Workflow Automation Software

Millennia Group Blog

Training to Overcome Failure

via Andrea Arden on FlickrThere are many examples of human endeavors that would not have ended well without training.  Moon shots, marathon running, heart surgery and triple axles (not 100% sure what that is) are just a few that come to mind.  But don’t just think of training as necessary only to achieve super human feats. 

Training is one concrete way to maximize the value of your software investments, a more mundane but very worthwhile goal.  It doesn’t matter what type of software it is, if users don’t use it (out of fear) or use it incorrectly, the investment will not pay off – aka, Failure.  That failure can be avoided with well thought out training.

There is a possibility that software was purchased and there was no real need.  No amount of training will fix that.  But if there was a demonstrated need and the software has the functionality and passes all of the user testing, then training will be beneficial.  Here is where things get a little tricky.  What type of training do you need – Fearful Users, Busy Users or Silent Users?

Some users are not technology wizards and they have a fear that they will break the software or that they can’t do it.  These users need training that is patient, methodical and repetitive.  Reinforcement that nothing is going to break and a backup exists will help.  Involving their peers as trainers will be less stressful on Fearful Users.  Getting to some quick success will also help.

Busy Users are very busy and don’t stop to listen, they just click on anything that moves or frankly that doesn’t move.  Typical training gets sidetracked because the Busy User has gone into a rabbit hole and time is wasted trying to get out.  Methodical, phased training is the best solution for Busy Users.  Ideally, only showing the minimum number of options initially reduces the chances of going off the rails.  When concepts are grasped, add some additional functionality.

ForSilent Users or users that don’t explore the software or ask questions, the training needs to be on the value of the help file or the availability of the support desk.  Many times these users will develop their own work-around to a problem because they were not aware a feature existed that could help them.  These Silent Users just need to be trained to click Help or call support.  Call the software provider, they would love to hear from these users and get real world examples of problems the user is trying to solve.

These are simplified classifications of users and not intended to be a slam on any type of user.  All users learn differently and all need training to overcome some issue that will prevent them from achieving maximum success.  The onus is not on the users.  The onus is on the employers, trainers and software providers to recognize the types of users they have and to develop appropriate training.  It’s not likely that you will get someone from accounting to perform heart surgery with some training, but you might cut down on costly and embarrassing billing mistakes.

Here are a few articles that might be helpful and there are many more resources out there to help make your training pay off.

https://community.articulate.com/discussions/building-better-courses/what-s-the-best-way-to-teach-people-new-software

https://elearningindustry.com/6-important-techniques-to-training-success-before-it-even-begins

http://elearninguncovered.com/2015/09/three-tips-for-teaching-successful-software-training-classes/

Millennia Group is a workflow and document management solution provider founded in 1996.  For more information please visit our website at www.mgdocs.com or email us at info@mgdocs.com.

Digital Initials vs Digital Signatures

via Flickr by Kurtis GuftonAt some point in our working careers most of us have planted our initials on some form or memo to signify our approval.  Yes, I agree that purchasing this $1mm piece of equipment is a good idea – MC.  It’s not a legal issue such as when a contract requires a full signature, but it does indicate that we take responsibility for or acknowledge the contents of a document.  There is a justified need for the initials.

The legitimacy of digital signatures for legal documents has been debated in the Supreme Court and every major country in the world.  Software solutions exist and thrive providing secure digital signatures that comply with the law.  This is all positive for our economy as it makes business processes more efficient.  Here is a little hint – there’s a lot of bang for the buck replacing ink on internal forms with digital initials.

Truth be told, it may not cost anything to get the benefit of digital initials.  Digital initials isn’t some type of software solution, it’s a result of a trackable action.  Send an email around to three people asking for them to bless a decision and save the final email with all three responses – digital initials.  Have all three people open the Word file and type their initials and the current date while tracking changes – digital initials.

There are many examples of simple and free solutions that have the same basic purpose as taking out your pen and scribbling on a page.  The need for the initials can be a compliance issue or simply that the boss wants to make sure everyone has used their special knowledge to collectively make a good decision.  Whatever the reason for requiring the acknowledgement, it’s easy and provides some level of comfort.

