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Process Documentation and Automation

Author: John Kaufling | | May 2, 2017

There’s a new wave of automation sweeping the global economy. It’s based on advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can analyze massive amounts of Big Data and use it to feed machine learning. Just as a calculator is more consistently accurate than human computation, so computers are now able to outperform human beings consistently in such fields as financial planning and medical diagnosis.

Way down at the base of the AI pyramid is something called “process documentation,” the act of recording the steps involved in any activity. This record makes possible several business initiatives, such as: process to be analysis and improvement, process training, AI analysis, and  process automation

Datavail, a global leader in database administration and business intelligence, has just released a white paper exploring best practices in process documentation including the role it plays in automation. Anyone interested in process documentation in IT is encouraged to download the white paper, Process and Project Documentation Best Practices and Case Histories. Here is a summary of the part related to process automation.

Most Organizations are Terrible at Process Documentation

A recent study of 1,500 global IT leaders by IDC concluded that poor process documentation is one of the five biggest IT failures of all time. Addressing the Document Disconnect (PDF) goes on to outline the scope of the problem. Among the findings:

  • 76% say the problem is impacting revenue
  • 46% say it’s hurting their ability to plan, budget, and forecast
  • 36% of staff time is “unbillable” admin
  • 76% have had audit trail problems
  • 51% report being harmed due to lost or misplaced documents
  • 46% not sure they have copies of signed agreements
  • 63% say poor documentation has negatively impacted customer satisfaction

If the list sounds familiar, take heart, the situation is getting better. A major reason for process documentation failure is the lag time between when a process is performed and when it is recorded. Employees under pressure to deliver don’t see the value in process documentation. When process documentation is performed automatically and simultaneously with the process itself, it does not require a separate phase to capture the data.

The First Step in Automation is to Capture the Data

A great deal of useful data can be collected through passive capture systems that do not require activation to legally collect data for process documentation and automation. Many organizations are collecting this information. In some cases, service providers are storing this information whether or not the organization is regularly downloading or reviewing it.

For example, VOIP providers often have complete logs of phone calls received, phone calls placed, duration of call, date of call, and other META data associated with VOIP communications. Many organizations have integrated this data into client billing systems that allows them to charge for phone calls or meetings. This is a second step in automation that generates invoices automatically from raw data, and then feeds into the general ledger, accounting system, and client database.

Some of the other capture systems available include:

  • Revision-capturing providing history of document changes
  • Access logs providing time stamps for system entry and use
  • Mail server logs and stored emails
  • Traffic counters in retail outlets, on highways or wherever there are sensors
  • Vehicle system logs and black box recorders
  • Time and attendance systems, payroll and recruiting

United States law is very favorable to the employer in the collection of data from the employer’s systems, including the right to access any email crossing the server and any document stored on an employer’s equipment. Some states, municipalities and international jurisdictions also have laws on what employers can access and store and what they are not. Here’s a piece from the Harvard Business Review that lays out the case that an employer has a right to access anything on the employer’s system.

When you are conducting multimedia data capture the laws are a little trickier. Many large employers collect such data as keystrokes, screen capture, surveillance camera capture, phone call recordings, as well as all activity logs for company-provided mobile phones. Employers are encouraged to consult legal counsel about the statutes in your area. The point, for our purposes, is that many organizations are lawfully collecting massive amounts of this data already and many are not aware of it or are not analyzing it for process documentation, improvement and automation.

The Second Step in Automation is to Integrate the Data

Pulling all that data together into one system used to be impossible and now it’s routine. That’s part of the AI revolution that is built on top of vast data warehouses integrating inputs from thousands of devices and access points. That client phone call that lasted 27 minutes doesn’t land on the invoice without data integration. Once it’s on the invoice, it’s in the accounting system. At too many organizations, that’s where the buck stops. It needs to go much further.

“The restriction of data into departments and divisions makes it difficult to get the full benefits of Business Intelligence software, which relies on comprehensive data to generate the information that drives product development, marketing, sales, customer service, HR, supply chain management, and finance.” — Process and Project Documentation Best Practices and Case Histories

Business Intelligence software is driving the rapid improvement of many of the world’s largest organizations. It is pointing out opportunities that were being missed and it is dictating everything from the width of a McDonald’s drive-thru to the kind of lightbulbs used in your city’s street lamps.

The Datavail white paper contains a case history of the way the City of Virginia Beach remade its IT department through process documentation, liberating employees from repetitive maintenance to focus on creative process innovation:

“Gartner IT Key Metrics for SLG organizations (2012) suggests an average 75 percent spend for run initiatives vs. 25 percent for grow/transform initiatives.”

Wouldn’t you love to free up a quarter of your organization’s IT budget for “grow/transform initiatives”? Good process documentation can open up budget and employee time for driving business excellence instead of just sustaining operational functionality. If you would like assistance charting your organization’s path from process documentation into business intelligence and process automation, Datavail can help.

Datavail is a specialized IT services company focused on Data Management with solutions in BI/DW, analytics, database administration, custom application development, and enterprise applications. We provide both professional and managed services delivered via our global delivery model, focused on Microsoft, Oracle and other leading technologies.Contact Datavail today and get started on the road to better process documentation and process automation.

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