In their own words...
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[00:00] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): Hello, everyone and welcome to Everyday MBA interviews with best-selling authors, innovative thought leaders and top shelf executives, all sharing their best techniques and tips that you don't learn in business school. I'm your host, Kevin Craine, and I'm so pleased that you're listening and so pleased to welcome Paul Stone to the show. There is a lot of excitement about digital process automation these days, and for good reason. Business process automation brings the promise of relieving the burden of paper in everyday workflow and freeing people up from having to perform repetitive and mundane and manual tasks that slow the pace of business. But before you tune out, figuring this is all about IT or technology, a new approach to process automation is emerging, that puts users and frontline workers and process owners in control, giving the folks that are most familiar with the process the ability to automate and improve processes without much or even any specialized coding or IT support. So how do you do it? Well that's what we'll be discussing today with Paul Stone. Paul is a Solution Architect with FlowForma and an expert in digital process automation. Paul, welcome to Everyday MBA and I want to explore about how we do all of this. But first, can you give us some perspective and grounding? As I mentioned in the information technology sector, business process automation is getting a lot of attention. But line of businesspeople and business owners, folks that are not necessarily steeped in technology may not be familiar with the term and the ideas. Can you briefly describe what digital process automation is and how it works?
[01:57] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Digital process automation. So where in the past like you’d think of business process management systems, which were built by IT solution providers, providing task management on critical processes. Think of digital process automation as managing not just tasks, but data and documents too and configured by business process owners themselves. It allows you to digitize on a large scale without running into, you know, the problems of the high cost of IT providers and the delays that can occur during that process.
[02:30] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): That's the key point isn't it, that this is something that enables process owners; are enabled to do without necessarily a large team of IT folks or custom coding involved? That's really the secret part of it or the innovative part of the approach.
[02:49] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Absolutely. The whole idea is to empower those business process owners, the guys who actually know, you know, what the business really needs. And you have a responsibility to manage those processes in the business. Those are the guys who really care, if you like. Then it's to get those guys and empower them to actually do the digitization themselves so that they can then drive the efficiencies at the end of the day and without having to go through that third party. Because whenever you're going through a third party, there's always going to be misunderstandings and delays and so on, and the final result may not be quite as good as you wanted it to be. So, take control, digitize yourselves and get the results that you would need.
[03:30] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): And your priority may not be someone else's priority.
[03:33] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Absolutely, and just to stay as well: when you want to change things, you'd be dependent on that third party as well to kind of change things for you. You’d run into a lot of difficulty then.
[03:44] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA):
So, in what ways are organizations currently doing this? And what are the impacts to their performance?
[03:51] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Well, the large need that we see is that they need to remove paper-based processes there are so many paper-based processes around or processes that are buried in email chains and spreadsheets, that people just create on the fly to manage them and so on. There’s a lot scope for digitizing those processes and doing them in a controlled, repeatable way, and also by implementing assistant, where you can measure the efficiency of the process. Because if you got the process on paper and email and so on, there's no way to actually measure its performance. So, there's an awful lot of processes - even where people have traditional BPM systems in place - there's still plenty of processes that they've not got around to, and there's lots of scope for proficiency there, opportunity for proficiency that they're actually missing out on. So that's the biggest need we see coming from a customer, as their looking to remove those old, inefficient, paper-based process so they can gain control over them and improve them and drive efficiency in that way. In terms of the impacts, what we've noted is that people who are on DPA Programs, they're looking at efficiencies gained of about typically over 50% on any paper-based process that they automate. You know DPA platform allows you to automate that process very quickly, and you can see benefits coming back from it very quickly. Even if the process is not a major one in your organization, if you're saving more than 50% in terms of efficiency, you're gaining a lot, and if you do 10 of them or 100 of them, that really adds up to a lot of saving at the end of the day.
[05:35] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): You're saying a couple things to me that the improvement percentage, at 50% or so, is compelling in itself, and then the process is then measurable, which is another key tentative continuous process improvement. If I can't measure it, I can't manage it. So, tell me how all of this works, though, because if I'm a businessperson, I'm saying ‘Okay, this sounds great. But what does it really mean to me in my organization? I've heard of low code development where you're able to develop an application or workflow with rather low amounts of coding and support. But what is no code app development?’
