A visit to Kinko’s

An interesting story and how an idea surged. A couple of days ago I had to go to
Kinko’s for
printing some pricing and marketing material for a customer I was going to visit
the next day. I asked for normal color printing with a special paper, something
that made it look good. This was in kind of a rush mode. I was on the trip and
visiting the client was a pure coincidence.

When the person in the front desk took my order, he took out the huge form (it
looks something like a poster for some movie or concert) and he fills it out
with my order request. I couldn’t understand anything he was writing but I know
there are a bunch of fields in the form. He entered the color preference, the
paper type, the number of copies, my name, address and phone number. After
finishing, he marks every field in the form with a green highlighter (I still
don’t know why is this). Then he takes the form and puts it in sealed bag (like
a huge Ziploc) and then calls somebody in the background to handle the new
request.

First, nobody answered. He didn’t know who was free to work and who was working
with something (and nobody was paying attention to him either). Then he needed
to copy my PDF files to the machine where the printing was going to be done. He
didn’t remember the files I just told him to print so I had to go back and point
him the files I wanted. I noticed that with every printing work they have, they
create a folder with the customer name. Inside the folder they create three more
folders: Original, Process, and Final. Then he placed my files in the original
folder. I think the folders mark the workflow that needs to be followed for
printing. I suppose it goes something like this: they first open the files in
the original folder, then edit them with some program for best printing (still
haven’t figured out what they edit; documents always have this blank border and
they say it’s impossible to take it out). Then they put the edited files in the
final folder.

After copying and filling the request and everything was done, he told me the
estimated time that everything will be ready and that’s it, ready.

When I got out I started thinking (in critique mode) the whole process. I said
why they haven’t done something more automatic for handling these request and
assignment. Maybe they would only need one person in the front taking the
requests and something behind prepares the environment of work and assigns the
right person in the back.

Using a workflow application would help them great automating the manual
process. And how they can do that? I came with something simple for the problem.

First I though the best way to port the paper forms to an electronic form was
InfoPath. In InfoPath you have the ability to create sections inside the form
and digitally signed them preventing these sections to be tampered (we don’t
need anymore the plastic Ziploc bag for protecting the form). One issue
resolved.

In InfoPath you can define an attachment field that allows you to attach a file
to the form. You can attach as many files as needed and they traveled inside the
form always. Now you can take the files needed for the work and attach them to
request. They are never loss and you just have to ask for them one time. Another
issue solved.

The form is going to be electronic in first place. You can publish it to a
SharePoint site for
example and have a central repository form them, allowing searching and
indexing. This is not an issue, but maybe would be a great add on.

And now for the workflow part. A simple process can be made for handling the
request form. You would have the start activity with permissions for only the
front desk person to start the process. Security. Then a second activity for
handling the input request form.

As an improvement, we could create a web service that generates a unique number
for the request. This can be the second activity in the process. The third
activity would be to assign this number to a field in the form. Next?

The next thing we can do is actually create another web service that creates the
folders they need for processing the files. We don’t need the first folder, the
Original folder, because the original files are already attached to the form.
The web service would only need to create the other two: Process and Final. A
good improvement would be to create them directly in SharePoint and have a
central repository for them.

The most important step would be the assignment of the request to one of the
back office personnel that actually executes the job. I though the best way to
do this was to use the workload feature. I could specify the personnel available
for this and assign requests on a one by one basis or a least busy basis. Then
let the software manage the work queue. Maybe every personnel in the back office
can have like a Pocket PC and they can receive their tasks and immediately know
their new assignments.

The final step would be to send an email to the front desk person notifying that
the job was finished. An improvement here we could consider is asking the
customer for his email and place it in the form. Then we can put another
activity in the process for sending an email to the client saying that his job
is finished (customer service improvement!!).

Now the whole process is automated. Errors in the process will be far less.
Security in the form cannot
be compromised. And we guarantee that every back office personnel are receiving
their tasks in a balanced way. The next phase for this would be to make another
web service for saving the information in the form to a database table for
future statistics and analysis.

A major thing? To simply enabled Procx
to receive the form requests via email and have the form publish to the
Internet. I can fill the form myself from my house and I only have to leave to
actually pickup the final work after I have received the notification. A simple
step towards the
electronic
enterprise
. An example of how the process will look like is on the right.

Study shows SOA and BPM implementations provide more benefits

An interesting article shows up how SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) implementations are related to how business processes are executed in the organization.

I think SOA is the way for developing applications in the future. The concept is very simple: to build applications, data stores or what is important to the organization, to save information about the company. The next step would be to expose services around this information already store so other applications (or maybe the same application) can extract it. This services also will provide the mechanism for insertion and deletion of information.

