Share This

NeoSystems Corporation

Integrify

Podcast Season 3 Episode 6 – Business Process Management, Improvement, and Automation – Integrify

May 06, 2020 | BY: Neosystems
Share This

As we’ve moved past the ABCs of BPA, BPM, and BPA, we are excited to welcome our partner, Integrify, to talk about what a workflow automation project looks like when implemented. We cover:

  • How does an organization prepare for automation?
  • What things should an organization have in place before starting an automation project?
  • What roadblocks prevent a project from being successful?
  • How is a project typically staffed and who are the key players?

Transcript

Erin Keating:
Welcome to NeoCast. Join us each week as we discuss challenges in government contracting, strategies and solutions for your businesses. We’ll dive into managed IT, cybersecurity, workforce advancement and much, much more. Sharing is caring, and we’ve got top shelf advice to help you navigate today’s biggest challenges. Let’s get to it.

Erin Keating:
Welcome back everybody. We are here with NeoCast season three, episode six. Marty and I keep joking around that we can track the week we are in lockdown because every episode marks the next week. When this airs we will officially be in week six of lockdown. I can’t hardly believe it. Marty, what do you think?

Marty Herbert:
Yeah, it’s been challenging, but interesting.

Erin Keating:
Well, it’s been interesting also because unfortunately our listeners are probably going to get a good dose of a chainsaw today because I’ve got a tree coming down in front of my house and these are the fun things we get to deal with in COVID, not just getting to talk about our business process improvement, but also getting to hear about home improvement. So this is great. I love it.

Erin Keating:
Today we are actually starting our second half of our season. We’ve got to cover the ABCs, if you will, of business process improvement and management. We even got to talk to your colleague Christie Fath on change management. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of laying down the groundwork and the foundations of this and we talked in our last episode about automation tools and different tools that NeoSystems employs to finish these projects and help their clients out. And one of them, who’s a real special partner to you, is Integrify.

Erin Keating:
So Marty, I’d love to pass it off to you. If you wouldn’t mind introducing our special guest today and then we’ll go from there.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah, absolutely. So I figured people had heard enough of my voice, alone. Just you and I talking back and forth gets a really good conversation started, but decided to reach out to our partners at Integrify and with us today I pulled in John Bartlett, who can introduce himself. NeoSystems partners with Integrify for workflow automation. With that working relationship, what we’ve done is a lot of different use cases and that’s really what I want to try to focus on a little bit as we get into the remainder of this season, is doing some of those use cases and talking about the things that we’ve done together, the things that my team has done and those types of things.

Marty Herbert:
So John, if you don’t mind taking just a second to introduce yourself to our listeners too, that would be awesome.

John Bartlett:
Of course. Thanks Marty. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Marty for many years now, which has been a real pleasure. Thank you.

John Bartlett:
My name is John Bartlett. I’m the VP of our professional services team at Integrify. Integrify produces and supports a automation software product, mainly focused on request management and taking paper-based, email-based existing processes and translating those into automated solutions. I’ve been with Integrify over 10 years now and Integrify has been in business almost 20 years now. So we’ve been doing this for a long time and really our sole focus is on automating workflow.

Erin Keating:
Let’s just jump right in, because what we want to help the audience understand is, how do we go from the ABC’s of understanding what business process improvement is, which usually ends up in doing some type of workflow automation. If you all could speak to how does an organization then begin to prepare for an automation.

John Bartlett:
So many of the same principles of change management apply to workflow automation as to implementing any technical solution in your organization. The key ones that we see, that really need additional focus in an automated implementation, are focus on scope, requirements, leadership buy on, having a structured and focused team and also defining clear roles and responsibilities across your own organization and then any relationship you have with consultants or vendors as well.

John Bartlett:
In terms of scope, that is usually the main driver. We really focus hard to work with customers to define their scope well upfront, before we start doing any implementation. Because scope can be a project killer, quite frankly, if it’s not managed and defined early on. And we also encourage our customers to get the vendors involved, get the consultants involved, get the whole team involved early in the process to define that scope. Because if that doesn’t happen, often we get partway through a project and we find out that we have gaps in what we were trying to accomplish or gaps in the requirements. So that’s really one of the main things that we need to focus on and help big organizations focus on, too, as they consider automation.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah, and I think John, you and I have been on enough projects together, too, especially talking about scope. It’s always interesting, we go in and we approach it very similar to what you guys do with yours. And especially when we’re working together, to have a defined scope that really encompasses the entire project throughout the change, throughout the process automation and everything. But, I know for us, there are a lot of times when we get in there and we start working and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Wait a second, what about this?”

