Years ago, offices were loud; phones rang continually, typewriters clattered, adding machines churned. The focus of attention was usually on paper. Paper carried most of the information used including reference data, casual office communications, action authorizations and action acknowledgements.
Processes were executed via paper forms and the paper physically moved through the organization to document, inform and report on processes that had been initiated, completed or had moved through a given step or phase.
Processes were documented in policy and procedure manuals. When a process needed to be modified, it was a big deal. Here’s an example.
The Dark Ages
Let’s say your job is to approve purchase orders (PO). The PO for a fire extinguisher lands in your in-basket, the wire-type in- basket, not the little icon on the computer screen. You look up the buying department’s budget summary in your 800-page fanfold budget report to see if they have the funds available to make the purchase. The funds appear to be available.
You pick up your big red APPROVED rubber stamp and stamp the PO to authorize the purchase and route it on to the buyers.
A few months later, someone determines that all fire extinguisher purchases must be approved by the company risk manager. The purchasing process must be modified to accommodate that change.
Changing a process in those days meant lots of people spending lots of time in lots of meetings. Eventually a new process is developed and the revised process is published via the weekly updates to the policy and procedure manual.
The next time you received a PO for a fire extinguisher it would likely have a revised routing form attached. You would add your approval and then route the PO to the risk manager.
Paving the Cow Paths
As enterprises moved more of their processes onto mainframes, hardcopy forms were replaced by electronic records. These documented what had been done and what remained to be done via online forms.
In the case of our purchasing clerk, the job was nearly the same, except, the form was displayed on a green screen and the big red rubber stamp was replaced by a drop down menu with several approval options.
Modifying this procedure to accommodate the expanded approval process still requires the intervention of many people associated with the existing process. However, rather than just changing the process and printing a new PO form, now the online system must be modified.
This requires programmers opening the application and actually modifying the code to add another approval line; a vast improvement over the paper system, but it is still expensive, slow and labor intensive.
The Future Now
Even today, some fifteen years into process re-engineering and first generation workflow applications, many processes are still designed around an “analyze and react” way of thinking. When something “bad” happens, it needs to be discovered, only then can corrective action be initiated.
It’s like knowing that it’s time to replace the elevator cable once it breaks.
In the world of Control things are far different. Our intrepid purchasing clerk has everything needed to authorize the purchase right on their role-based dashboard.
The PO for the fire extinguisher arrives in their electronic inbox; the system validates the budget, assigns the appropriate account and completes the approval process.
In this world, many changes are actually anticipated by the system so preemptive action can be recommended and taken. By example, the fire extinguisher may be in a class of product purchases (safety equipment) that trigger an annual reminder to department heads to check the charge level and conduct annual training on the proper use of the extinguisher.
In those cases where the process must be modified, the integrated workflow manager within Control allows the process owner to do so without involving IT or large teams. The manager can simply open a given process and modify it as needed using point-and-click, drag-and-drop technology.
The user simply drags a new approval process into the existing workflow that is graphically portrayed in a flowchart format on the user screen. All of the assorted dependencies, notifications and action items are updated. It’s all completed in a few seconds. No programming required.
The new world is far more responsive and less complex then the world of old. With predictive analytics, we are now enjoying the ability to think and do almost simultaneously.
It’s also a heck of lot quieter without all the phones ringing, typewriters clattering and paper shuffling.