To automate or not to automate? A guide to workflow

Automation is a very popular demand from business heads. Organisations should always aim to improve their business processes more and many see big benefits from improving the way they work through enabling technologies like SharePoint. These benefits can be things like;

  • Reducing costs
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Improving consistency and confidence
  • Improving a service
  • Creating visible, auditable reports
  • Producing reliable Management Information (MI)/ Business Intelligence (BI)
  • Process optimisation

SharePoint is a platform that handles workflow and the removal of manual processes really well. However, you can get to a point where too much work is automated – yes, this can be a big problem! So how can you avoid this (very) real scenario?

Firstly, before you begin designing workflows for everything and the kitchen sink in SharePoint, you need to ask yourself a few questions (remembering that every organisation is different);

  1. Which business processes are painful/laborious/prone to error?
  2. Which processes would lend themselves to automation easily?
  3. Will automating this process actually save time/money?
  4. Do you fully understand every element of the process (have you mapped it out)?
  5. How do you intend to measure the improvement this automation ‘promises’? (hint: do you have a clear understanding of a baseline)?

These key questions should help you understand
whether the effort needed to design and implement (and enforce!) a workflow is indeed the right thing to do.

The next step should be to investigate the process chosen for automation to the nth degree. You need to know a lot about the current process so that you can automate/improve it with SharePoint. For example

  • How do you describe the process?
  • What happens during the process? What are all the steps? Can you map each stage?
  • What is the outcome of it?
  • Who is involved in it?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for it?
  • Which systems are involved?
  • How long does it currently take? How frequently does it need to happen?
  • Are there any ‘exceptions’ to the process?
  • Are there any ‘blockers’ or ‘bottlenecks’ in the process? Do you have escalation points?
  • Are security levels in effect for it? Is there an existing governance plan in place to support it?

You will now have a pretty good idea on the size, shape and rough cost of your existing process. Relying on SharePoint’s workflow capabilities and some SharePoint expertise, you’ll then be able to understand the effort needed to translate that process into a fully or part-automated workflow.

A good rule of thumb is to look for scenarios where an existing electronic form simply doesn’t auto populate and is cumbersome to complete. Often these are easy to rebuild in SharePoint and can simply be easier to process/fill out and maintain over time.

Obvious business tasks/areas ripe for automation:

  • Approvals or reviews of any content (eg Documents)
  • Confirmation of completed tasks
  • Rule-based assignment of tasks/work
  • Form-based processes (either paper or electronic)
  • Most booking processes (eg, existing paper-based recording of information!)

Want some examples of areas where we help our clients automate? (this is NOT exhaustive!)

  • HR: Absence Reporting
  • HR: Holiday booking
  • Sales Lead Pipeline Review
  • MI reports
  • Dashboard approval
  • Expense Reimbursement
  • Room booking & Management
  • HR: Recruitment – Interview and Hiring Processes
  • Sales Forecasting
  • Meeting Planning and Management
  • HR: Employee Appraisal
  • Policy Review and Approval
  • Travel Booking
  • HR: Training and Management
  • Event Planning
  • Projects: Change Request Management
  • Product Planning
  • Help Desk Ticket Management
  • Compliance Support/Audit trail reporting
  • Investment/Account Management/Review
  • Contacts Management
  • Inventory Tracking

While there is clearly a lot that you can automate, you should always do it for the right reasons.

For more information on automation within SharePoint contact info@business-agility.com

SharePoint Case Studies
SharePoint Intranets
News & opinion