FlowForma's Solutions Architect and Product Strategist, Paul Stone, was a special guest on The Digital Transformation Podcast, hosted by Kevin Craine to discuss why it is important to incorporate no code process automation into your digital transformation strategy.
In this episode, Kevin and Paul explore the benefits of no code for implementing a wide range of processes without the need for IT. They also discuss FlowForma's 100% no code approach in contrast to low code automation solutions with first examples of the rapid ROI that FlowForma customers have experienced.
Listen for tips, tricks, insights, and useful takeaways featuring additional topics such as: no code vs low code, customer examples, Pauls's top 3 tips for automation, ROI, and the future for digital process automation.
In their own words...
Read on below for the full transcript of the podcast.
[00:00] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Welcome to The Digital Transformation Podcast interviews with best-selling authors, innovative thought leaders, and top-shelf executives, all driving today's digital success. This is the show that will help you take advantage of digital transformation to build your business and career. I'm your host, Kevin Craine, and I'm so pleased that you're listening.
Our guest today is Paul Stone. Paul is a Solution Architect and Product Strategist at FlowForma, a team of business and process and digital transformation experts dedicated to making intuitive, informative process tools that empower business users to get work done smarter and quicker. We're here talking about why it is important to incorporate no code process automation into your digital transformation strategy.
[00:55] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Paul, welcome to the show. These days, everyone is looking to technology to achieve a competitive advantage, but there are many challenges to digitizing your business: you need a strategy that matches your business goals, with milestones and a path to actually achieving those goals. With so many options out there for people to consider why is it important to include no code in our strategies and how does it fit in?
[01:24] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yes Kevin, well, process automation is a well-known area: everybody has a business process that involves resources working together to achieve their goals. No code is just another way of saying that you can remove dependency on IT resources. Combine the two and you get your business resources applying process automation to those processes. It sounds very idealistic and there are many hurdles to jump over before it's made real - but we've seen it working in many organizations now, big and small. It's hard to know what has changed in the past 12 to 18 months, is it a push to remote working? Or the availability of technology? Or both? But organizations, where they were testing the waters in the past, they are now taking the plunge and seeing no code process automation as a strategic initiative. It's really making a difference to digital transformation in organizations.
[02:16] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): So with no code, you are literally providing business users process owners with the tools to build systems and make process improvements on their own or with minimal support. And that makes a lot of sense to me. But it also sounds like it could be risky. What can you do to control the risk when you give people the power to build their own systems?
[02:38] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, there's certainly a risk when you give so much control to business people over what used to be you know, IT's domain. By putting in place a framework for innovation, you're enabling those business resources to be creative and to work on business processes that they know better than anybody else. So they have this inherent knowledge of the work that they do, and how to do it best to achieve their own business objectives. But in terms of allowing them the creativity to build those processes, you need to put some kind of framework in place. And the first thing that we would do is we would recommend that you onboard your business resources, train them up, and make sure that they understand what they're doing in terms of process design, but also in terms of how they're going to actually construct those IP systems using that no code system. But then IT can be involved as well. And they can have control over the environment that the business resources work in. So they can deliver sandboxes for example, to business people, where they can play around and be creative and be innovative in their process design and IT can control the production environments. So when a business person wants to move their idea and the process into production, they can go through a gate where IT review the process and make sure that it's good and ready for production. Also many of these end systems you can actually validate the system as it's being built. So in other words, the system will have the inherent ability to assist the business user in the design of the system, and also validate all the business designs that the business user comes up with. So we will check as you go along creating your process steps adding questions for data, for example, business rules to carry out actions like sending emails and so on. The system will actually validate everything that the business user is doing to make sure that it's right.
[04:42] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): It sounds to me like the best of both worlds you have business owners process owners developing systems and being innovative and yet you have as you put it the gate or the participation of it when IT counts the most. So it seems like that would be almost a no-brainer for organizations to move forward, but, you did mention one thing that definitely needs to be considered that maybe I hadn't thought of. And that is the impact of the people that are doing that citizen developer work, you're putting tools in their hands. And that has a cost both in terms of money and time and training, as well, how do you balance that cost against the benefits.