However, some businesses or business processes may require more stringent proof than an email chain or logging in a Word file.  In those situations, a document management solution with workflow or an online form type workflow might be needed.  These solutions will have built-in tracking of user actions down to each computers IP address.  In essence, the solutions provide digital fingerprints.  These solutions also provide alerts, attached supporting documentation for easy review, mobility and productivity tracking as added benefits.

The bottom line is that business processes really don’t need a paper document routing around for internal signatures.  There are plenty of options that can provide an easier and much more efficient process.  Depending on the process, the use of workflow may have a significant ROI.  You may have just invested in a nice new fountain pen and perfected your John Hancock, but take a look around your company and see how some simple changes might have a big impact.

Millennia Group provides SaaS model workflow and document management solutions to companies looking to become more efficient.  For more information go to www.mgdocs.com or send us an email at info@mgdocs.com.

Don’t be Frightened, Be Practical

via Flickr, Allen WatkinsThere is no denying that many businesses absolutely need automation in order to get to that next level of efficiency.  Unfortunately, large companies with large budgets drove the development of most automation solutions and therefore, those solutions are very complex.

This legacy complexity creates an actual and perceived barrier to implementation.  Small to medium businesses (“SMB”) don’t have the training and support resources, nor the cash runway to implement and achieve the promised benefits from automation.  But SMBs, don’t be deterred, there are automation solutions that will fit your budget, workforce and customer needs.

The poster child of complex solutions for efficiency gains is an enterprise resource planning system or ERP.  Software solutions have a tendency to be built to do everything, but as we all know, that can lead to an application that does nothing well.  Many ERP’s have a module for virtually every function of the business, but this breadth of business coverage is what makes these solutions so complex and potentially less effective than planned.

The ERP should be used for the functionality where it excels and provides value that is measurable and difficult to replicate with multiple separate applications.  Its ok to only use the modules that meet the test and to use other, separate applications for other functionality.  In other words, take a practical approach instead of an idealistic approach.  Find some solutions that will cleanly and easily get the job done.

Several benefits may come from this such as, lower cost, the opportunity for a phased approach, faster employee adoption and ultimately, faster return on investment.  The biggest benefit of looking at the situation in this way is that you should not be overwhelmed or deterred. It is doable.  It may take some small steps first and a solid plan, but the whole point is to get started down the automation path.  Doing nothing is exactly that, doing nothing.

If you don’t get started, the opportunities for efficiency gains, cost savings and happy customers can slip away.  So look at taking on a document management system to help get the customer and job files into accessible digital format.  Think about implementing a CRM to stay connected with your customers and prospects.  Maybe a collaboration site to improve adhoc project results.  These are not necessarily large outlays but will provide the needed automation and company advancement.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  For more information and additional blog posts, please visit our website, www.mgdocs.com.

All for one and one for all

via Flickr by wiredforlegoFor over 20 years our company has been providing services and solutions to the commercial real estate industry.  It’s a very large industry.  Depending on which stats you read, the U.S. commercial real estate industry is valued at over $15 Trillion dollars and growing by almost $70 Billion a year.  That is the size of the U.S. stock market. 

The commercial real estate industry is also very complicated.  It consists of developers, investors, advisors, managers, brokers and lenders.  These parties form partnerships, joint ventures, REITs, TICs and dozens of ownership structures.  And all these interested parties can be involved in a single property and they all have one thing in common – they have a copy of the same lease document.  At least it should be the same document.

All industries have challenges trying to map out a good document management strategy, but the commercial real estate industry has to be one of the trickiest.  It’s not only the critical lease documents, but loan documents, budgets, deeds, surveys and many other types that are needed to operate, own, finance and invest in commercial real estate.  On top of the many documents, the aforementioned web of interested parties needs to access and securely share those documents – yes, challenging.

On top of that, real estate never goes away, which creates a long-term requirement to maintain some documents.  Buildings do get demolished, but generally new ones are built.  Buildings may start as a warehouse, but end up as luxury condos.  Some of the documents associated with those buildings will exist for the life of the property, despite how many different entities have owned it. 