[06:13] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, low code is common in the marketplace at the moment. But with low code you’re still dependent on that IT resource to help you out. And no code basically means that you don't need to understand coding. You don't need to be an IT developer, or you don't need to have to call an IT developer to build out a solution. So literally you just need to understand the process that you're trying to work on and be able to understand it in a very logical way, and then you can actually go in and configure a solution rather than actually coding a solution and basically what that's all to do with is ramp up time. So, the level of skills that you need - IT skills that you need that require actually implement a solution, are very low, and you certainly don't need to learn any coding language which can take months. It's a much faster way to getting your results and you don't have to become any kind of IT professional to actually deliver those results.
[07:09] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): So, Paul, tell me then, in what way, specifically, have you seen organizations use this and what kinds of applications and where do we find the most opportunity for improvement using this approach?
[07:22] Paul Stone (FlowForma): The biggest successes that we've seen are in organizations that used a lot of paper. A classic example is the construction industry. The construction industry is quite far behind in terms of digital transformation. You look at the various industries like finance being very forward-thinking, if you like, construction isn't, it is lagging behind. And if you go into any construction project, you’ll typically see lots of pieces of paper flying around in an office or around a construction site. And this is the one industry where we've seen a lot of benefit from the DPA platform, and the reason is that you can take all those pieces of paper standardized forms and you can actually make them into electronic forms. Electronic forms that are actually accessible on mobile devices, so you can actually work on a construction site, fill in the form on a construction site on a mobile device and then submitted it into HQ automatically, which immediately saves an enormous amount of time where it is a typical paper process. The thing about it is as well is that there are typically a very large number of different types of forms, and digitizing one on its own – yeah, sure, you make a saving, but your real saving is to be able to digitize a lot of those pieces of paper, so do it at scale. This is where DPA platforms really come into play because you can actually, within the space of like a couple of days, you can digitize a piece of paper and a process surrounding that. You can also introduce automation into that so you can automatically email people, for example, you can automatically create interim documents during the process. And this really adds up to a lot of savings at the end of the day. So, in environments where there are lots of paper-based processes, you can really gain a lot of benefit from a DPA platform. The other thing is that many of those environments which are still paper based in this era of digital transformation, many of those environments don't have a lot of IT resources, so there is no option, if you like, to digitize that paper using traditional methods, let’s say. Introducing a DPA platform that could do it very quickly using business resources really helps make a lot of saving in an environment which otherwise there would be no opportunity.
[09:48] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): That's a great example, and in an environment where time is absolutely money and mistakes are money as well.
[09:55] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, absolutely. Where people are putting in pieces of paper incorrectly or illegibly and you know that actually results in project delays, which results in the delivery of the building, which can cost a vast amount of money so ultimately your mitigating risks as well. You're not just improving performance between mitigating project risk, which is very significant in a construction environment.
[10:19] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): It is now the time in history where we can do these kinds of things that we may have been dreaming about for a while. Do you feel that this is a fundamental shift in the way that we will be doing business, how applications will be designed and deployed now and in the future?
[10:34] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, absolutely. Because there’s just not enough IT people around, IT resources around to actually digitize processes and automate it in the way that businesses need to do. As more and more businesses through traditional transformation efforts become a fully digital organization – paperless organization. That's just increasing their competitiveness. It kind of snowballed, started rolling where the early adopters of this kind of technology are going to push ahead of their competitors. So, it's going to push many industry sectors forward using this new technology to actually become truly digital paperless organizations. It's a method of achieving that where, you know, if you were dependent on the IT department to do that for you, you'd be waiting a long time. It is kind of accelerating. We see this accelerating in the marketplace, and more and more companies and more, more industries are adopting this kind of DPA approach, do it yourself approach to their IT solutions absolute.
[11:41] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): Our guest today is Paul Stone. He is a solution architect with FlowForma. FlowForma is revolutionizing the way that we approach digital process on a mission and workflow. Their products are trusted by IT but give the power to business experts linking workflow and decision making with process improvement in a way that really makes a difference in organizational performance. Find out more at FlowForma.com. That's FlowForma.com.
I want to shift gears and talk about enterprise organizations. Many enterprise organizations have multiple information repositories and systems, both formal and informal, and that can make it a challenge to bring all those pieces together effectively. What are some ways that you've seen organizations be successful in overcoming that challenge?