Marty Herbert:
And it’s that big hand grenade sitting there right in the middle of the table. Nobody wants to touch it and they’re like, “It’s going to go off.” And then like you said, it does, it kills the project. It really puts this, “Oh well, timeline has to shift and because it’s way out of scope,” and all this. And you end up in this realm of what next, what next? And I know that’s a big part of it, especially with preparation, to get into anything like this.

John Bartlett:
Dovetailing onto that, one thing we try to focus on, because a lot of customers will come into our organization and have ideas of automating hundreds of workflows within their organization, which we love, we think’s great, but we really try to get them focused in on one candidate workflow that they can use as a starting point. That’ll allow them to do several things. One, it’s a quick win, right, for the organization. They can get something in place, start to realize the value and return of having an automated workflow, but it also does some of other things.

John Bartlett:
One, it exposes it to a lot of people in the organization, so they start to see what’s coming. You also get best practices built within that. There’s a lot of different ways you can implement an automated solution and if you can pick one workflow, get that implemented, you can use all the standards and best practices you built in that one in your other workflow. It makes them all come together quite seamlessly.

John Bartlett:
When you’re trying to do 100 workflows at the same time, it’s a lot of different teams, a lot of different players, a lot to manage, but if you can get a couple of good stable, solid workflows, it really does a lot. It really has a lot of benefits moving forward for your other implementations.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah, We like to say at NeoSystems that whenever you start going into process automation, you start with that one and it becomes viral. Like all your favorite videos, it becomes viral in an organization. It really does spread. As soon as they find out, “Oh, you’re doing what?” And then everybody else wants to try that too.

John Bartlett:
Exactly, exactly. It starts to migrate through the rest of the organization and then you have the opposite problem. You have too many people who are trying to use it.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Erin Keating:
Marty knows that I always like to try to make sure I understand the concept by bringing it back to my former life and I and I actually worked in agencies as well as employed agencies, and I remember define the scope and now we’re creeping into all sorts of areas where all of a sudden our resources wouldn’t be available. But also if you don’t understand what the scope is then you’re not necessarily clear on how you’re going to be measured. Is that something that’s also coming into play is, how do you measure the success of the automation project?

John Bartlett:
Absolutely. I mean that’s a clear driver because if you have that focused deliverable upfront and you have those measures clearly defined, you have a good chance of being able to actually measure those early and see that value early as opposed to being bogged down in implementation for months or a year before you get to see any results.

Marty Herbert:
And it’s almost to Erin, like you were paying attention in the last season too, whenever we started talking to [Mayek 00:08:14] and you got design measure. So that second one is measurement and knowing how you’re going to measure the success of the project is really key to getting in the very beginning of all this.

Erin Keating:
Now we’ve got the organization prepared. We’ve got the scope laid out. What things does the organization on their end really need to have in place before starting any kind of automation project?

John Bartlett:
We try to focus our customers on three things related to that. Really the people, technology and process that are going to support the implementation. In terms of people, do you have the right team structure? Do you have a team sponsor that’s going to help push this project through? Do you have access to the SMEs? A lot of times we see SMEs tagged on a project, like this is the expert in this area, but they’re not given any additional time to provide input into the specifications. So it’s very difficult to get their time and any planning or scheduling then starts to suffer in that [crosstalk 00:09:16].

Marty Herbert:
That’s just other duties as assigned, right?

John Bartlett:
Yeah. Exactly. But that’s something that we run into a quite a bit in terms of slowing down a project. A lot of times we work with a lot of finance companies, end of the month reporting, that’s never a good time to talk to a financial SME. And so we’ve learned to work around that and also set expectations in terms of what those people are going to be responsible for and how much time we’re going to need.

John Bartlett:
I think having the technology discussions upfront too, and we’re talking very early in the process here, is for these larger customers to do their evaluation of the available automation tools. Are you really looking at RPA or is it workflow or is it case management or is it a combination of those technology platforms? Because what we find sometimes too, is organizations are trying to cram a solution into one workflow tool, or one RPA tool, when they’d really be better served using a combination of those to get the value moving forward.

