One goal of digital workflow is to simplify a process, to make it easier. To someone intimately involved in a longstanding business process, that process probably appears to be simple. Years of repetition and a history of managing the inevitable “twist” in the process or “rare” occurrence has resulted in it being perceived as easy. It’s only when there is a need to document the process that all eyes are opened to the actual complex process and the challenges ahead.
It’s not only the effort of understanding the true process that can be difficult, it is also designing a workflow process that isn’t more complicated and costly than the old way. A poorly designed process could solve one issue extremely well, but over complicate two others. The good news is that there are technology tools available today that are flexible enough to achieve the desired result and with some hard prep work, you can get to easy.
Before designing a digital workflow process to replace a paper based process, here are some critical areas to understand.
- What is the actual goal of the entire process? Ask the beneficiary of the end result of the process, the reader of the report, the spender of the money, etc – What do you really need this end result for?
- What is the actual process? Go through each step in the process to determine what happens and be sure to understand what happens in all scenarios.
- Why is each step necessary? Ask this question for every step. Why is it necessary and is there a better way? It might be that there were no options in a paper based world.
- What other opportunities arise when a process becomes digital? Look upstream and downstream. Upstream might mean that you can positively influence a front line department – faster invoicing, better pricing, etc. Downstream effects could be that you can modify your vendor relationships to make them more efficient and cost effect.
- After the process is understood in depth, create a technology requirements document. Will the workflow system need to be web based? What other systems does it need to integrate with? Is it expandable?
- What is the capacity of the workflow participants from a technology and skills standpoint to perform their steps in the process? Can they use digital signatures? Do they have desktop scanners? Are they able to use dual monitors?
- Lastly, do a cost benefit. If the prior analysis is all completed, you should have the inputs for the cost benefit.
Remember also that the new process will also likely be in place for many, many years and if done correctly, it will return tremendous benefits to the company – well worth the hard work.