Why I hate robots when they’re red

Posted 2018.10.19

by Richard Frykberg 

Yep, that’s what we call Traffic Lights in South Africa. Robots. Automatons that operate reliably, consistently and tirelessly. Timing their change to my arrival; leaving me fuming as I sit and wait for the pre-programmed sequence to determine how late I’m invariably going to be.

Imagine a world free of red traffic lights! Super highways to everywhere. Unfortunately, as selfish and erratic individuals, we do need a system of governance to avoid the Delhi-like chaos that would otherwise reign.

Human traffic cops establish order and do so with a high degree of adaptability, judgement and experience. It is of course not practical to replace automated process controls with humans at every junction: what we need is commuter-centric solutions that combine the cost-effectiveness of automatic sequencing with the flexibility and innovation of humans.

It is my deep seated passion for eliminating inefficiencies and wastage of precious time that led me to a professional career in Enterprise Resource Planning and Business Process Management. On every continent, in every industry, in every function, opportunities abound to remove the obstacles to the free flow of information and activities to achieve the desired business outcomes. Making more sales, hiring better staff, picking better projects.

Business Process Improvement Managers everywhere have their hands full addressing all the components required to accelerate process outcomes. The first step is providing accessible and intuitive interfaces for process initiation. Paper forms, Microsoft Office document templates and even generic packaged software user-interfaces do not meet the expectations and needs of modern users. Given the distribution and turnover of talent it is simply not economical to continually provide extensive training to employees. Multi-lingual, organisationally tailored, walk-up interfaces are required to unblock transaction initiation. To ensure that process inputs are gathered timeously, accurately and completely a new style of interface is required. Apps.

Apps fulfil the promise of being targeted to a specific purpose, being easy to access in the office and on the road, and like the apps on our consumer devices, being easy and intuitive to use without training and secondary reviews to get things right. The technology of the apps is irrelevant to the users: whether packaged by the current ERP provider like SAP Fiori, delivered by cloud service providers like salesforce.com or custom developed for unique organisational processes by IQX Business Solutions, it is the rich user experience and consistent browser and mobile device platform that provide the required user familiarity.

The second component of successful process improvement initiatives is an effective workflow platform. Select workflow platforms that provide both a high degree of process governance but are also flexible to changing circumstances. Implement workflow patterns that deliver the best of procedural automation for routine tasks whilst surfacing critical business decisions to humans. With supporting information and documentation, humans still make complex decisions best. And as all enterprise software these days embeds workflow capabilities, abandon the Nirvana of a single platform, but rather investigate workflow aggregation tools such as OneList Approvals that combine all executive tasks in a single task list that is accessible everywhere.

The final key component of an effective process solution is seamless system integration. As a consultant I used to believe that this was the most important dimension to a solution. But with experience I have learned that while integration improves productivity by eliminating manual rekeying, relative to the overall process improvement benefits derived from App-style user-interaction and process automation, in many projects this integration is of secondary business value. Therefore, when designing a solution technology approach it is recommended to focus firstly on the best front-end and process components, and rely on industry standard integration mechanism at the back-end. Simply put: in trying to decide whether to build your solutions on a proprietary back-end technology that offers a high degree of core system integration capability, or whether to apply industry standard front-end and process technologies and utilise generic back-end integration services, my evolved recommendation is the latter: the ultimate determination of success will be in the effectiveness of the user-experience and flexibility of workflow management in eliminating process bottlenecks, rather than in the final system integration.

So turn all the traffic lights green in your favour and drive your business processes at full speed with Apps, automated workflow and seamless business system integration. Don’t you love green robots?

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App Clutter – But Still My Work Apps Don’t Stack Up

Posted 2018.10.19

By Richard Frykberg 

There’s an App for That! Thanks to Apple, our software user experience has been transformed. From complex menu-driven behemoths to pithy, powerful, to the point Apps. For Everything! And with good reason, we prefer native Apps to websites for daily tasks from checking the weather to communications and banking. The most are important reasons we love Apps are:

  • The purpose and function of Apps are clear, resulting in an intuitive, no-training-required solution to a specific need;
  • Apps deliver a faster, more animated and appealing user-experience;
  • Offline capability – whilst we’re getting closer there are still too many dead-spots, and Apps provide life in those desolate moments off-the-grid; and
  • Apps provide a clear value proposition: a defined set of capabilities for a low transparent cost.