The great thing about developing applications this way is that those services are made conforming a standard of the industry, so any other application, regardless of the platform or technology it was built on, should be able to call this services and get the information. There won’t be those ugly cases when you couldn’t get the information because it cannot be accessed in a standard form. So imagine you opening your favorite application (Excel, InfoPath, SharePoint, etc.) and telling it to extract this kind of information that you need from store one, store 2 and store 3 and then combine it.

The study, from where the article gets the information, shows that the biggest benefit from implementing SOA is faster and more flexible reconfiguration of business processes with a 48%. This benefit can be better yet when using a BPM software implementation in conjunction. Although the survey shows that only 14% is implementing BPM.

I think that the greatest benefit of these service oriented applications is that you can take advantage on it by putting a business process management software in the middle and let it manage the resources. For example, imagine that your ERP application exposes services for letting you create an expense reimbursement or a vacation request in your human resources store, you can draw a workflow specifying the steps required by any employee in the organization to request a reimbursement and, at the same workflow, you can specify at which point you are going to call the service and what information you are going to send. That’s why Procx has the ability to call web services since the beginning.

You can manage and coordinate every process in the organization using the BPM software, and push information to your backend systems using these services and at the same time pull them out for reports and alarms, letting you have a real view and knowledge of the business.

This kind of application will let business users get to a new level of understanding of their company, implement and control business processes in a more standard way leading as always to lower costs and increase performance.

ROI Areas

Calculating the return of investment of any anything that you do in your business is vital, that’s the easiest way you can decide if in the long run the money you are pouring in is going to be of value to the organization.

As I have said earlier, one of the biggest ROI that you can get when implementing a software in the organization comes with business process management. Automating day to day processes and approvals transforms in real benefits almost immediately. The ROI can be calculated from the lower amount of time that it takes to execute a process to the reduce costs involved.

According to an article by Terry Schurter there are five areas where you can calculate the ROI of BPM or workflow solution:

- Automation

- Compliance

- Management

- Process Optimization

- Quality

The easiest one to calculate are the process concerning automation, because this leads to reduce time running the process and increments the ROI since day one of implementation.

If you are planning on installing a BPM solution, find out first on which of these areas your process or goal falls and proceed on calculating your ROI.

Automation

Automation is the type of business process automation where the highest ROI
can be reach in the implementation of a
workflow or BPM solution
. Converting processes in the organization that a
lot of human intervention is needed to electronic matters in an automated way,
lots of improvement can be achieve. the majority of those interventions can be
diminished and transform to an automated way of responding or even letting the
process makes their own decisions thus increasing productivity for the humans.

And we haven’t considered yet the integration with others applications. If
you are only automating a simple process (for example expense reimbursement or
absence request) productivity is increased, but if you are integrating this
information with other systems in the execution of the same process, event more
productivity can be achieved and more costs can be reduced. That’s why
automation provides high ROI.

Calculating the return of investment is very easy. Can measure the amount of
time taken to execute the process and the amount of time after implementing the
solution. Also you determine how many more requests you are able to handle after
the implementation. One thing to notice also, is that in this kind of
automation, the benefits and the increase performance can be appreciated after
deployment making the investment in the solution an immediate success.

Business Process Management for Insurance

The insurance industry is one of greatest beneficiaries of BPM solutions. Automating business workflow in the organization, has shown to produce huge performance increases in productivity and reduce costs in areas like claims processing.

Analysis has shown that performance increases are around the 40% and 50% and that abandon call rates in call centers went down and service levels went up. I think this is because an organization, like one in the insurance industry, has a lot of processes that need to be executed and doing them manually always results in errors and slow response time, all of which are not good to the eyes of the customers. Automating these process leads the way to letting employees in the organization to focus on how to do their tasks in a much better way, how to please the customer and stop thinking about what the next task in the process is or whether or not I have made the necessary tasks for internal policy compliance.

And not only the insurance industry can benefit from automating business processes. They also perceive a huge benefit in areas like compliance. Insurance companies are required to comply with section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. One way to enforce these procedures is to use a BPM solution that assign the necessary tasks internally to persons that need to audit the information. All this information is recorded in the system for future references and clearly reduce the burden of knowing every procedure and we are sure the anything that has to be audited, has been audited.

Also, areas regarding the Anti-Fraud and Anti-Money Laundering initiatives can benefits from these kind of solutions enforcing policy controls in the process that assures that every customer is checked, tracked and investigated to prevent frauds in the organization. In the case of money laundering, policies can also be enacted in the processes to check for activity of terrorism or drug-dealing, triggering alerts and notifications to managers or responsible persons about the risks.