[12:36] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Well with FlowForma, when we originally designed the product, we actually linked data and documents and workflow all together in one single user interface, so as you move through a workflow, you saw data related to task and documents related to task and so on, all in one interface. What it allows you to do is actually link multiple systems together through a chain of actions. So if you imagine there are several people involved in a business process, as each person works on their piece of the process, you pull and push data in and out of your back end systems that you end up with an auto-trail almost of the actions that were taken to complete your business process and achieve your business goal. FlowForma kind of acts as an orchestration layer, if I could be so IT, and basically acts as a layer on top of your systems that it shows the human activity that links transaction together. Basically, you're still gonna have your back-end systems there your SAP or ERP system, for example. It's still gonna be there, but you have this kind of layer on top of that governs the human interaction with those systems in the back end's to achieve those business goals.
[13:55] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): So, is that the unification we always hoped for? One repository of all the information in the organization when one source of truth, if you will. So, are we able to achieve that now?
[14:08] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, absolutely. You certainly can. I think the challenge for businesses is that the source of truth is different for different types of information. You have maybe your ERP system for sorting your client details. You have a different system to store product details and so on and basically having one system that actually talks to each one of those. It always references the correct system for your master data that allows you to link human activity to the actual data stores that store the master information.
[14:48] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): Again, to me, that sounds like some secret sauce in there because our objective is to use information in ways that advanced the performance of the organization, not just to save more and more of it. And so without that unification and that ability to get to all of it and understand all of it at a holistic level, a strategic level, we're never quite there yet.
[15:12] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, absolutely. You need an assistant that records that human activity, the human interaction with the data and so you can capture how that data changes over time and so on. This is the missing link, if you like, because the data stores that have the moment - they're showing the data at one point in time. A static data store if you like and FlowForma actually stores all the activity around and manages a lot of activity and controls activity as well.
[15:40] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): All right again: how do I do it? Can you give us an example of an organization or a type of organization or process that you have seen that's been particularly successful with this approach?
[15:51] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, a very common use case for our product is to handle onboarding. Where you have client or supplier on boarding, usually that's a multistage process and it requires data to be captured accurately by different people to achieve the goal of onboarding let’s say a supplier. Also, you have to have the ability to externalize a process and have that client or supplier actually enter the data themselves on their desktop in their organization. Then that data is captured accurately and passed then into your organization to be processed, usually by several different people before it hits your back end. The whole idea of client or supplier onboarding – a very common use case and requires interaction with multiple people, people outside your organization and also referencing data stores inside your company to ensure that all the information is captured accurately and correctly. Down the line this is so significant because that supplier data, that details of the supplier, the details of that client, they will be used for reporting. So many other processes are dependent on that information being correct and accurate that this is an area that a lot of clients of ours are interested in have implemented and have gained real benefits really quickly.
[17:17] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): I'm speaking with Paul Stone, solution architect with FlowForma. Now, Paul, we have reached the action item round of show. I'm wondering if you could please provide us with three quick action items that our listeners can do to begin to take advantage of your ideas and advice.
[17:36] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, I think the first thing you need to do is look at the processes that you could automate so take a good look at those paper-based processes. See where there are pain points in your organization and pick some candidates where you could try out DPA and that moves me on to the second point is try it out yourself. At the end of the day, you know, I can say whatever I like about you know, this; these systems are designed for businesspeople. But, hey, it's very easy to actually take a trial and actually try it out yourself and build out a process and here at FlowForma we’re very happy to help you do that. Then the last way is: measure the results. With FlowForma, like we said right back at the start, you have this ability to measure those digitized processes so you can actually gauge how quickly and how much benefit that a digitized process is actually bringing you. That's the last point really, to actually measure the results that you're gaining through that digital process that you've put together yourself.
[18:43] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): Paul, it's been great speaking with you today. We're almost out of time. But before I let you go one last question. What should CIOs be thinking about and strategizing for, in order to be prepared for the world in 10 years’ time?
[18:57] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Well, it's really the democratization of IT. So, CIOs typically are managing IT departments that deliver into the business. Well, they've got to be thinking of the business, doing it themselves and letting control out to the business. So, providing infrastructure to allow those businesspeople to digitize the processes and solutions themselves and then provide the guard rails for that and also to help and advise that those businesspeople are going to need going forward. So, it's really putting themselves in a different position where actually realizing that they cannot deliver all the IT needs that the business has. But hey, support the business in doing it themselves.
[19:41] Kevin Craine (Everyday MBA): That's Paul Stone with FlowForma Paul, thanks a lot for being our guest today on everyday MBA.
[19:46] Paul Stone (FlowForma): That's great. Thanks so much for the opportunity Kevin.