[05:22] Paul Stone (FlowForma): I think the real key is the onboarding program that you use for staff to get them up and running quickly so that they're delivering benefits in a matter of weeks. So it's really important to not just train the staff on what to do but help them along in the first instance. So they can get something process automated quickly as possible. And then you can put in a monitoring system that actually tracks the processes as they're executed so that you can measure the benefits that are returning, and this can be done very quickly. You’re actually putting out a, let's say, a process in place in two or three weeks, and then you're immediately measuring the impact that's having on the business. So, this is something that allows you to work in a very agile way. In the past, where Process Automation used to involve a heavy investment, upfront, modern, cloud-based systems have a pay-as-you-go type of approach in that you basically, you can start small and import resources quickly get results to build momentum. That's the way we do recommend that you implement these kinds of low code, process automation systems, that you basically get measurable results. Through the benefits that you achieve early on, you build momentum for change within the business.
[06:45] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Now, I've heard a lot about no code. I've heard about low code as well. What is the difference between low code and no code?
[06:55] Paul Stone (FlowForma): That's a very good question, Kevin, I think if you look at low code systems, you will find that they still have a requirement for IT to be involved in the process of building the solution. And what that means is that, first of all, it adds a cost to involve those IT resources, but also, it slows the process down so that you cannot move in quite as agile a way as you might do if you went for dependent on those resources. To be able to remove IT from the building equation, you have to look at a no code system. So a no code system is built purely using configuration. So that all you do is you configure a system without having to go and learn any kind of computer language or anything like that. I’ll give you an example of that, I had a client recently who wanted to do something very simple - a code with zeros at the front. And I showed them a single line of code that would do that for them. And they said, "No, no, no, no, no, no, we can't do that -that's coding, we don't do that. We don't understand that." And so I went and delivered something that entered the system that allowed them to pad zeros by just filling in by configuring a form. And they were much happier with that. So it's, it's basically the difference between requiring an IT resource or being able to do it on your own.
[08:17] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): We were chatting a bit before the show, and I was mentioning that listeners often tell me that they struggle to get the support and buy-in that they need both from IT and perhaps at the C suite level. Really, they struggled to get the resources that they need to truly innovate. Do you feel that a no code approach is one way to overcome that sort of organizational gap?
[08:38] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, absolutely. I think with a no code approach you give people the ability to be creative with the way that they work. And because the problem with having IT resources involved is that it adds a kind of a bottleneck, and it slows everything down. There's lots of procurement processes in place that you have to go through to get those IT resources allocated and so on. So I think if you adopt a no code approach, you can become much more creative and you can demonstrate the benefits very quickly. I think that's really key and where a lot of digital transformation programs falter, is that they don't and demonstrate the benefits quickly and that means you lose momentum. So if you can actually have the agility to go in and build a solution yourself in a matter of weeks, and show the benefits very quickly, it helps to get support from stakeholders and C-level resources, because you're showing the impact that you're having through innovation. As I say in a lot of digital transformation programs that use traditional approaches for transforming a business it's a slow process and without early benefits, it's difficult at C-level to justify further investment.
[10:04] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Well, that's a really good point looking for those kind of quick wins, can you give us an example of where I might find those quick successes and build that credibility and support?
[10:14] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, absolutely, we see no code being used in a wide variety of industries across the globe. While there is no one specific area, there are many different process types that have been digitized, so for example, in product development, which is a Stage-Gate process, you can quickly put together a solution for product development using a no code system. But also there are other areas as well, where our clients are seeing real benefits, such as the ability to involve external parties in your process. So what the moment you may be, for example, exchanging emails with your external parties, simply using FlowForma you can have a step in the process allocated to an external party. So it's having that ability to externalize the process is really critical.
[12:04] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Now, Paul, how does no code Process Automation compare against other digital strategy initiatives in terms of its spend versus the benefits?