John Bartlett:
And then process of course, do they have the right templates in place? Do they understand what functional specs are, technical specs? Because a lot of times, when we work with customers, they’re not necessarily technical resources and they’re not used to those types of deliverables and populating those types of documents. So it’s very important that everybody understands upfront what they’re going to be expected to do, have those tools and templates available. So they can be successful in filling out that information and getting the team prepared.

Marty Herbert:
It’s one of the places where we’re a little bit luckier. We know that there is a need in a lot of cases for some kind of a technology solution that may help. And again, sometimes it is RPA, sometimes it is case management, sometimes it is workflow automation, those types of things. But in a lot of cases, the types of clients that we’re working with a lot, already have a known problem that is going to be solved via a tool set. They know that it’s going to be, “Hey, I need to solve my accounts payable dilemma,” or something like that. We get a little bit easier on our side. We still approach it in a very similar way. We try to be very solution agnostic and we try to focus in on a business process improvement plan first and then make sure that the technology is going to fit.

John Bartlett:
Yeah. That’s an excellent point, Marty. I’m a little bit biased towards the workflow [inaudible 00:11:51].

Marty Herbert:
Agreed. Agreed. And it’s hard not to be, but it’s a balancing act all the time.

John Bartlett:
Yeah. Yeah. With our solution, especially, we’re open and able to integrate with those other systems. So regardless of what the customer comes to us with in terms of other automation tools or other tools they have to integrate with, we always use industry standards in terms of our integration capabilities. So we don’t get tripped up there.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah. And I’m so tempted to spoiler alert type of thing right now with some of the use cases that we’ll talk about later on this season, too. But we integrate really well with other stuff. Yeah, that’s good.

Erin Keating:
Well I was going to jump in and say that I like that you started with people first. Again, having been at a large corporation previously in the automotive industry with a headquarters that was really in Europe, I remember several times when one other department, let’s say purchasing or finance would be embarking on an automation project. They’re deciding, okay purchase orders are going to go online or something like that. But often the SMEs, if you will, that they needed to talk to were the end users, the people that actually created the purchase orders to begin with.

Erin Keating:
And that’s really a good point that you need to remember all of the different individuals that are going to be engaged from your end of the project. So that they’re all aware, because the last thing you want to do is task someone with saying, “Okay well, how would this work better?” When they have no idea that project’s coming. They’re in meetings all day. They’ve got their own core responsibilities. The last thing they want to be doing is being wrapped up in hours of meetings saying, “How would this better work for me?”

Erin Keating:
That sounds about right for what the client should be thinking through as far as roles and considerations, but when you all are pulling together a project team, tell us a little bit about how you think of which key roles Integrify needs to have, NeoSystems needs to have, and also ideally who would you want to see on the team from your client’s perspective?

John Bartlett:
For a typical project, and these are mainly enterprise projects that I’m talking about today, we obviously have the project sponsor. We’ve talked about that to some extent, the project manager and we’ll talk a little bit more about that later. We’ll go right back to the SMEs, making sure that SMEs are identified in your organization and they understand what they’re expected to do and what they’re expected to provide. Because just as an anecdotal, sometimes when we get together with SMEs, they will give us requirements for everything they do and trying to solve all their problems of their day to day work. Where our focus might be more specific on solving a specific business problem.

John Bartlett:
But then we have the other end of the spectrum too. And it’s nothing to do with that SMEs. It’s really our job to go into those SMEs and help them understand and prepare for what they need to deliver to us. So that’s something we spend a lot of time on because we find that it pays off on the back end of the project if we do that work upfront.

John Bartlett:
The process engineer, they’re going to be the people actually building the workflow. And it may be a little different from Marty, but in our organization, we have process engineers that provide those types of services, but our customers can also do that work as well with our system. The role of the process engineer is to take what those SMEs have captured and translate that into an automated solution. So there’s usually a lot of back and forth between the SMEs and the process engineers, getting clarification, doing demonstrations. That’s something that we talk a lot about, too. We approach projects as partial waterfall methodology and partial agile approach because it’s really the best of both worlds.

John Bartlett:
And the agile approach are communicating status certainly, but also doing demonstrations early and often to make sure we’re on track. One of the biggest things and biggest risks we have on projects is when we get the set of the requirements from the SME or the customer, we go away for a month, build something. They never see anything. We come back and say, “Here it is.” And they say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s not what we were expecting at all.” For a lot of people, going to process and automation, it may be their first time. So our customers might not even know the questions they need to ask. And that’s once again, our job to help interview them, keep them informed, show them what we’re doing, to make sure that we’re on track. And really that helps us lead to a successful solution in the long run.

