Workflow Automation Software

Millennia Group Blog

Does Sears have a good idea?

Via Flickr - Mikeg44311According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2016 and 2026 about 90% of job growth will be in service producing industries.  Sears is embarking on what might be a crazy idea that they can revive their retail model by making the stores smaller and what looks like increasing the level of service or service offerings related to what they sell.  Is this where the new jobs will come from, purchasers getting more service?

The U.S. BOL stats indicate that the number two jobs creator will be in Professional and Business Services and number 12 will be Information, including data processing and hosting.  Business software providers must fit into one of those two categories.  However, software providers, like Retailers, can suffer from a purchase decision based primarily on cost and functionality.  Should software firms follow Sears formula and not only provide technology but provide service?

There are software solutions in abundance for virtually all business needs.  After price and functionality comparisons there will still be many viable solutions available.  Will service become a more important contributor to the decision? It’s important to evaluate and value the service that’s needed to ensure your software meets company needs for a given time period.  But service is not an easy component of the purchase decision to put a value on.    

Service value may be a function of the several factors.  How critical is the up time for a particular software to the functioning of the company and its daily operations?  Does the software have many users or is it a middleware? Does the software rely on data input from users or data feeds from other applications?  What should be the expectation for ongoing service given your company’s situation, ie. growth mode, changing industry, in-house IT or outsourced? 

The type of software will certainly help frame the computation of service value.  Software providers and their business partners absolutely should focus on providing good, friendly tech support.  That is a no brainer.  Companies should look beyond just help desk and technical service though.  Is there a closely correlated service that is ancillary that can benefit the company.  For instance, a document management software provider also providing data migration or data capture services.

Software providers need to work with their customers to find solutions to business problems.  Those solutions may be functional tweaks to the software, but they can also be value added services that directly compliment the product.  Sears may have a good idea.  It does seem to make sense that the refrigerator eventually is going to need a repair or new video doorbell might need installation.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions and services since 1996.  For more information – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577.

The Ideal plan may not seem ideal

The prospect of getting a company to change a long established process is difficult, especially when that process touches multiple departments.  That should not discourage technology solution providers and businesses from having the confidence to make well thought-out ideas happen, even if seemingly idealistic. 

Despite excellent planning, some hurdles will take a long time to clear.  One or two parts of the plan may need to slip into a later phase.  Creating a plan that needs to deviate from the ideal solution in the short term may be disappointing, but could it be the ideal plan in the end?

Using a phased approach is common when implementing big corporate wide applications.  ERP implementations come to mind where the initial phase might include rolling out the accounting module then subsequent phases add the CRM module, then the inventory module and so on.  With workflow, there might be phased inclusion of departments in the digital process based on integration hurdles.

Think about a new customer onboarding workflow.  The workflow may start in the Sales department with the receipt of a signed contract.  Then that workflow may travel through the credit department, the accounting department, the compliance department and maybe even the IT department.  Throughout the process these departments are contributing to or consuming information from the workflow.  Those touch points or interactions become the hurdles.

Are all contributors of information inside the company where adoption of the solution is mandatory?  Are all users able to consume information in the same format that they are currently used to?  The goal will be to setup the workflow with the anticipation that integrations will be completed and the ideal solution accomplished.  However, some aspects may initially need to be more practical then sleek.

Create a scenario where the end result will produce tangible, significant benefits but also have a high degree of probability that it will get implemented.  Find ways to make the process achievable today while flexible to convert to the preferred process in a later phase.  Make sure the ideal solution is not too idealistic and you will get measurable positive results sooner.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  For more information visit www.mgdocs.com or contact us at info@mgdocs.com.

Are any of us on the same page?

Via Flickr - Aaron FulkersonIt’s not news that every industry has a set of unique acronyms for describing processes, requirements, features, etc.  As long as people participating in a conversation sprinkled with these acronyms are from that industry, it’s a good bet everyone understands.  Except for the newbie of course.