Going back to that lease document that was mentioned earlier, much of the $15 Trillion in value is dependent on that one type of document.  If all entities and users aren’t looking at the same version of that document, the consequences of misinformation can be substantial.  The ability to certify a document as final, such as a recorded document, can therefore be very beneficial. 

Block chain technology could possibly be helpful here in conjunction with cloud based access and security.  The lease document is routed through a process of signing and at the end, it is certified.  Once it is certified, then any user with access to that document, today or long into the future, would have comfort to rely on its contents.  The old method of document recording certifies, but doesn’t protect privacy.

We have seen workflow be a fantastic method of ensuring a complete and clean set of documents at the end of a lease process.  The complete, approved set of documents and information is published to the searchable archive as final, essentially certified.  If one more step is added, that the document obtains a private block chain ID (“certified”), then all future interested parties know they can rely on it.  One for all and all for one.

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

Czar needed, must be friendly

via Flickr - Boston Public libraryIf it’s a common refrain in your company that nobody can find anything on the file server or in the document management system, you are not alone.  In many cases a company believes this is because they have a digital document organization problem or possibly the lack of a document czar. 

Just because a company is not staffed entirely with former librarians doesn’t mean that a lack of organization is the only problem.  There may be other factors at play, like for instance, rapid growth or a string of acquisitions.  However, what’s really missing might be a document collection strategy.

Documents come into the organization in many ways – documents created internally, email, downloads, thumb drives and there is still paper.  Your document management solution needs to have multiple ways to collect or ingest documents AND methods of efficiently corralling the documents so they can be consistently tagged before filing. 

There are systems out there and in development that use artificial intelligence to auto tag documents, which makes it easy on the creator or recipient of the documents.  This functionality seems to have limited suitability for many businesses given security and privacy risks.  It may also fall short if users lose trust in the search results.

The collection strategy needs to identify how documents come into the organization and have a policy that dictates how each of the in-bound paths is managed.  Shut off storage space on local computer drives.  Email inbox rules for how long an email can remain in the inbox before it must be filed.  A mail room that scans and delivers electronically with rules for documents requiring wet signatures.

Most importantly, ensure that all documents coming into the document management system have minimum required meta data associated before filing (“tagging”).  The requirements are based on the type of document, ie. HR documents need to specify the employee, document date and document category (I-9, Benefits, etc.).  It is optimal to use drop down lists where possible – use the list of employees or the list of customers via integration with line of business applications.

Make it as easy as possible for users to send documents into your document management solution and force a tagging process.  Drag and drop, email in, scan directly in, batch uploads, save to, whatever you need to do to make it easy, make sure that method is available.  You can also have some processes that use workflow to gather and publish documents into the system.  Most importantly, make sure all of those methods force the tagging.  Make the system be the czar.

We are all different

via Flickr - TorleyIt’s no surprise that no two businesses are exactly alike and certainly no two employees are either.  Our differences, along with the options provided by technology and changing circumstances, create a tremendous number of possible outcomes as it relates to information creation.  This is especially true of information in the form of documents.

Every day in every business, employees are creating documents, searching for documents, receiving new documents and sharing documents with others.  It’s imperative that the information makes sense, otherwise errors are made and time is wasted.  But since we are all different, don’t be surprised at how someone else defines what a document is and in what form it’s delivered. 

Document management systems (“DMS”) have to be about more than just finding documents, they have to be tools to help organize and make sense of the information.  In that respect these systems need to be able to help users collect, organize and share information, regardless of the variety of formats and user defined “documents”. 

When working with scanned documents, you really don’t know what to expect and it could be complicated.  In the interests of time, some users will take the stack of mortgage documents to the scanner, place the whole stack in the feeder and press go – one giant PDF emerges.  Or maybe the scanner can only take 25 pages at a time so the 75 page report comes out as three 25 page PDFs and all three go into the DMS. 

Use Adobe Acrobat and all its capabilities for splitting, merging and organizing documents before adding the documents to the DMS.  Or ideally use the functionality in the DMS to split or assemble the files into actual documents; a contract, a letter, a report, etc. before uploading.  Controls in place when adding documents will help keep information in a consistent useable format- easy to find, understand and share. 

