tasks with an automated and tracked digital workflow, its time.

How about gathering up all of your organizations vendor contracts, either the hardcopy or the digital version and ensuring you have the correct terms and notification periods recorded.  Yes, that is a basic vendor management system or contract management system.  This will ensure you don’t accidently auto-renew a contract with a less than stellar vendor for another year.  It might also help you realize you are missing the executed contract on many vendors, a compliance and potential cost issue.

What processes are in place at your organization that use a spreadsheet for a checklist?  Now is the time to convert that spreadsheet to an online checklist which is accessible to all vested parties and updated in real time.  Maybe then you can have the checklist programmatically notify you of missing items or upcoming critical dates.  This simple effort can save any organization lots of money and avoid potential missed opportunities or mistakes.

Lastly, take a poll of your remote workers and find out how to help them be more efficient from home or when working remotely.  Is it a better communication tool?  Is it a nicer chair?  Maybe there is information, like customer or order information, that was never converted to digital and hard to access.  Remote work is not going to stop the minute this pandemic is over.  It’s part of your organizations bag of tricks to have an efficient remote option for workers.  Yep, that is a little X’s and O’s talk. 

Millennia Group, since 1996, created and hosts FileStar, a workflow and document management solution and CollectDocs, an online checklist application.  For more information visit our website or contact us.

Go old school in 2020

Way back in the 1970’s, according to Wikipedia, the information age began.  This was a period after the industrial revolution where computers started to be part of the daily business landscape.  Vast amounts of “information” were now created, stored and transmitted by these computers.  A good long run considering it is still going on.

Along comes a time, not exactly sure when, where the computer revolution became all about “data” and “tech”.   These are fine things, but what are they?  Data is data until someone turns it into information that is useful.  Tech is certainly cool on my wrist, but isn’t it being informed of an upcoming meeting the important part?  We’re still in the information age, but why doesn’t it feel like it?

First off, its not very sexy to sell information tools.  Take document management for an example.  Document management is there to make sure users get the information they need to make decisions, close deals, prevent errors and function at a high level.  But the organization, storage and delivery of information is just not a very sexy topic. 

There are lots of sexy ways to deliver information.  You can get answers from Alexa or Siri.  Endless amounts of notifications and flashing icons on your phone or watch will let you know important information has arrived.  Very soon little robots or flying drones will track you down and blurt out information that is surely important to you.  All very sexy.

Now for the reality check.  Information is defined as; 1) facts provided or learned about something or someone, 2) knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction and so on.  In order for data or tech to be helpful in the information age, it needs to be factual, studied, learned, supported.  Here’s where document management comes in.  Documents contain the facts, can be studied and learned and will definitely support the decisions when document management is done well.

Document management needs to be organized, trusted and available and it’s just data or tech.  Integrate your EDM with your line of business applications.  Use document management for workflow so data and supporting documents are a package to help decision makers.  Go old school in 2020 and get your document management in order to support your data and make your tech investments pay off. 

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management services and solutions.  To get a document management checkup, contact us at www.mgdocs.com or info@mgdocs.com.

Open for Business

Via Flickr - Brian HawkinsAs a provider of a workflow and document management system we hear first-hand the number of applications that companies use to support their business.  There is always a discussion of how data and documents are being captured, created, shared and the flow within the organization.  We have never interacted with a customer or prospect that is on a single solution for all business functions.  Like Sasquatch, the killer app doesn’t really exist.

The reality is that many different applications are used throughout the organization.  Departments tend to fight hard to get the application most suited to their needs so they can carry out their mandates with effectiveness and efficiency.  That leaves the IT department scrambling to ensure that each department’s key solution can interact with all the others.  Every solution provider strives to be an open platform to accommodate this effort, but what does that mean?

Applications need to be built to handle data exchanges with other applications.  Usually this falls into one of two approaches.  There is the API or application programming interface, that gives an external source access to the internal functions to push or pull data.  Another approach is to have one application push data out to a text or csv file to a secure spot where another application can pick it up to process it.  This is generally just a scheduled data interchange approach known as EDI or electronic data interchange.  Very effective and reliable. 

Whichever method is used, the purpose is the same, common data exists that needs to be shared in order to arrive at the most effective and efficient process.  With document management, there is data exchange that needs to happen in order to create documents with pre-populated information like the customer name or account number.  Document management systems can also feed a list of documents to the ERP as supporting information for transactions, customers or vendors. 

A piece of this puzzle that can go unnoticed is the concept that the document or information about the document is in fact data.  It is that data association that allows the right document or set of documents to be accessed immediately when the customer or order number is referenced.  Without a document being stored and associated with the data, a document is just a static piece of information that is hidden away.  

Folder based systems can fall short in this area because sharing or accessing that data in a folder name or file name is impossible or very complex.  If the organization is going to be effective and efficient in its processes, then the document management system needs to be open for business and contain separate meta data that allows all systems to be tied together.

Since 1996 Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions that are based on meta data and an open architecture.  For more information contact us at info@mgdocs.com or www.mgdocs.com.

A little can go a long way

via Flickr - JJ MereloGiven that we are coming up to the end of the year, we thought it would be helpful again this year to provide some ideas on how to use your time wisely, if and when projects and meetings slow down at year end.  In order to have this supposed time available does presume that you are working.  However, even some simple changes or small efforts can produce a tangible and noticeable effect across the company.    

Change can be difficult but also extremely rewarding.  Reach out to your co-workers, talk to others in your industry or even just friends and family about new things they are doing at work (that make their lives easier).  Best of all, talk to existing vendors that you trust and like to work with to see what more they can do to help you.  You can even reach out to other vendors to see what other opportunities might exist.  Call it R&D.  Call it whatever you want and here are some ideas to get you started.