In general, BPM solutions provides great benefits to an insurance organization leading to increase performance and reduce costs in the execution of their processes.

UPDATE: See a life insurance request automated here.

Management

One of the primary benefits on implementing a BPM (Business Process Management) solution, is the information organization management receive.

Before, knowing the actual performance of business processes, resource usage and key indicators was difficult because there was no automated way of gathering this information. Now with these solutions, management can have an overlook of how the processes on his charge are doing, how resources distributes along the way and also, how activities are being completed, the time that is taking and which are the most efficient in certain tasks.

For example, the manager on an accounts payable department. He is in charge of the process for expense reimbursement and approval. Right now, employees from around the organization fills out a paper form detailing their expenses and sends them for approval to their managers and ends up in the accounts payable department. At this moment, the manager of A/P doesn’t know about the request, or when it is coming. It’s almost impossible to him to plan for the week. Also, when the request arrives, does he know who of his staff has the request? How much time did the person spent on the request? To whom should he assign the next request? What about statistics about the requests?

All this kind of questions can be answered when we implement and automate a business process. The expense request becomes electronic, and all the steps, integration activities and assignments become part of the automated process. The organization is becoming more, the electronic enterprise. Management will have all their questions answered and proper decisions can be made in the future.

Optimization

When you are running a business, there’s a need to know how everything related to the company is working. For doing this, we always rely on some kind of statistics and numbers that can give us some measure on how we are doing. Every business has their own measures. And each person running the business may want to see numbers that others in the same industry may not want.

The principal problem with these numbers is that, sometimes, they don’t exists at all. And in my opinion this can be a huge problem. It’s like driving a car in the desert, without any kind of knowledge where north is or how much gas I have left.

More important is the fact, that any time that I want to improve my business, I need some kind of metrics to tell me how I am and where I want to go. If I want to do process optimization, I need to know how the process is doing right now.

When I first started blogging in this site, I didn’t have the left column with information about me, the site and what we do as a company. I already had statistics about the site and how much time people entering here was staying around. Having these numbers, I wanted to increase the time they stayed. So I implemented the about me information and what do we talk about here and since them, that number went up at a steady growth rate. It worked. And I know it because of the numbers.

When I try to optimize some aspect of the business, I take a look at the numbers first and trace a goal of where I want to go.

Implementing BPM solutions will help your business when you want to optimize business processes. That’s why the original recommendation when implementing this kind of solution is to do it initially with the original process in placed. For example, in a vacation request form, automate the request with the original process in placed. Then measure the performance of the process and based on the discoveries and numbers you can get from the reports, trace a route of where you want to go.

This is one of the best benefits of a workflow product that really affects your business and increment your operating performance and your productivity.

Business Rules

Terry Schurter writes a pretty good article about Business Rules in BPM applications. He talks about how to use business rules, not only for controlling the flow of a process, but also to do smart things.

You can use business rules to transform a typical process into an intelligent process, allowing it to make decisions on his own and reducing costs at the same time in the organization. He shows a good example about a loan application request but you can take this to any level or industry in the marketplace. For example, in a hospital, when a patient comes in and his chart is filled or a prescription is issued, the process can determine internally, base on history, if the patient is allergic, even suggest some kind of disease based on pattern from previous visits.

Possibilities are endless.

Quality

Ensuring quality in the products that our
company deliver to customer can be a very complicated process. Sometimes this
involve making complex calculations that involve measuring variables from the
production process. This calculation turns results verifying the quality of the
service or product.

If this processes are not followed in a
rigorous way by the company and their employees, quality can become compromise
and immediately affecting the satisfaction index of the customers. This is why
organizations take in a very serious way how quality is handled.

Because must of the quality procedures
available in the market are process based (Six Sigma for example) it is simple
to keep track and control of them using a
Business Process Management (BPM) solution
. They will provide a central
repository for processes, one interface for changing the them and enforcement of
the business rules. This is very important because for the quality process
implemented to work, every step must followed and completed for it to be
reliable.

For example, CMMI assures a software
organization is operating in a certain level of quality. Level 5 of CMMI is the
highest level and this means supposedly that good quality software is coming
from them. What the framework assures the software organization is that the
processes installed in the company ensures the quality of the service. Processes
are the base for quality, if they are not implemented and followed, there’s no
way we can predict what is coming out of the production line next week. The same
thing happens with ISO-9000 for the rest of the industries.

Almost immediate ROI (Return on Investment) can
be achieved automating quality processes in organizations. The capturing of
measures can be another factor of importance. This measures can be saved in
databases using third party integration and make alerts from them for example.

Huge benefits can be taken automating quality
processes in organization, specifically for enforcing the process, the business
rules and the tacking of measures of the whole process.