[12:14] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Well, if you look at many digital transformation programs, they focus on large initiatives. So for example, implementing a CRM system or an ERP system, with those large initiatives come very large costs, it takes some time to justify those costs. Once you get the ball rolling, it takes a long time to realize the benefits of those high-cost initiatives. With low with no code process automation, you can start with a much lower investment, and you can use the returns on that investment to justify further expenditure later on. So I think the really big difference between a no code Process Automation initiative and let's say initiative to replace an ERP system is simply the cost early on and far lower with no code process automation. The other thing is that the benefits are very obvious. So once you've started down this road, it's very easy to see those benefits and use those benefits as justification for the rest later on.
[13:25] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Well, let's talk about those benefits. What about some of the softer benefits, I can see how it may save time I might offload a burden from IT. But how does it help me improve the performance of my business? The intangibles does no code improve things like customer service or employee experience?
[19:54] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Absolutely, and there are several aspects to that, first of all, what the no code Process Automation movement allows you to do is be very agile, and respond for example, to your customer's needs, and as those needs change, you can quickly change your processes to adapt to your customer base. So it's a great way of being very agile and adapting to your customers and your suppliers and your employee's need as well. And to make sure that your processes are aligned with those. And if you have processes that are aligned with your customer's expectations, or exceed your customer's expectations, obviously that's going to improve your customer experience improve your customer level of satisfaction. In addition to this, having the ability to involve the customer in the process makes a big difference as well. It increases your efficiency, obviously, but it improves your customer experience as well because the customer sees the results of their actions. So where let's say you send a customer a link in an email, they click on the link, they fill in their survey or their order request and then automatically they get an update back that the request has been processed and they can track that request as it goes through the organization through the business process. It really makes a difference to a customer that their needs are being met. Also, there are other intangibles as well like if you look at many of our customers use FlowForma for interacting with their suppliers, because you can involve external stakeholders, so your suppliers can actually send you information. And they can apply, for example, to be imported as a supplier to your organization. They could also enter in purchase order details as one and invoice details directly into the system and be an active participant in the process. The same effect goes for employees. The interesting thing about employees is that you can also obviously automate your business processes in relation to employees, like your HR processes, and so on. But the other thing to say is that employees also benefit from being empowered. They, they feel that they've really achieved something when they built their own system. And they can measure those benefits. And it can really make a difference to their level of satisfaction with the – they are able to implement processes that are directly relevant to them, that they feel a level of ownership on. And ultimately, those processes and the improvements in those processes benefit them in terms of achieving their own objectives.
[16:30] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): That's a great point, Paul, you have now employee buy-in and ownership of that new system or that changed process, often process owners or workers frontline workers feel imposed, there is an edict that comes down that we will now use a new system or maybe IT comes through and says everything's gonna change. And you can get to a point where people are actually resisting that change. But what you're saying with this approach is that now, the very people that are using the new systems are the ones designing it. And so they have an intrinsic buy-in and embracement of the new way of working, that then brings about even further benefits than ever before.
[17:10] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yes, absolutely, certainly we've seen in our customer base, a real change in the attitudes of people who are building processes, the fact that they feel that they own the process, that it's their baby, in effect, really makes a difference to not only the better design of the process but also the adoption of the process because they will cooperate with their co-workers to get that process adopted during the business. And of course, the adaptive process is a process that's delivering those benefits at the end of the day.
[17:39] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): That's right, that you can implement all the technology you want but if people are not using it or not utilizing it the way it's meant to be, then it can all be for naught. Now, you did mention a couple of examples. But can you give us a specific example of one use case or an organization that you have worked with, that you feel has been successful in using this approach? And how did it work for them? And how can we do it too?
[21:18] Paul Stone (FlowForma): I think if I were to take an example from the construction industry, where the construction industry is lagging behind compared to many other industries because they're very paper heavily dependent on paper. But they're very keen to move off. And if you look across the industry, we have customers in many different countries who are in construction and want to move away from paper. And what we find is that we have a company who's who is very keen to push a digitization initiative. And they decided that instead of just automating one single process, they were going to automate as many as they could initially. So what they did, surprisingly, and they surprised even us was that they automated 42 processes over a space of 10 weeks. So two guys got on the training course, the two-day training course, and then managed to digitize 42 processes, it was really quite amazing. And they basically worked with each other and you know, pushing each other on and went live with 42, to begin with. And of course, as soon as they did that it was a massive change because this was an organization who had been using paper before with very little digitization, emails, spreadsheets and paper, and then suddenly they had 42 digitized processes, really significant change.
