Digital Transformation: Start with Workflow

David Threm, CIO, Ash Brokerage
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Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is the buzz phrase you will hear if you attend any IT conference, sit in a meeting with your CEO or have a conversation with your peers in 2016.

What exactly is digital transformation all about? It’s about creating the future for your organization—strategically evolving your technological foundations, digitizing your businesses, creating process efficiencies, providing services to an increasingly mobile customer base and workforce, seamlessly integrating with vendors and business partners, and creating transparency and a quality customer experience.

The question is: Do you want to be the disrupted or the disruptor? So, where do you start?

Start with Workflow

Does your organization have a workflow engine, a business process management system (BPMS) or, in the best case scenario, an intelligent business process management system (iBPMS)? If you don’t, I strongly suggest you purchase one now!

​  While technology can and does create innovation, it is the people and business processes that still drive change, disruption and transformational behavior 

Do you want to go paperless and have insight into organizational processes? Workflow is foundational and a launch pad to digital transformation as it creates opportunities for innovation. It provides a means to digitize forms for internal and external customers, allows you to automate your processes, gives real-time visibility into your process cycle times, and creates opportunities to optimize processes as you adapt and evolve.

Digital fulfillment, automation and enhanced customer experience are key tenets to both workflow and digital transformation. And, BPM provides the framework to optimize your processes from the metrics provided.

People and Process Still Rule

Digital transformation is accomplished by leveraging technologies — workflow is the technology. While technology can and does create innovation, it is the people and business processes that still drive change, disruption and transformational behavior.

Lean Six Sigma principles and the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) process still apply to process improvement and optimization. Workflow provides the process transparency, metrics and information management for people to manage process performance optimization. And, workflow actually makes Lean Six Sigma tools more effective by providing clear insight into processes. Adoption of workflow technology by your employees, customers and partners is pivotal to success.

Mobility

Almost all workflow, BPM and iBPM vendors provide mobility tools for routing, approvals and digital forms management. Your workforce is increasingly mobile and collaborative, and your customers demand a mobile experience that provides the same feature richness as a web or desktop application. Therefore, picking a workflow vendor with an extensive mobility toolset is of the upmost importance.

In My Experience

I have implemented workflow solutions in both the defense and the financial services industries, and I’ve learned digital transformation through workflow is industry and vendor agnostic. Regardless of the vendor or industry, the results are the same:

• Significantly reduced process cycle times
• Transparency into process bottlenecks
• Process optimization

Those results lead to reduced costs, far less paper and significantly improved customer experience. The best part about workflow solutions is once you successfully implement a single business process workflow, then the process of realization for additional workflows—regardless of the line of business or functional area—becomes easily repeatable.

Where to Begin

1. Select a few appropriate vendors. Review standard IT resources, reports and periodicals for vendors that meet your criteria. Will this be a business-driven tool or will it require IT-driven involvement? Are IT development resources required?

2. Set up three to five vendor calls. Evaluate the vendors on business need and choose wisely. You want to select a workflow vendor that is willing to partner in the creation of the first workflow. A good vendor will put skin in the game to bring both business and IT staff up to speed on tool usage, workflow creation and workflow optimization. Select a vendor that can provide best practices and use cases on adoption.

3. Once a vendor is selected, immerse your staff in the tool. Whether business-driven, IT-driven or both, the tool must be usable by the staff it is intended to support. I have seen many workflow projects and implementations fail because those who are primarily responsible for using the workflow tool don’t receive necessary training. It takes tool-specific knowledge, business process knowledge and process optimization knowledge. I recommend using IT and business staff who are knowledgeable in Lean Six Sigma methodologies–this creates a common vernacular for IT and business teams to communicate goals and expected outcomes of workflow technologies.

4. Start small—go after the low-hanging fruit. We all know of a project in digitization and automation that will save us hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, but that’s not the workflow project to start on! Generally, the large projects take too long to realize tangible results. So you should start small and select an appropriate business partner who is willing to be a change agent. This provides the IT and business partners the opportunity to learn the tool and create organizational buy-in. Also, the best place to start any workflow effort is in finance. Finance teams make great partners in expressing the benefits to internal organizations by verifying the results.

5. Repeat step 4 and go incrementally larger in project scope. Once you obtain the first success with workflow, your ability implement additional workflows become much easier. Change can become exponential!

The Future of Workflow

Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a major role in the future of workflow optimization. iBPMS workflow solutions are already providing suggestions to optimize your workflow and create greater transparency into workflow processes and, eventually, AI engines will automate workflow optimization. So you should have your processes ready! If your organization is seeking digital transformation, start with workflow.

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