But use-for-work Enterprise Apps impose some unique challenges:

  • Platform – Thanks again to Apple, the majority of enterprise executive users prefer Apple mobile devices which provide a solid integrated base for solution development. But Android devices of all shapes and forms are growing in popularity, and now have the majority share of new devices sales. And even Windows-based phones and tablets are clinging to market share with the promise of desktop and mobile operating system standardisation. So whilst IT departments can specify a standard operating environment for end-user desktop workstations, mobile devices present an unfamiliar infrastructure challenge.
  • Security – The primary concern with internet-based mobile access to internal IT systems is naturally security. Of course, as soon as email is exposed on mobile devices, confidentiality considerations are already in play, and mechanisms for Bring Your Own Device management to wipe and secure devices are already necessitated. But exposing actual business processes to mobile users raises the Ante with respect to both effective user-authentication and data security both at rest and in-transit.
  • Deployment – Whilst consumer apps are readily accessible on the respective platform ‘stores’, mechanisms are required to control the effective distribution of internal Enterprise Apps to the appropriately ‘authorised’ target user groups.
  • Dependency – A number of mobile apps platform providers promise to solve many of the unique enterprise mobility challenges by offering an App development platform. These would make sense if they were cost effective, offered a wide array of commercial off the shelf apps, and enabled a low-cost skills-base for bespoke development of unique scenarios. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A number of ‘free’ apps on the App Store impose significant back-end and middleware dependencies (and cost).
  • Flexibility – Nearly every enterprise software app on the market today from SAP to Salesforce.com offers mobile ‘Companion Apps’. But similar to the applications with which they connect, only limited degrees of flexibility are offered in tailoring these apps to the specific needs of the organisation. So whilst they may support generic processes effectively, the commercial Companion Apps fall short in accommodating the unique and most critical business processes.
  • Cost – Custom mobile application is expensive. Especially where support is required for multiple mobile platforms, and most commercial enterprises choose not to maintain large mobile app development teams, instead preferring to outsource key Apps to development organisations. Completed on a per-project basis, and initiated by different internal departments for specific needs, it is not unusual for a large organisation to have multiple Apps in development, with multiple providers, concurrently. This is not only expensive, but imposes a high cost of maintenance and support of a plethora of inconsistently developed solutions.
  • Suitability – Because of availability, or due to a policy rush for mobility, some organisations are ambitiously churning out Apps for everything. But let’s be honest, some tasks are best deferred to when you’re in front of a keyboard and a big screen!
  • Useability – Both generic companion apps and internally developed apps typically have one thing in common – poor useability. By attempting to support complex business processes in a generic fashion, or using inexperienced internal resources to ‘roll-your-own’, provides users with a distinctly under-whelming impression when comparing internal to consumer Apps.
  • Clutter – The net result of both personal App downloads, and enterprise app deployments is overwhelming App overload. There is an app for that, but where is it? An App for purchase order approvals. An App for leave approvals. An App for contract approvals. You got to be kidding!

As a Business User, what you expect from your work Apps is the following:

  • Accessible Apps for your most important mobile tasks only. You want to be able to choose your Apps, and have easy to use, discrete Apps for common tasks. One Purchasing App, one Sales App, one Task Approvals App, for example.
  • You expect a consumer-grade, high quality user-experience that is highly performant, intuitive to use, and tailored for your business process requirements with no confusing nor unnecessary data or functionality.
  • Desktop and mobile continuity – you expect a seamless experience at your desk and on the road.

As an IT Manager, what you want is:

  • Fewer apps to deploy and maintain – each App, even if ‘free’ imposes overhead to deploy, support and sustain;
  • Customisation, not development – you need to be able to tailor your mobile Apps to your users’ needs using your in-house expertise;
  • Security – you need enterprise quality Apps that implement the highest security standards for authentication, local storage and communication;
  • Independence – you don’t want to be locked into any particular, high-cost mobile app development platform. You seek Apps that work on all current devices without an onerous list of middleware or back-end dependencies.
  • Cost – always an important factor with squeezed IT budgets, you need solutions that provide a clear business-case value proposition.

