Samantha Bureau-Johnson, VP, Business Process Solutions & Project Management Office, Blue Cross NC
Workflow systems are designed to enable work to flow across processes with the goal to be efficient and get work to the most readily capable of completing. But do they really drive efficiency and optimization in the Digital Age? Is it instead, killing employee innovation by harnessing them to the endless task of clearing a queue?
This article will explore how a company may want to re-imagine their workflow systems and combine them with digital process automation tools (Robotics, AI, Machine Learning) to unlock the potential of their employees.
I read a book recently called Messy, the Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives by Tim Hartford. Mr. Hartford quite nicely points out how humans like to make things tidy. Workflow systems do this for us humans by categorizing types of work, putting them in nice tidy buckets, and delivering them to a human to do something with the item that will move it along the way to resolve the issue. As the human interacts with the queue of work, they repeat the same steps over and over, designed to drive operational efficiency. This practice is rooted back to the early days of manufacturing, circa early 1900, with Frederick Taylor’s standardized work and Frank Gilbreth’s process charts and study of motion.
As we look into the future, we need to re-imagine these old practices as we strive to unlock innovation in business. Innovation is sitting in the minds of our humans, but they are currently using their precious insights and talent, working queues, trapped in processes of cut and paste, searching multiple systems for an answer and reading an unending inbox of requests.
Since many companies already have some type of workflow system, the cost to implement a new system could be more costly and time consuming than can be justified to replace. Other companies are in the hunt for the perfect system.
So how do you move forward?
The future of workflow must include digital process automation tools that assist employees in taking the mindless drudgery out of their daily work and re-task them on higher order problem solving. It is not just about automated workflows within the tool itself. It is also about creating digital assistants to process the queues and to also help the human workforce gather information to be able to focus on the decision needed to close the request.
The future of workflow must include digital process automation tools that assist employees in taking the mindless drudgery out of their daily work and re-task them on higher order problem solving
If you can harness your workflow tool with a business process management tool, like Pega, which is an integrated suite for Workflow, Business Process Management and Robotics (OpenSpan) you can drive a seamless coexistence with your workforce. Combining a human and digital workforce will drive higher bottom line results, open up cognitive bandwidth for innovation, and allow the human workforce more time to also focus on your customers.
Whether you pick an integrated tool, like Pega or add digital process automation tools like Automate Anywhere, BluePrism and others, to your existing workflow system, the key is to re-imagine how you rebalance your human potential in a digital age that drives innovation and agility.
Once you have decided which workflow tool you want to implement, or you decide to augment an existing tool, the steps below, in my experience, are the most important.
Step 1: Sponsorship – Find the right enterprise sponsor who will champion the effort, resolve issues, and work passionately and collaboratively across the enterprise is critically important. They will set the pace; culture and empowerment that the implementation team will need to be successful. The sponsor also needs to feel comfortable celebrating small early wins; ones that seem so tiny you might miss them, in order to build positive momentum.
Step 2: Change Management Program from the start– Build your case for change that is simple for employees and customers to understand. How will this make your customers experience better? How will your employees be freed up to innovate? What are the clear metrics of success? This creates a vision and purpose as a rally point.
Step 3: Understand your business processes and reengineer them first – It is easy to jump into automation of a bad process. Use this as an opportunity to re-image the flow of your organization and truly drive value by thinking about how you can drive innovation and agility in your business outcomes. Bring in you subject matter experts and train them on the new skills and technology, with an emphasis that they are driving the future direction of the company.
Step 4: Create a diverse implementation team – Clarify roles and responsibilities with an agile, yet strong project management approach, will help the team when challenges arise. Clearly defining decision rights helps empowerment, and setting up the right core project leadership team will support the empowerment in the day-to-day implementation.
Many companies jump right into the implementation as a technology project. In doing so, a large number of them fail (60 percent), either in elongated implementation times, higher costs to implement or just never finish the project..
Many companies fall in love with the “new app” and how it will be the solution to all the challenges the organization has faced. In my experience, no application on its own has ever provided the intended results by just being installed. It takes a lot of hard work, thoughtful consideration on how it will work to enable your business and close collaboration of different skill sets across all aspects of the business, commonly referred to as IT and Business.
Technology needs to serve business outcomes. Therefore initiatives like this should be business led and technology enabled. When this occurs, you can harness the full value of the technology from a business and human lens, unlocking human potential and innovation, with technology being there as an aid and enabler of true optimized flow.