Look at the tasks you and your associates undertake on a daily basis and identify those that are repetitive and have some email or document component.  For instance, does your company have an email-based approval process for journal entries, loan approvals, etc?  Sending around emails with attachments does not provide any prioritization, visibility or planning for these processes.  A workflow solution can simplify these processes and pay many other dividends.  Workflows don’t need to be complicated technology solutions, they can be two or three step digital approvals and you will still get positive ROI.

Spend the time to clearly match the file folders on your shared drive or the paper folders in your file cabinets to the source system for tracking those folders.  Here is what we mean by this.  If you have file folders for each client on your shared drive, add the Client Number from the accounting system to the folder name.  For instance, instead of “Smith Products, LLC”, rename that folder to “Smith Products, LLC-999888” where 999888 is the client number in the accounting system.  Some day you will merge your accounting system and those digital files into one document enabled ERP and you will really appreciate the perfect match.  And by the way, the process of doing this will result in locating some missing files.

Check your digital copier settings for scanning or the setting on your desk top scanners.  The default settings should be 200 dots per inch and black and white.  Those settings will satisfy 95% of your scanning needs and produce excellent quality scans for viewing or printing (not that you should print).  You can always use custom settings for those rare situations where you need to capture color pages.  This will provide faster viewing of files for users, take up less space on your servers or in the cloud and make the scanning effort faster too.  These are all going to make users more efficient.

These are just some simple steps that you can take.  There are plenty more opportunities and larger efforts in the document management area that will have a positive ROI, but these are simple changes that you can tackle now.  Just start simple and build up to the really big bang opportunities.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  Contact us at www.mgdocs.com or info@mgdocs.com

Just like people, Bots are diverse

Via Flicker - Peyri HerreraWe have been researching the idea of creating a Bot as an enhancement to our workflow and document management solution.  The struggle is defining what this Bot is going to do.  There is no single definition of what a Bot is or how it can be used, but we generally think of it as a process automation tool.

Despite “Bot” sounding like it could be a piece of equipment, ie. RoBOTic Process Automation, it is generally a software solution that could be mimicking human thought process or even keystrokes.  There are a lot of thought processes and physical processes that could be automated.  Is there an ideal use of such a diverse and powerful tool?

There is probably a Bot being developed that collects the mail delivered to the office, opens it, scans it, auto-classifies the contents and routes the mail electronically to the right person.  That’s a pretty powerful Bot that is a mixture of physical tool plus software via AI and machine learning.  Without diving into all the little details about how it knows what to scan and forward, or how it would open FedEx boxes, it could have value in some circumstances where paper documents are still prevalent.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bot could be extremely simple and merely pop up as you go to save a file and ask if you want assistance deciding where to save it.  That would be a software solution involving AI and machine learning.  The Bot knows from the content of the file being saved to suggest – “that looks like a budget, would you like me to save that to the accounting directory under 2019 budgets?”.  Could be helpful, maybe annoying, some degree big brotherish.

What if the Bot kept tabs on your daily activity and once a day asked you to sign off on how to handle new documents that it found in your email or in your network folder?  What if the Bot reminded you that two months ago you had put a hold on dealing with that budget file and wondered if you are ready to file it away now?  Is that too much Bot involvement?  Is more needed? Is there an ideal use case?

There’s a million little technology and usability details that would have to be worked out in all of the scenarios mentioned above.  However, one of those scenarios or something like it, would probably be helpful to many users.  So you might need a very flexible Bot or a diverse set of Bots to meet the needs of your users or business circumstances.

Millennia Group created FileStar, a workflow and document management solution in 2004 and has been providing document management solutions since 1996.  To contact us please visit www.mgdocs.com or send an email to info@mgdocs.com.

The pendulum is back in the middle

Via flickr - Rob Young

Ten to 15 years ago, the document management world started to feel an itch.  The major DM players couldn’t quite figure out where it was coming from at the time.  But then corporate users started to talk about how they were just dropping files into this online folder system and how easy it was.  Box, DropBox, ShareFile and others have since created very successful businesses with simple online storage.

The expectation for how a document management system should work took on a whole new meaning from the perspective of the users.  This is true not only of document management but of most corporate software platforms.  This great new experience arrives and the expectation pendulum swings way over to one side.  Then reality starts to set in.

Unfortunately, this ease of use perspective didn’t exactly fit the overall corporate goals or requirements for document management.  But it did force all DM players and software providers to tweak their products and learn how to manage the expectations of users.  The bottom line is that there’s more to DM than drag and drop. 

The obvious problem comes to light quickly in folder based systems. With an open structure for users to be able to create folders on the fly, it gets messy quickly.  That is why most companies of size quickly move away from using a folder system because there is no consistency and then users really can’t find information.  A traditional DM will have structure and requirements for meta data that will keep information organized.

For companies with more than 100 users, there is typically a need for more complex security on the files.  Security administration is very difficult and time consuming to be managed on a folder level basis.  Unless the folders are initially set up in a tightly controlled hierarchy, applying security to a new user or making changes to existing users or groups is forced to use a highest level access model.  Give the users rights to the highest level of folder because there is no known structure to the folders below that. 

We should all be thankful when an industry is disrupted, and the envelope gets pushed out or the pendulum swings way out to one side.  But, in the software and tech worlds, very frequently there is a bit of hype in all things new and shiny and the pendulum swings back.  The good news is that users benefit from the disruption when the focus is intensified on the issues.  It does require that user expectations need to be managed because the pendulum will swing back to the middle at some point.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions that focus on good mix of flexibility and control.  For more information visit our website at www.mgdocs.com or send us an email at info@mgdocs.com.