A good example of an App that meets all these needs is OneList Approvals by IQX Business Solutions. OneList Approvals specifically addresses the most important mobile scenario: workflow task approvals. OneList Approvals expedites critical business processes by eliminating the approval bottlenecks inherent in everything from sales and procurement to safety incidents. It achieves this by providing a consolidated task list of all your assigned approval tasks irrespective of source system. So rather than having to access some tasks via email, and others through a whole range of Companion Apps, executives are presented with a single, active task list that is accessible both from desktop and mobile devices. IT is able to flexibly configure the workflow scenarios for consistent and tailored useability. OneList is fully integrated with your current enterprise applications and document management systems using commercial or customer adapters.  There are no 3rd-pary middleware platform requirements nor pre-requisite application versions. Rapidly install and go ASAP. So approving executives are able to make better informed decisions, more confidently, anytime, everywhere.

So, be the IT hero. Don’t clutter your users’ devices with apps that are difficult to find, use and support. Find solutions that provide the right balance of commercial robustness, enterprise security and device support with the flexibility to accommodate your unique business process needs. Consider OneList Approvals as a great example of a cost-effective solution to provide your senior executives with a delightful solution they’ll use daily and love you for!

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ERP in the 90’s and now

Posted 2018.10.19

by Dave Cole

I first learnt the term ERP in the mid 90’s when the company I was with implemented SAP. ERP meant a lot of different things to different people, for the customer it often meant a massive investment with an anticipated lengthy implementation. For the consulting companies, it meant a lucrative revenue stream and for consultants in the 90’s it often meant an exciting career opportunity and a global passport.

Before we even went live, our internal project team probably turned over twice.

As a consultant, I remember some of the earlier implementation projects I was engaged with. Often only a chapter or 2 ahead of my client counterparts in the training manual, we worked through the prescribed corporate implementation methodology and delivered project after project leaving a trail of disillusioned end-users in our wake. Is this sounding familiar?

We were so focused on understanding the “As-Is” and implementing the “To-Be” that allowed us to cross of the BPML (Business Process Master List if that brings back memories) that we sadly didn’t pay enough attention to the end-users themselves. We thought master data rather than business objects and we preached and trained “Transactions” as opposed to “Processes”. User training often consisted of massive documents laboriously compiled with endless screenshots of menus, transactions, buttons and screens. Training was delivered by walking users through these manuals.

We got around any process challenges by hiding behind User Exits as legitimate excuses for introducing thousands of lines of custom code. The tacit belief was that SAP was the answer to everything and that all parts of every process needed to be managed in SAP. We “shoehorned” processes into SAP by using functionality intended for completely different things, we built elaborate solutions based on “Z-Objects” and sadly tried to dazzle the customer with bits of obscure configuration they didn’t really need.

Yes we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years but it’s amazing that there still seems to be pockets of affinity with some of the philosophies of the 90’s.

There are many terms we’ve come across such as “SAP First”, “Wall-to-Wall SAP” and my favourite, “SAP Only”. However, we are seeing a strong emergence of “Best of Breed” strategies. We’re seeing a proliferation of specialist enterprise applications with varying degrees of integration with the core SAP product. SAP themselves, with the acquisitions of solutions such as Ariba, Concur and SuccessFactors and SAP driven 3rd party solutions such as OpenText, provides ERP integration from flat file to tight web service integration.

Today’s users compared with users in the 90’s are expected to seamlessly navigate between these applications many times on any given day. Whilst this seems straight-forward, this context shifting does create a level of user frustration. This is exacerbated in that most of these applications now provide various forms of mobile apps and simple things like task approval requires managers to manually search across multiple application inboxes for assigned tasks.

Isn’t it high time we focused more on the user experience?

Isn’t it time we solved the frustration of accessing and managing task inboxes across multiple systems?

