I came across an interesting article from Tristan Pollock, Head of Community at CTO.ai, about workflow automation in the Venture Beat magazine. The article covers a wide range of views from workflow automation. I am focusing on the part that’s relevant for the manufacturing companies.
Automation + workflow automation = ?
Procurement is usually built with the top talents in the market and at the same time with almost the same number of ways of working. This could create chaos and unclarity that can lead to unwanted situations with the customer and will influence the relationship with the suppliers.
Almost half of the tasks procurement does are something they repeat every day, week, and month. These repetitive tasks should be automated, but what’s the benefit of automation? Less manual work, more time for productive work, or just more pleasant work for procurement professionals. The real benefit is to put everyone into the same mold when they do their tasks.
Start big, fail and go small…
Why do we start planning the automation strategy and transformation picture by calculating the possible outcomes in an Excel sheet? Yes, digital transformation is looking at the big picture, and the outcome should also have a huge impact. But renewing everything is not always the way to do things with automation.
Knowing from my own work history that when you start something totally new that no one in your organization has done before, the smart way would be to go through MVP’s, pilots, and other ways to test the organization and the parts of your organization what the process is currently influencing. Not to test that can the solution, machine, or piece of code do it, but focus on how the people operating with this new flow, are they more productive, do they trust it, do they still try to take over the process. The other perspective is to see if the teams, partners, and customers who see the outcome of this new automation flow, are also impressed with the outcome.
One task, million ways to do it
As we all know that if you have ten experienced engineers and you ask them to solve a simple programmatic issue. You probably get ten different ways to solve the issue. When we look at the way professionals, operate in the procurement department. There is ways of working that have been evolved in the past years and decades in to the form they are now. With new leaders looking at the technology point of view in organizations, there might be new ways of working and reporting. Workflows bring these professionals to the same table. It creates a way to operate, but at the same time, it makes everyone obey the workflow. The big challenge in the workflows is what is a big trend in IT security: “Bypassing” something on the way to make it more convenient for him or her.
The best part of the article is where Tristan describes what workflows are:
A modern “workflow” is a process of repeatable steps laid out by a graphical or code-based interface allowing for a sequence in order to produce an intended result.
If a person is not there, the machine will not change the process (yet)
Does this workflow automation help when looking at the bigger picture. Is being more productive value for the whole supply chain? Does it increase the quality, speed up the process, or is it just a way to lower the cost of the end product?
What’s the reasoning behind constant automation need?
If I am looking at the big picture in the manufacturing industry, does it make sense to focus on the cost elements? Would it be better to invest in the future and customer relationships through the supply chain? Reducing or replacing something from a manual process does not always add value, quality, speed, or anything else in the first hand. In the long run, there are clear benefits, but what about in the short term.
Killing the customer experience without people
When looking at the current marketing trends that drive B2B and B2C interactions, most of them include automation and data to fuel the process. In real life, even marketing experts acknowledge that automation kills customer experience.
There is a place for automation in the marketing mix, but can we define it? In marketing, there are millions of interactions in a day, and its obvious that there is automation in place to fill the gaps when a person cannot stretch themselves to be in all of the interactions.
And yes, the workflow automation has helped marketing teams to be more productive, and there is less time when they don’t know what to do. Even if the work is driven by creativity, still the workflow automation helps to keep up with the basic tasks that they would need to spent time with. And that time is away from creative work.
Small steps towards workflow automation, bot not towards process automation
We at Jakamo know that without redefining the whole process, it’s quite hard to add automation to a manual process. It’s what we call in Finland “bubble gum fix”. It means that we fix it because it does not need to last that long.
Remote work drives the workflow automation
Now that we have the COVID-19 and more companies every day are moving towards remote work mode, the communication relies on Microsoft Teams, Google Meets, Zoom’s and other video conferencing tools. Companies and teams move towards remote work mode without having a clear process and way of working for a different type of scenarios. This is one of the key reasons why workflow automation is a simple way to drive the processes where people need to make decisions to a flow where the simple things are automated, and the teams can focus on the bigger decisions.
Documentation as the outcome of the workflow automation
Since in the beginning, the key thing for defining the workflows was to formulate the process into a simple UI where there is a limited number of choices that can be made and at the same time make sure the things are done in chronological order. As an outcome, these workflows through SaaS solutions are documenting every step these individuals make. In manufacturing procurement, the trend has been to use email and other general tools to operate with different stakeholders. With the current office software, they tend to become roadblocks for procurement organization growth.
I really believe that there will be new trends influencing the manufacturing supply chain and procurement, but before going towards the latest trends, some of the old ways of working need to be updated to the 21st century.