There is a well-known adage that businesses run on people, processes and systems. It is the interaction of these three – along with information – that determines whether a business is a success or failure. However, too many businesses still rely on manual processes, unstructured information and personal communication to drive their organization. As a result, they are often inefficient, inaccurate and inflexible.
Process automation platforms from vendors such as idatix.com are designed to address this problem. They drive efficient, accurate processes by automating workflow across the enterprise, and by ensuring that the right information is available at every step along the way.
Let’s start with a typical process such as responding to a customer support call. This may be picked up by a first-line support employee, who works through a standard list of questions to ascertain the problem and provide any known resolution. If they are unable to fix the problem, they then pass it back to someone in second-line support. The second-line support person analyzes the problem, and then takes a set of remedial actions – for example, they might dispatch a technician to the customer or ship a replacement product. The point is that the process involves multiple people and multiple systems – in this case, a trouble ticketing system, a field scheduling and dispatch system, and a shipping system.
Driving this process manually has a number of challenges. To start with, how does the first-line support person know which second-line support technician to contact? Even if they can figure this out using a set of predefined rules, this will take time and is subject to mistakes. If they then contact the second-line support person via email or telephone, how can they confirm that the second-line support person has actually investigated the problem? Furthermore, how does the second-line person prioritize the issue? For example, this could be a customer with a strict SLA, while other customers who are already waiting are only entitled to best effort. Finally, if a field technician needs to be dispatched to install a replacement, who is responsible for making sure that the replacement is onsite before the technician arrives?
This is only one example of a business process – there are in fact almost an infinite variety. The point is that any business process that relies on manual communication, coordination and tracking is prone to failure – and requires significantly more effort. This reduces efficiency, drives up costs, and directly impacts customer satisfaction.
A workflow management system addresses this by automating both process flows and communications. Taking the example just discussed, once the first-line support worker determines that the issue needs to be escalated, the workflow system automatically selects the correct second-line support person and dispatches the request to their work queue. This request includes all the history of the support call to date, along with any other pertinent information. Furthermore, its position in the queue will reflect the priority of the support issue – based on the SLA or other factors.
This approach to process automation is not limited to a single interaction. In the scenario just described, the workflow system would also be responsible for issuing orders to ship the replacement product, as well as arranging for the field technician. In fact, it would even be responsible for ensuring that the product had shipped before the technician is dispatched.
Because of its central coordinating role, a workflow management system must be able to integrate with many other systems. It must be able to issue commands to these systems, as well as retrieve status information. This allows it to both control and track the process – including coordinating multiple activities as in the product shipment versus technician dispatch example discussed.
This central role means that the workflow management system is also ideally positioned to integrate data from different systems across the enterprise. Products from vendors such as iDatix do exactly this – aggregating and correlating information to support business processes. This allows it to provide comprehensive contextual information at each stage in the business process, rather than employees having to retrieve the information from multiple systems and data repositories.
Finally, only a portion of an enterprise’s data is held in structured repositories such as trouble ticketing systems and ordering systems. There is a huge amount of information that is unstructured, coming from emails, messaging, and even paper documents. An effective workflow management system needs to be able to extract this data, along with appropriate context – for example, it needs to be able to determine automatically when an email is related to a particular customer. This allows it to relate unstructured and structured data, ensuring that it delivers comprehensive, correlated information.