However, there are plenty of acronyms, words or descriptions that can be a bit too general, which leads to mis-understanding and likely, wasted time.  For instance, when doing a Google search for “workflow systems”, the results come back with 452,000 hits to search through.  Just so we are on the same page, let’s try to narrow the definition of workflow a little to save us all a lot of time and money.

Let’s start by looking at what business problem is being solved with the workflow.  When the problem is a data entry problem, then forms are a great solution.  The ability to create an online form that has fields for user-based data entry is a very efficient method.  It’s also very effective because logic and data validation can be used to ensure that the data is clean, ie. the SSN is the correct number of characters.  So – Forms Workflow to collect data only and route that data to the right people for decisions and processing.

Another business problem is that some processes involve multiple forms of input, such as some data and some documents.  Not all business processes can be initiated by keying in data only.  Some data will be a contract or a spreadsheet or a schematic.  The workflow could be started by a user uploading the supporting documentation for a journal entry for instance.  We term this type of process as Package Workflow (11,400 results).  It is a package of documents and data that need to be routed for approval.

Then there is Document Workflow (455,000 results) specifically for creating the document in the first place.  Document Workflow is all about gathering the right terms and conditions, building a draft and routing that information to internal and external parties for comment and eventually approval and execution (possibly via digital signature – another workflow type – 15,800 results).

Tightening up the definition of workflow will save time in many ways.  Better definitions will cut down research time.  Better alignment of solutions to need should improve implementation time.  Of course, the ultimate goal should be improved efficiency for users, which will be the product of everyone being on the same page.

Millennia Group has been providing Package Workflow and Document Management Solutions since 1996.  For more information – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Steps in the right direction

via Flickr - Tim J KeeganHere are some tips for getting your company or personal electronic files and documents better organized in 2019.  These tips will really make life easier if you are currently storing your company files and documents on a network drive or you use a document management system but never really configured it for your business.

  1. If you have a document management system, don’t let files and documents get uploaded without a minimum amount of meta data (descriptions) being associated with each file.  This goes for folder based systems as well where users just drop files into the folders.  For instance, have all client folders auto-generated based on a list from your accounting system or all prospect folders auto-generated from your CRM.  Don’t let users create their own hierarchy or folder structure – take control of it and tie it to your core business lists.  Use drop down lists instead of allowing free form entry and always make some fields “required” on upload.
  2. Implement workflows for all processes that currently use paper or email for routing and approving documents, especially where decisions are supported by one or more documents.  Use your document management system, CRM or any other solution, just stop using email and file folders.
  3. Less options for searching and adding documents is usually better than more.  Try to limit search options to five or six data points.  This generally provides users with a small enough set of results that they can quickly and efficiently determine which document they need.  Don’t try to give them every possible search field with a goal to get a single document in the search results.  That will slow down the process as the users get zero hits time after time.  Try providing just enough search fields that they get 10-15 items in the results, an easy number of items to quickly scan for the right one.
  4. It’s helpful to include both common names and account numbers or ID’s in all naming conventions for files and folders.  Some users gravitate to numbers or ID’s and some will function best based on common names like a building name, client name or product name. Either way, grouping and sorting will be aided by having both available and this ties in with number 1 above.  Data needs to be consistently applied.
  5. Implement a true document management system and wherever possible integrate other applications with it so that it becomes the document warehouse.  Other applications can feed documents into it and pull documents from it via an integrated application interface.  Implement a web based document management system.  In today’s world, companies are utilizing more third party services that are an extension of the business and therefore, need to share information and be part of workflows.  This is best accomplished by a web based solution that lets users in from outside the firewall.

These are Millennia Group’s top five tips.  We could go on for many more items with other suggestions, but these are high level and will generate positive results.  Of course, with any changes, there will be resistance and learning curves to address.  Get prepared before making recommendations.  Have specific examples of current frustrations and new solutions and benefits.  Repeat the benefits 10 times – that always helps.  Then, get it done and enjoy the improved access to information, increased efficiency and happy users.