Try to avoid short cuts.  Users may not want to take the extra minute or two to follow procedures.  Not following those procedures will most certainly lead to wasted time and possibly poor decisions.  Train users on the capabilities of the DMS and on the reasons for the controls.  Show them the benefits of 

It’s not so simple

via Flickr by John McSporran At some point every business probably feels a bit undervalued or unappreciated by customers or maybe by the markets.  This may or may not be justified, but we’ve all been there.  Over the years we have gained a deep understanding and appreciation for one group of businesses in particular that might feel this way – manufacturers. 

There is tremendous complexity in the manufacturing business model of sourcing parts, labor and materials, making something out of that and then selling and servicing that product.  Then there are also government regulations and customer compliance requirements to factor in.  There are highly complex software applications that help keep the cost of that seemingly simple widget at $2.00.  It’s really not so simple.

It starts with design, which generates drawings and a parts list.  Bids for the parts are generated. The parts and materials all need to be ordered and tracked to the manufacturing facility from sources all over the world.  Proof of non-toxic materials, approved points of origin and other documentation all need to be collected on every component and every source.  Then it all must be assembled or made using labor and machines that need to be scheduled and prepared.  Finally, the product is packaged, shipped and invoiced.

While this is the simplified version of a very complex process, you can get a little appreciation of what it takes to create that $2.00 widget and how many they need to sell to recoup the costs.  To help manufacturers manage this process there are enterprise resource planning tools or ERP’s.  These are complex software applications to keep track of the materials, process and labor.  These are data driven applications geared towards smart planning and processing.

Despite having a software application to help manage the data, the volume of supporting documentation is astounding.  Drawings, bills of lading, shipping receipts, customs documentation, parts lists, content certifications and many other forms of documentation are in paper form, faxes, emails and downloads.  In addition to the ERP, a workflow and document management solution is needed to help this complex process run smoothly and to ensure all participants have the complete picture.

Current technology has certainly made the ERP and document management solutions better, easier to use and more affordable.  These tools allow manufacturers and their employees to keep up with the business complexities and stay competitive.  Business owners of all types, especially manufacturers, congratulate yourselves on a not so simple job well done!

Do you have a complete picture?

via Flickr by CatchpennyIt happens every day in our professional lives, we need information to make decisions or to complete tasks.  To assist us in this effort we try to use our memory, the internet and information stored away in filing cabinets, desk drawers and computers.

Sometimes decisions or tasks are completed quickly from a single source of information.  For instance, “was customer order 12345 invoiced?” – you can easily look it up in “the system”.  This becomes more complex if the question simply expands to “and was it correct?”.  Just like that you need much more information to come to the correct decision.  It would be nice if there was only one place to get the complete picture.

The task of confirming the invoice can be a challenge.  A manufacturing business or a service business will likely mean that there are several inputs and therefore, a more complex task.  A few items that might be needed include; the contract and amendments, the quote, the actual order, parts list and materials order form, shipping documentation, tax documentation, time cards, etc.

In many businesses, some portion of the supporting information is a document, whether paper or digital.  In most businesses, the true source of the supporting information is a document that was used to enter data into “the system”.  The issue isn’t just about having access to the supporting information, but it also includes trust in that information because the data may have been entered incorrectly.

Information access and business processes need to incorporate the entire package of supporting data, including documents, to be optimal.  When supporting documentation is actually paper, it invariably includes notes in the margin, notes that may never have been entered into “the system”, but provide valuable information.  Contracts, even those that are electronic with digital signatures, almost always contain rights and obligations that aren’t entered as data but may prove crucial.

The bottom line is that “the system” either needs to include supporting documents or provide integrated access in order to give users the complete picture.  Armed with the complete picture, users will accomplish great things like making better decisions, making customers happy and eliminating problems.  That complete picture is powerful.

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

What work will work on my $1,000 phone?

Via Flickr, by Phil WilkersonThe typical mobile phone these days has a 2 ¼” x 4 ¼” screen and a pop up keyboard.  Most cost something close to $500-$750 and will soon move up to $1,000 – not counting cellular service.  A very competent Windows laptop can be acquired for the same price and a powerful tablet computer can easily be obtained for a lot less.