Isn’t it time we gave users consistent experiences at their desks or on the road?

Simple solutions that deliver business processes to users by seamlessly incorporating SAP and non-SAP data with documents and even allow for both internal and external access. Effective decision making tools that aggregate workflow tasks across all applications, providing the approving manager with rich business data and documentation in a mobile-ready intuitive way, are available today.

In my opinion, the most effective IT projects are those that deliver tangible business value with highly effective user experiences and demonstrated innovation, like task approval with OneList Approvals.

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Human Glue – Accelerate Collaborative Processes

Posted 2018.10.19

By Richard Frykberg

Sally from Accounts Payable scans the consulting invoice. Paul checks the original contract, reviews the project timesheets and contacts the supplier for clarification of charges. John completes a purchase requisition form, prints it and attaches the supporting documents. The supplier, contacts Mary from Accounts Payable to enquire about the delayed settlement of the invoice. She checks the system and notes that the requisition hasn’t been approved…

This is a very real example of Human Glue. A process still strung together by people. Expensive people. A process inherently subject to delay, mistake and non-compliance.

In reality, for most organisations, process automation is still in its infancy. Unlike engineering-style processes for Raw Material procurement, Production or Distribution, which are easier to automate with MRP systems like SAP. But for more complex, collaborative processes. Like bringing on new strategic suppliers, ranging new product lines, coordinating innovation processes, prioritising capital investments and other non-stock procurement, and negotiating key staffing appoints.

These collaborative processes are:

  • Valuable. It is these strategic, collaborative initiatives that move the organisation – faster and to a better place, to seize opportunities and escape risk.
  • Unpredictable. Strategic collaborative processes are unique to an organisation, and indeed define its character. These process rely on the aptitude and experience of management to make the right calls that are seldom formulaic, but rely on both application of intellect and instinct.
  • Time critical. Great opportunities do not wait – whether it is a project, partner, or potential employee, timely decision making is of the essence to an optimal outcome.
  • Distributed. The process outcome necessarily relies on valuable human input from different perspectives – these participants include internal employees, mobile workers and external business partners.
  • Ad-hoc. The volume and complexity of items varies, and requires intuitive input as participants are not engaged on a continuous basis.

To accelerate collaborative process outcomes requires replacing sticky manual steps with an automated platform that must be:

  • Universally Accessible. Participants need to be able to provide input quickly, easily, everywhere.
  • Flexible. Participants need to be able to input tailored scenario-specific structured, and unstructured, data.
  • Collaborative. Workflow automation must support dynamic, iterative and parallel processing flows based on both automated business rules and human redirection.
  • Actionable. Participants need to be provided with context-specific supporting information to take fast action.

In our experience, the key components of an effective collaboration platform are

  • Apps – both web and native apps that offer a clear and distinct solution to the particular process challenge
  • Workflow – Business Process Management (BPM) automation to ensure that participants are effectively notified and tasked
  • Tasklists – effective mobile task approval access and actioning
  • Integration – to the back-end ERP application for input validation, business rule enforcement, role determination and ultimate transactional update
  • Analysis – process and outcome performance monitoring for continuous improvement.

Unfortunately, it isn’t practical to do everything in one system. A compilation of legacy and best-of-breed transactional and workflow systems is inevitable. But it is mainly Executives who participate in multiple processes, and whose timely response is most essential to timely execution. Therefore it is essential to ensure that at least the executives are provided with a consistent user-experience if they are able to provide meaningful and timely input. OneList Approvals provides this capability. A human-centric front-end that spans multiple technology platforms. Allowing executives to take quicker, more informed decisions, more easily.

So eliminate human glue and accelerate collaborative process outcomes with user-friendly apps, automated workflow, system integration automation and analytics. And most importantly, eliminate process bottlenecks by providing key decision makers with a highly-accessible and complete decision support platform such as OneList Approvals.

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How to Pick the Best Workflow Engine

Posted 2018.10.19

by Richard Frykberg

A customer recently asked me for my thoughts on the better workflow engine: K2 or Nintex? This was for SharePoint-based processes and was required in addition to their existing investments in both SAP ERP workflow and Salesforce.com workflow platforms.