Millennia Group is a workflow and document management solutions provider with over 20 years of experience.  For more information visit www.mgdocs.com or contact us at info@mgdocs.com

We feel guilty about tiny workspaces

via Flickr - BakokoThe open office concept is all the rage, both at work and on Wall Street.  It is not only being executed in corporate offices but there is a booming industry of shared office space startups that take open office to a whole new level.  These spaces do have some intriguing features like comfortable common areas to gather and in the case of shared office spaces like WeWork, beer on tap.

However, we have also seen the demoralizingly small workspaces at some companies and we hear the grumblings of workers about a lack of privacy and inability to focus.  We are not owners of office buildings, nor space designers.  We are, however, somewhat responsible for this phenomenon because we provide the tools that have enabled this to happen – workflow and document management.  We do feel a little guilty, but enabling tiny workspaces isn’t the whole story.

It is true that the reduction in cubicle size has dropped significantly due to the fact that each employee no longer requires file cabinets for document storage.  Desktops have shrunk since they aren’t stacked high with folders containing papers that need to be approved and signed.  In fact, your desk may not even be Your desk anymore, its just a desk that can be reserved by the employee that came into the office that day.

On the flip side, a well configured document management system means documents can be accessed within seconds.  No more hunting around the office for a missing document.  No more standing over the copier for an hour because the auditors need supporting documents ASAP.  No more wondering if the partially executed document that you did find in your desk is the best version available.  There is plenty of good that has come from electronic document management.

Far more good and efficiency has resulted from the implementation of document workflows.  Folders don’t need to be circulated around the office for approvals.  Unmanageable email based approvals, where nobody knows who dropped the ball, are a thing of the past.  Organized, trackable, reportable and mobile workflows have transformed how businesses function.  Growth and profitability have accelerated due to expanded operational flexibility and control.

Yes, we do feel a little guilty for those employees that find themselves in less than ideal work environments.  But at the same time, those employees can thank workflow and document management providers for eliminating a lot of daily frustration and wasted time.  We won’t feel guilty when you can solve a big customers problem from your couch on a Saturday during the big game.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions to businesses that are ready for a change.  Contact us at info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577. 

Try doing less, it really works

via Flickr - Juhan Sonin

It is usually with good intentions that a project is tackled with extreme attention to detail.  Every possible variation of input and output are considered and analyzed.  Focus groups are put together to gather information from all interested parties.  The process is time consuming but can result in some good data being gathered and a successful project outcome.  It is the right way to do things.

Now the hard part is trying determine how users will find that data if they need it again.  The data that was gathered may have dug up some minutia but also large sets of data that will be used every day.  The trick is to provide the everyday user with the ability to find information in a few clicks (simple interface) but also provide a way to find that one obscure piece of data.  Can a one size fits all search work? 

An example may be the best way to explain this.  Think about your grocery store.  The food is organized in groupings by type of food or ethnicity.  All the cereal is in one place as are the eggs.  It’s not efficient to configure the store such that all food produced in Sioux Falls Idaho is one place and all food from Traverse City Michigan is in another.  That may be very useful to the one shopper that happens to need something they saw on the Food Network, but not useful for the other 99 out of 100 shoppers.

Searching for data or documents needs to follow the same basic rules.  Building a search interface that will work for all users in all situations is noble, but not practical or efficient.  Build a primary search interface that is useful to the majority of users.  Then provide options for advanced searches either through a secondary interface or filters on the primary search results.  In a nutshell, keep your primary search interface targeted to no more than 5 or 6 optional pieces of data.

The end result of giving users less to search on will be more efficiency, greater happiness with the system and less complaints.  So as fun as it is to try to build the do-all application, all of your users, even the super searchers will be happier if you provide multiple options.  If you are the grocery store owner, just put in an end cap with all the awesome food from Sioux Falls.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com

Absolutely positively this is the one

via Flickr - Dan Zen and William HookLet’s face it, if we encounter 10 of our co-workers during the day, it would be impossible to categorize all 10 as highly structured, organized rule followers.  It might be more realistic to say maybe three of the 10 fit that description.  If you extrapolate those numbers out in a company of 1,000 employees, that is 700 employees that can take a unique approach to structure and organization.  No big deal unless any one of those 1,000 employees needs to go back to find a document because the CEO has a question.

