Sandy Kemsley’s Vlog - Process Pain Points: Spreadsheets and Email
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Process Pain Points: Spreadsheets and Email

By Sandy Kemsley

Video Time: 6 Minutes

Hi, I’m Sandy Kemsley of I’m here for the Trisotech blog with a new series of videos on finding and dealing with process pain points. Although this will be of interest to business analysts who are figuring out the As-is and To-be processes within an organization. I’ll also touch on some implementation issues that will be of interest to my more technical listeners.

Quite a bit of my work over the years, has been helping companies with implementing business process improvement and automation within their organization. In this context, I’ve done everything: from the business analyst role of figuring out how the processes work and how they should work, to the architect’s role of designing how systems and processes fit together, to the developers role of how this is actually implemented and rolled out. In this range of activities, that upfront part of determining the problems with the current processes and how to best improve and automate those. is often the trickiest part. It’s as much an art as it is a science, and it requires a combination of business knowledge, technology knowhow, and a process improvement mindset.

I’m often asked how I go about figuring out that part in improving an organization’s processes. In other words how do I find the organization’s process pain points and determine what changes to make to ease that pain. My answer almost always starts with spreadsheets and email. I tend to analyze an organization’s processes by walking around and talking to people who are actually doing the work, not just looking at documentation for the systems or processes or procedures. And every time I sit down beside an insurance claims manager, a customer service rep or a loans officer, I ask the same question: “show me your spreadsheets and email”.

This might sound a little bit simplistic, but think about it. Business processes are made up mostly of calculations, decisions and workflow. Every company has line of Business Systems that their employees work with. In Insurance there are underwriting Administration and claim systems, in customer service there are CRM systems, in loan there’s loan origination and administration systems. These systems almost always do the calculation part of business processes, and they may also do some of the decision and workflow part but they almost always fall short of what people need them to do in those latter two areas.

So instead, there will be a collection of other methods that happen outside of the line of business system system to do some parts of the work, to track certain activities or hold data that isn’t kept in the main systems. The most common implementation of these are the old office automation standbys: spreadsheets for storing data doing calculations, email for workflow.

Now in many cases, these spreadsheets and emails aren’t documented as part of the standard operating procedure this creates a significant risk for the company. So for example what the audit reports state may not be what is actually happening: calculations that impact business decisions might be made in a spreadsheet where you’re not even really sure who can edit the formula and workflow and oversight are dependent on people knowing who to include on an email chain and there may not be an audit trail of who touched something at any particular point.

So departments could even be performing entirely new processes that were never considered part of their responsibility and just doing it in spreadsheets and email outside of their line of Business Systems and outside of the purview of of a it. Now most likely, line of Business Systems don’t have sufficient flexibility to be able to make the changes required by the business as quickly as they need to be, or there’s going to be a significant amount of coding by IT to make that happen. There could be a new business capability that’s been added and the system just can’t be enhanced to support it, or you could have work patterns: people in the workflow that aren’t supported by the system such as now you need to have case management instead of the sort of oneandone trans action processing in order to handle some new functionality or capability, or work distribution is more complex than just a simple round robin assignment that might be in the line of business system.

So there are all sorts of scenarios where the line of business system just can’t do what you need it to do in terms of either calculation, but more likely, in terms of decisions and in terms of workflow or the processes.

Now, I’ve talked a lot in the past of the video series about model driven development and the need for flexible processes and decisions is where model driven development really saves the day. So if you look at automating your main business process with systems that use graphical process and decision models, it’s going to be a lot easier to make changes and enhancement to those core systems, and avoid the need for spreadsheets and email around them.

Now, finding that spreadsheet and email usage in the core business processes doesn’t necessarily tell you what the new process should look like. It just shines a on where the problems are. So you know in a lot of cases the spreadsheets and emails were kind of added on in an incremental or ad hoc fashion, might not actually be the best way to be doing that process it’s just the way that people have devised along the way. But once you have a spotlight on those areas where the problems exist, then you need to know where to focus your energy and look at how the work is being done now and then what needs to change it in order to do it more effectively.

I’m going to be following on in the next couple of videos looking in particular at some exception cases that can happen within a mainstream line of business processing that most often result in things uh happening in spreadsheets and email. So tune in for the next couple of videos and you’ll be able to see some of the some drill down into some of the areas where this is of particular interest.

That’s all for today. You can find more of my writing and videos on the Trisotech blog or on my own blog at See you next time.

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