Marty Herbert:
Yeah. And you think about it in terms of, you think about a manufacturing process and you’re starting to put something together. And you want this thing, whatever this thing is, it’s going to revolutionize the world. And when you come out with the first iteration of that, it’s like, “Look at this. Isn’t it amazing?” And everybody looks at it goes, “No, that’s not right at all. That’s not even close.” But they use the terminology rapid prototyping. The really cool part about making that translation between manufacturing and services and workflow automation and that kind of thing, is that what we found in NeoSystems was that the Integrify software really helps us to do that. We can show someone what that looks like. We can show them, “Hey look, here’s the form. What do you think?” “Nah, that’s not right.” Or “Yeah, that’s great.” And get that rapid feedback, rapid prototyping over and over and iterate quickly.

Marty Herbert:
And thankfully for us, because of the way that we approach the different engagements, for us, we rely on the client’s SMEs a lot to really make sure that they give us the information that we need to build those processes. We become the process engineer and it’s that one process, that first process out the gate. And what we try to do is give them a very quick return on investment for, “Hey look, you’ve said this is what you want. We’re going to build this first one with you and we’re also to coach up somebody internally to be able to also use this software in the same way that we are. So that, that way that list of 100, you can still get done, but we can just be there afterward to coach and to train you up on different pieces of it, after we show you how great it can be from the beginning.” And really having somebody internally to a business that is ready for that type of change becomes one of the hardest pieces, because there are a lot of subject matter experts that know what they do and they know it really well and they are willing to tell you all about it.

Marty Herbert:
And they also love the idea of changing what they’re doing a little bit and having this automated feel to it, but they’re not quite sure how it’s going to work, until you show them, and then what we’ve experienced a lot is sometimes those same subject matter experts go, “Great, I want to do that, too.” And then there are others are like, “You know what? That’s awesome. Let somebody else build that for me again.” So it is, it’s really interesting to see how organizationally different clients approach it in a different way.

John Bartlett:
I think that’s an excellent point. We see it all across the board too, but I really like the point you bring up about the knowledge transfer and having those rapid prototyping sessions, interim reviews, really feeds into that whole knowledge transfer process that should be taking place throughout the project, instead of at discrete points within the project. “Okay, we’re going to train this week,” and then we don’t train or do any knowledge transfer for the next month. It’s really important to keep that continuity throughout the project.

Erin Keating:
These are all really good ways of looking at things that make a project successful. I’m just curious, are there things, top line issues, that you can point out that really lead to some big major roadblocks in projects?

John Bartlett:
Yeah, and I’ll jump back to the scope again because this podcast is focused at a high level at this point, but that’s where we see the main issues come up on projects if that’s not well-defined. And once again, there’s got to be a decision made. What are we really trying to solve here? What’s core to this solution? And that really drives the focus of the whole team. We’ve been in, well, one specifically I can think of, a meeting early on in the project where we were capturing scope and requirements and we had an entire wall filled with Post It notes. Everybody knew we were going to have to pare that down and we spent the day, by the afternoon the entire wall was filled with the Post It notes and by the end of the day we pared it down and it was down to 15 Post It notes.

John Bartlett:
That really gave us the focus we needed to be successful on that project, because we certainly weren’t, if we were going to be trying to solve everybody’s issue in the entire organization. So scope, from our perspective, is the biggest roadblock sometimes.

Marty Herbert:
I agree. I think scope definitely is number one in a lot of cases. And it’s funny, when you talk about paring it down and you get down to, from hundreds to down to 20 and then you’re at 20 and you’re like, “I know I can get it to 15.” And what I’ve found too is that five, the five in between you and 15 and one of the other things that we see as roadblocks too is number one getting it there, but number two getting decisions.

Marty Herbert:
So decision making itself and making sure that again, going back to that organization of the project and who’s involved in all of that and making sure that somebody is involved in these conversations who can actually make a decision and make a decision that is going to stick or at least be able to make a decision that they can then circulate through executive management or whatever, to make sure that that change is going to stick and that that decision is going to be adhered to.

