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Automation: The Definition Stage

At Aestiva we regularly receive RFQs (Request For Quotes). Most often these RFQs were drawn up by one or two managers with excellent insight into the operation needing automation. The RFQs are simple, straightforward and well-constructed. But some RFQs we get, to be frank, are ridiculously extensive.

The organizations with these lengthy RFQs usually start out by collecting input from everyone with an idea or an opinion. Then six months and two-hundred thousand dollars later they produce a list with hundreds of questions across dozens of categories. Are they helped by their herculean efforts? Not at all. Their RFQs serve, at best, as an initial read so we can begin a discussion of the real automation they need. Spending all that time to begin a discussion is not an optimal use of resources.

Worse, the software companies most likely to respond to mega RFQs are vultures. Unlike Aestiva, they don't post pricing on their web site. They charge according to how much they think they can get. When they receive one of these mega RFQs, they direct it to their top salesperson. Like a big game hunter they go in for the kill. Companies that write mega RFQs for software reap what they sow. They often pay mega bucks and get automations no less complex than the monster RFQ itself.

That's not how it should be done.

For one, if you need many automations, time is not on your side. Suppose you need five automations. The Aestiva approach may require six to eighteen months. The mega RFQs approach will take five times that or, more likely, it will simply stall. Will you achieve your goals? Over the year your goals are likely to be reduced. You don't get simple by creating complex. It's good to be thorough but not so thorough that it works against you.

The right approach to defining your business process is to reach out to your internal folks and tell them you will be automating. Ask them what paperwork they use. Keep in mind paperwork refers to anything passed around. It can be real paper, doc files, spreadsheets, or emails. Get copies of each type of paperwork passed around. You are now halfway done defining your automation. Also ask about the kinds of problems the staff encounters. In particular, ask where they lack visibility, where specific individuals take more than a few hours to complete a task, and where mistakes most often occur. You now have your data.

Business automation is generally about identifying the paperwork, understanding who originates the paperwork, how it flows and how it is closed. It is also about defining special tools to reduce or eliminate the problems some of your staff have encountered in their manual processes.

When you're done collecting the information from your users you should be ready to define your requirements. Simply list the paperwork you need automated and list out any special processes related to viewing, changing, or moving information from one paper to another. When you're done you should have a list of paperwork that needs to be automated along with a list of five or less features needed.

That is generally all we need to assess the costs and delivery of an automation. If information is lacking we'll tell you. If too much is undefined, we'll tell you. If you need to go back to get more information, we'll tell you. If you are barking up the wrong tree, we'll tell you.

Before we begin work we give you a quote so you'll have your budget. We discuss whether to add the new automation to your existing system or install a new system. Like all our deployments, after we get your PO, we go through a more comprehensive specification stage to ensure you get what you want.

What's the take-away here? Don't try to write the world's biggest RFQ. You just don't want to go there.

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