For the record, I love Workflow (aka Business Process Management) tools as they help satisfy my professional mission statement: “To accelerate process outcomes”. Ie getting stuff done faster, and more effectively. As an organisation we have worked with a broad variety of BPM tools and amongst us we feel pretty well qualified to express an opinion on this dilemma.

By way of introduction, each tool is described on their respective websites as follows:

K2 Nintex
Use K2 to create any business application you can imagine, with
workflows and forms that span roles, departments and data sources.
Work smarter and stay focused on growing your business, instead of managing processes.
Nintex Workflow automates and improves both everyday and elaborate processes. Designed for business users and IT professionals alike, Nintex Workflow transforms your business processes by bringing together your people, your processes and your content – quickly, easily and seamlessly.
http://www.k2.com/ http://www.nintex.com/

An overview of the respective solutions from a feature set perspective displays a high degree of similarity:

  • Workflow Management (Task and Notifications)
  • Graphical Process Designer
  • Form Designer
  • SharePoint and 3rd-party system Integration
  • Monitoring and Analytics

Technically, however, these solutions are quite different:

  • Nintex is built for, runs on and manages SharePoint-based processes, and
  • K2 is deployed on its own dedicated server and manages SharePoint and non-SharePoint-based processes.

From the perspective of the various stakeholders in evaluating the two tools, my matrix looked like this:

Perspective K2 Nintex
End-User Experience More flexible delegate and redirect functionality
Centralised Task list
No consolidated Task list
Super-User Experience Graphical designer but more complex, requires training Very easy to configure
Developer Experience Extensive API support
Visual Studio Designer
Extensive integration capabilities
Limited API
Limited pattern re-use
Limited deployment management
System Admin Experience Separate infrastructure requirement
Complex installation
Independently managed for scale and flexibility
Easy to deploy on SharePoint
Easy to administer in SharePoint
But adverse impact and  on SharePoint sizing and performance
App Support Experience High volume of application patch maintenance
Active community forum
Effective global support
Broad community forums
App Mgt Experience Cross-application platform
More effective, re-usable 3rd-party system integration
Owned by SharePoint team
Requires alternative solutions for non-SharePoint apps
Process Owner Experience Easy to understand process implementation and monitoring
Deep process analytics
Cross-app BPM platform for consistency of design exp
More discrete activities
Large process broken down into multiple
sub-workflows difficult to review
CIO Experience Cross application, enterprise collaboration platform Essential SharePoint extension for SharePoint solutions
CFO Experience High-value process platform Low-cost team solution

In my opinion, the best tools are the simplest tools – designed exclusively to satisfy their specific purpose. A humble screw-driver, for example. The challenge of having a different tool for every job, is you need to store them all, know when to use them, and how to use each of them proficiently! So yes, omni-tools (my 20-in-1, replaceable socket and screw driver set comes to mind) are useful too! It’s a little bit harder to know where all the parts fit, but one you’ve got the hang of it, a great utility tool to grab when you’re unsure about the challenge you’ll be facing! So which one is better? Commonly there is a need for both: specific tools designed for their specific purpose for things you do a lot, and omni-tools for doing general tasks, that are flexible enough to handle a variety of application challenges.

And thus it is with workflow tools. SAP Workflow works best for SAP-based processes. Salesforce.com workflow is perfect for CRM-centric process automation. Nintex is a no-brainer solution for SharePoint-centric processes. The perfect specialist tools. K2, on the other hand, is an excellent cross-application platform for process automation with advanced system integration capabilities. The perfect Omni-tool to handle you most complex multi-functional, multi-user, multi-period process implementations. I would not be surprised, nor would it be a waste, to provide both sets of tools to the skilled artisan.

And as organisations deploy multiple workflow systems to address all process requirements, the value of OneList increases. Whilst the appropriate Workflow platform to employ for a specific process becomes a simple decision for IT, OneList Approvals ensures manages can consistently access tasks from all workflow systems, with all supporting information and documentation, everywhere, for immediate action.

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