An easy way to turn all 1,000 employees into super organized, happy rule followers is to use electronic workflows where-ever possible.  The end result of workflow is the final, approved set of information upon which all employees can rely.  There will be no more guessing on which supporting documents were the basis for the final credit approval or what version of a spreadsheet was the final one used in the report.  All users will be able to confidently say to the CEO, Yes, this is absolutely, positively the one.

If the 700 semi-rule following employees are entrusted to manage their daily tasks in a loosely structured environment, most will likely complete those tasks in an acceptable amount of time.  What type of carnage they left on the file server to achieve completion is another matter.  All 1,000 employees are at risk of wasting time trying to find the final version of a document or documents that were the basis for the transactions or decisions derived from those tasks.  That is costly and unacceptable.

The technology to turn every-day business tasks into efficient electronic workflows is not necessarily new nor revolutionary.  There are plenty of examples of very capable and affordable workflow solutions that can help a company process new vendors, expense reports, even tech support calls.  Budgets can be created in an online system and routed for review and approval.  Document management systems can help you take a collection of documents supporting a loan request through review and approval.

Don’t let the type of tasks discourage your vision of what can be.  Affordable, secure and reliable technologies are available to make processes more efficient and effective.  Digital workflow processes can be simple two step processes all the way to highly complex ones with 20 steps or more.  Regardless of how complex the process, the end result always produces documents and data that will need to be referenced again at some point.  Use workflow to gather the relevant information, whether that is documents or data, route it through the logical process and when complete, retain that cohesive package of information as the final truth.

Breaking through the barrier to get that first workflow established will be the tip of the iceberg.  Users will see the value and the benefits to their daily lives and the company will reap tremendous benefits.  Just think of how much money the company will save when all 1,000 employees are no longer wasting time, especially the CEO’s time, searching to find the elusive final version.

Millennia Group provides document management and workflow solutions that help make companies more efficient and effective. www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com

To Repair or Replace

via Flickr - Tetsuya Yamanoto, click for licenseMost likely every business school in the country teaches a section on lease versus buy analysis.  That may be trickier now with the constant tax law changes, but nonetheless, it is a systematic approach to comparing the cost variables and economic benefits of each option.  The end result of the analysis will hopefully provide a clear choice that shows one option with a superior return on investment.

Believe it or not, this type of analysis is helpful in the document management world as well.  It’s called the repair or replace quandary.  We find that a high percentage of companies that completed a scanning project, or inherited the end product of one, found that the work was poor quality.  This makes it difficult and frustrating for users to find important information.  Does it make more sense to repair the damage or just start over?

For the repair option, it is important to understand the scope of the problem and the type of problem.  How many documents are affected?  Is it hundreds or tens of thousands?  Was it that all documents were scanned as one giant PDF?  Maybe it was missing pages or documents.  Maybe it was poor naming convention.  It’s also important to know if the paper still exists or not.  It’s difficult to repair poor scan quality when you can’t go back and rescan the original.  

Think about the skill set of the people that would be required to repair a particular type of problem.  If missing documents or pages is the issue, that requires costly, detail-oriented labor.  If the problem is separating out a single PDF into multiple documents, that may be an easier task if the documents are standardized and can be readily identified.  If the documents are not standardized, the level of skill increases and the cost follows. 

Don’t forget to consider the process, tools and equipment that would be necessary to efficiently repair files.  If it’s an audit with rescanning, the original copies and a scanner are needed.  But technical talent may be required to replace the files hosted in a document management system.  When the scope involves large batches of PDFs that need splitting or re-naming of documents, a tool that can efficiently feed up new files and make it easy to complete the necessary tasks will be required.

Starting over or replacing the files is a possible option and should be considered when the documents in question are accessed frequently and mission critical.  Starting over is also a valid option when the problem is missing pages or potentially missing documents from a collection.  The cost to audit the files and find the problems may be higher than staring over.  Renaming documents or splitting up PDFs into separate documents are more likely “repair” options.