John Bartlett:
Yeah. We actually on our larger projects too, we use a decision log to help drive that early on in the process. Everybody’s pretty familiar with a defect log, right, for a software development effort, but it’s very similar, but we call it a decision log that we use on the front end of the project. So when those key decisions are made, we mark them as approved and we use those as our guiding principles moving forward. So if any discussion starts to fall out of that range or contradict what’s been decided, we can look back at that, and for that project at least, stay focused on those areas.

John Bartlett:
Now, with that said, with that decision log, we always make sure our customer know that these can be phased as well. Any of these solutions can be phased. So if something comes up during the project that may throw it off schedule, may throw a wrench into the budget and we say, “Hey, well let’s stay focused on this. We know what we have to do. We’ve got the budget for that. Let’s do this in a phase two.” Especially with a software project like ours, it makes it very easy to version workflows and add on feature enhancements after the initial rollout.

Erin Keating:
That sounds to me like, going back to the original discussion point about what do organizations need to do to prepare for these projects, in their client environment they need to be sure that they understand exactly who holds the decision rights and have that clarity upfront, because that only then helps you all get the project moving as fast as it needs to move because some of the homework’s been done on their end of who makes a decision.

Erin Keating:
And having been on the side of the decision maker as well have been on the side of the agency per se on projects, I can say that I always thanked my lucky stars that I was on the agency side first before I became clients side, because then I had a muscle built in going, “All right guys, we got to make sure we know who’s making these decisions because it’ll drive these guys nuts if we can’t act on stuff.”

John Bartlett:
Definitely.

Erin Keating:
One can only wish to have clients like that every time, right? I wasn’t always an easy client, I’ll tell you that, but I at least had some clue. And if I wasn’t easy, I could say, “Look, I know I’m about to make you crazy, but I got to wait two weeks for someone else to make this decision.” So they at least knew it was a pain point.

Erin Keating:
Well, these were all really helpful for getting us up to speed on how the two of you partner together, how Integrify approaches projects. I know that in the coming episodes we’re looking forward to not only bringing on some different members of Marty’s team, but John, I understand that we may be bringing on different members of your team as well. So that we can bring some real life case study examples to light so that people can best understand what does this work really look like and how does it entail? And even maybe uncover sometimes when you run into these pain points, just again to maybe elucidate for organizations, how can they best prepare themselves for these types of things for them to be as painless and quick and as efficient as possible since admittedly, what you’re doing with the business process improvement is trying to get more productive and efficient and get through your processes faster. So the process of getting there should also be more efficient and productive.

Erin Keating:
Hopefully this podcast will help educate people on that so that the whole thing can be easier and more productive. Before we leave, any parting thoughts on this worldview, if you will, episode and then we’ll go ahead and say goodbye and look forward to the next episode when we can dive into some real details.

Marty Herbert:
Well, I think suffice it to say, one of the biggest takeaways for this one is, and it ran through all of this, is people, people, people. And having the right people throughout this to make the right decisions, to be part of the project from the very beginning and people that are ready for the change. I think that really becomes the key to all of this is an organization is only as prepared as their people, to be able to approach a process improvement project.

John Bartlett:
Yeah. And I would second that. We’re talking about the people here, and the planning. These are all change management 101, as you start to implement a new technical solution. There are some things that are specific to the automation that I think organizations like Integrify and NeoSystems can bring to the table, but taking into consideration some of those change management practices and principles are really important at this point in the project.

Erin Keating:
Great. Well, Marty, always a pleasure speaking with you. John, wonderful to meet you and to have you provide some expertise on this particular episode. We hope that you’ll join us in the next few episodes as we start to embark on some case studies, but until then we appreciate everyone tuning in and we look forward to getting into the real dirt and mess of the thing. So thank you both for being here today.

Marty Herbert:
Thanks Erin.

John Bartlett:
Likewise, thank you, Erin.

Erin Keating:
The NeoSystems difference. We specialize in serving organizations of all sizes. In today’s fiercely competitive market, is your organization constantly searching for ways to gain the advantage over competitors? Smart organizations are paying more attention to their strategic back office operations. NeoSystems offers scalable back office services and solutions to improve your organization with a team of industry experts, industry leading information technology tools, and an advanced technical infrastructure. From software hosting and security solutions to managed accounting services, NeoSystems, custom built solutions and services that are tailored to fit your organization’s needs. Check us out on the internet at NeoSystemscorp.com. That’s neosystemscorp.com.

Related Posts

Software & Industry Partners