[19:34] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): So that must then give that organization a significant edge on their competition. I mean, I would imagine other construction firms may be in the same sort of boat with their reliance on paper and the inefficiencies that come with that here, this client of yours automates 42 processes. Do you feel that then that gave them a competitive advantage over their competition?
[19:58] Paul Stone (FlowForma): That's indeed all they were interested in. So they did digitize to an extent, to save costs, of course, and to increase efficiency. But it's all down at the end of the day, it’s a very competitive business, a very low margin business. And it's all about really, you know, having better operational procedures than your competitors. It's very critical. So they absolutely did view it that way. And that was their intention on the outset, you know?
[20:30] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): How does FlowForma help? And where can we find out more? If we want to take the next step?
[20:34] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, well, we offer a trial process. So basically, we have a lot of information on our website, including a lot of case studies of people who've done this and done it well. We also offer a trial-based process so you can try it before you buy. And you can sign up for a trial by going to our website, or putting in a contact request through the website. And we'll get straight back to you and get you set up with a trial. We also, on occasion, will offer you, you know, templated processes to try out. So for example, in the construction industry, we've got a set of templates we can provide to you. So what I’d do in the first instance is go to the website, have a read of some of that content, and then put in a request to have a trial and we'll get you set up in no time.
[21:30] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): We have been speaking with Paul Stone solution architect and product strategist at FlowForma. Find out more at flowforma.com. Now Paul, we have reached the action item round of the show. I'd like to ask for action items that we can do to take advantage of your ideas and advice. Can you please provide us with three quick bullet point suggestions that our listeners can do to begin to take advantage of your ideas and advice?
[22:27] Paul Stone (FlowForma): Yeah, first of all, I'd look to identify business processes in your organization, which if they were digitized would have a real impact. We always talk about, you know, how people should look for the obvious - the processes that are there that everybody participates in, but right now, they run on paper and spreadsheets and email chains. Those processes are ripe for digitization. So go and find out what those processes are, and maybe map them out, have an initial stab at what the process actually looks like on a piece of paper.
The next thing to do is contact FlowForma, go to the website, sign up for a trial and talk to us and we will help you digitize that process.
The next thing then is to champion the process. So what does that mean? Well, basically, digitalization is often something quite new to a lot of companies. They're running on these traditional methods of communications, like emails, and so on. And to move to a truly digital process is a cultural change. So what we need to help that cultural change is for you, as a business person to sponsor this initiative inside your organization. So you need to support this initiative and get your resources to take that jump to make that leap to using digital processes. And typically, in our experience, once they've made that short jump, once you try that out, basically you'll see the benefits very quickly.
[24:05] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): 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 and executives and business owners all of us really be thinking about now and strategizing for in order to be prepared for the world in five years' time?
[24:23] Paul Stone (FlowForma): I think digital processes are something that's going to simply become prevalent everywhere in five years' time. So for one way or another, you will be using digital processes in five years' time. Because it standardizes your interactions and helps you achieve things very quickly. So that's for sure something's going to happen in five years. But what I'd say in addition to that, so at the moment we're talking about digitizing your, your paper-based processes, and so on. In five years' time that will include aspects of artificial intelligence, where artificial intelligence will be looking at the execution of your processes as suggesting improvements to you. And this is something that we're already looking to build into our own product. But this is something that for in five years time would be much more prevalent. And so that's, I think the key direction of the process digitization, looking forward into five years.
[25:24] Kevin Craine (The Digital Transformation Podcast): Well, Paul, we'll have to have you back on the show to talk exactly about that, the confluence of Process automation and AI is another area, as you mentioned, that is going to be breaking open here in the next not just five years, five months, perhaps. So we'll have to have you back to talk more about that. But that is Paul stone with FlowForma. Find out more at flowforma.com Paul, thank you so much for being our guest today on the Digital Transformation Podcast.