For many of us a laptop or tablet, possibly with a supplemental monitor and keyboard, is our primary workstation.  Most of us also accomplish much of our daily tasks using some type of cloud based solution, such as a CRM, financial system, document management system or email.  So when we need to be mobile AND get work done, it’s no problem.  But, how much of that work can we actually complete using only the ultimate mobile workstation, our expensive new phone?

Email, for starters, has been formatted appropriately for the phone so it is fairly convenient to read and respond.  Long emails are not always easy to read if you have to scroll through a lot of backstory.  CRM’s on a phone are also pretty good for basic information lookup and adding notes.  Running contact reports and sending mass communication, not so much.  Financial systems on a phone have limited utility, but some lookup and data entry is possible.

Document management at first glance seems like a long shot on a phone.  Who wants to read an 80 page document on a tiny phone screen?  As it turns out, actually reading the document end to end may not be the main use case or limiting factor.  Typically, access to the document is for specific clarification or reference from just a page or two.  Actually getting to the document is a far bigger challenge. 

A useable mobile interface for efficient searching or browsing through folders is the real problem.  In order to have enough context to know which document to open, sufficient meta data must be presented.  If the results only show a long list of documents called “Contract” or “Sales Order”, it’s a problem.  Contract must be further defined by information such as the vendor name and date of the document.  Sales order needs to be accompanied by sales order number and customer name and so on.

Mobile solutions that want to provide users the ability to accomplish work on their phone starts with a well thought out interface.  Like a mobile CRM, a mobile document management system can provide opportunities to get work done using a phone, but the use cases may be limited.  Possibly immediate access to the exact terms of a customer contract are needed.  Another use case would be workflow, where the user needs access to data and documents to make and submit a decision. 

Workflow normally will incorporate an email notice and access to a review and approve interface.  A well designed mobile solution will be able to provide that access so that your workforce in the field can be very efficient.  The bottom line is that there is some work that can be accomplished on a phone.  It is not likely to cover the entire job description, but work can get done.

In documents we trust, data not so much

via Flickr, by Alejandro MalleaSome day in the future it is plausible that paper documents in the business world will disappear.  Electronic documents, however, in the form of PDF’s, Word files or Excel spreadsheets, will continue to exist.  In fact, it will be a very long time before documents, and the content of the documents, cease to be important in the business world. 

Technology has enabled simple processes or transactions to occur entirely with online forms and direct data entry.  But there are still many instances where the content in a complex document becomes the data for accounting or ERP systems or documents.  It is easy to see what was keyed in, but In Documents we trust.

Some business processes are being converted to an entirely form based process where the concept of a document doesn’t pertain.  Take for example the process of setting up a new account with a water delivery service.  The entire process involves entering information into online forms to set up the account and start delivery.  No documents.

There are also processes where the document is created and then the document is used as the basis for inputting data into a business system.  And try as we might, we don’t always enter it correctly.  This has resulted in a lack of trust in some systems and a reliance on a quick peak at the original document to confirm the data before responding to the customer or to your boss.

There are also situations where the document may contain information that is not capable of being entered as data, like a photograph or a drawing or a long legal description. This is supporting documentation that may provide some clarity or understanding not found in data fields.  All systems should require the attachment of the supporting documents so that users can quickly verify the information. 

We used to call this “image enabling” a system – getting the images attached to the system.  There is no doubt that attaching the support after the transaction is entered is good practice and produces positive results.  But there is also the option of capturing the documents as the process occurs, thereby ensuring that supporting information is present and potentially reducing errors in the first place. 

Capturing documents as the process occurs is document management based workflow.  It is workflow that tracks in parallel with the ERP or accounting data entry process.  As the data moves along, the supporting documents come with, all in once nice neat package that can be referenced quickly at the time of the transaction and long after.  When users can have instant access to both the data and the documents, they can trust the information and provide fast and accurate responses to customers or vendors.

Millennia Group, LLC has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  www.mgdocs.com, 630-279-0577, info@mgdocs.com