Look at the scope of the problem.  Understand the various costs involved based on each option, including human costs, as well as the potential need for new applications or hardware and project management time.  Then consider what the need is for a clean repository and compare the costs to the benefit.  That sounds a lot like a lease versus buy analysis. 

Millennia Group provides document imaging services along with workflow and document management solutions.  Contact us – info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577

Whatchamacallit

via Flickr, BodoAs businesses become more micro focused on efficiency, the number of highly targeted software solutions treating one specific pain, soar.  Examples include expense report management or employee onboarding solutions.  These are cloud based, third party solutions that typically generate a “document” as an end product or include supporting document attachments. 

That point solution may in fact become relied upon by the business users as their document system because that’s where they go to find the documents they need.  It’s not uncommon for these applications to list document management as a feature.  The functionality doesn’t qualify it as a document management solution and the organization should be careful to accept it as that, no matter whatcha call it.

The information and documents in these solutions are likely well organized given that it is a highly focused solution.  The information and documents may be protected and tracked as most hosted solutions manage that by default.  It is even possible that access can be managed to permit other users to access the information and to share it.  Sounds like it could be document management.

However, those solutions are really more a process tool that happens to include documents.  That is more workflow than document management.  The fact that it provides easy access and a well organized repository does not mean it should be treated as document management.  The solution may not meet the organizations compliance requirements, which may include records retention and legal holds.  Just the fact that it is a separate solution makes the “management” component more difficult.

However, the good work being done by that solution should be and most likely can be extended.  The information should be exportable to the sanctioned document management system (DMS).  The export would ideally be programmatic and via a secure API process.  That could be part of the workflow.  For example, when the task is complete, that triggers the push of the information to the DMS.  But even a simple download and upload to the DMS would be better than nothing. 

The point solution may be producing information that is valuable to other users in the organization.  Make sure that information is available to those other users in a format and via search context that makes sense to them, not just the primary user.  So, no its not document management, but it is good information that is well positioned as an input for a document management system.  Call it what you want, but don’t treat it as document management.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions that make it easy for users to find the information that they are looking for. For more information, contact us at info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577 x122.

Collaboration requires collaboration

Every business wants its staff to perform at its peak and to get one plus one to equal three through communication and collaboration.  Collaboration can be complicated, even with technology.  Maybe the best way to highlight how complicated collaboration can be, is to think about the creation of a report that summarizes a new project.

The report could span multiple departments or even include inputs from outside parties.  Therefore, security becomes an issue.  Some collaboration may be parallel such as when working on budget numbers simultaneously in an online spreadsheet.  Other collaboration may be sequential wherein the spreadsheet then provides input for the narrative part of the report – can’t start one without the other. The archival of the completed report needs to be managed as well.  These are all issues that make any single technology solution a difficult fit.

To achieve a good fit using document management requires significant flexibility in the application.  Collaboration in the parallel sense (joint creation of a spreadsheet), requires integration with a cloud spreadsheet solution.  Collaboration in the sequential sense requires workflow with rules and reporting to make sure the next person is notified and bottlenecks can be identified.  When the collaboration reaches outside the organization or across departments, security must be manageable as well.

Not only do files and documents need to be shared in the typical collaborative environment, but also communication like notes, comments and questions.  This could be partially handled via chat windows within the application or the ability to store notes or even attach emails.  Scheduling of tasks may also be required for a collaborative project.  Very few, if any document management systems support chat windows, integrated task lists and calendars, at least without being too clunky.

There are many project and team site applications out there like Asana, Basecamp and Teamwork to name a few.  These are built to help manage the flexibly part of collaboration and can even help retain some structure during the process.  None are configured to be the final archive of the information, that is where you need a bridge to your document management system. 

The bottom line is that you actually need to get technology to collaborate to achieve the optimal end to end solution.  That likely means finding a project site that works for you and then configuring that site with the archive site (document management system) in mind.  Ensure a smooth transition from flexible project mode to organized and secure archive mode.  If you can do this, then one plus one will equal three.

Millennia Group provides flexible document management solutions.  For more information contact us at info@mgdocs.com or visit our website – www.mgdocs.com.