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The Definition, Defined

If you're going to automate, then automate big. Automate as much paperwork as you can. The rewards are there -- if you do it right.

Of course, "doing it right" is what it's all about. So in this blog we talk about that a bit. Automating paperwork takes a bit of discipline. That's all.

The effort requires a cycle where you do one paperwork automation at a time. The cycle looks as follows:

   Build and Deploy.
   Measure Results.

In this post we focus on the "Definition" stage of an automation. This is where so many folks get it wrong so read carefully the next thing we say.

Success requires each automation be properly defining and that the success of one effort not diminish the success of the next.

The last point, that one success not hurt the next, is often overlooked but easily overcome.

Companies often choose different software companies for each type of paperwork to be automated. One vendor for time sheets. One for purchasing. Another for expense management. And so on. But that's short-sighted. It leads to paralysis. After the first automation, successive automations become increasingly harder for your team. Each software vendor has its own back-office design. Each its own end-user interface. Eventually users becomes too burdened.

The long-term solution is to go with a single vendor like Aestiva. The more automations you do the easier it gets for everyone.

The Three Essentials
As mentioned earlier, automations require discipline. People easily lose focus and sight of their goals. A successful definition stage should not take a lot of time. Perhaps a day or two. When too much time is taken and too many people are asked for input things can and will go wrong. Suddenly nice-to-haves become must-haves. Risk-avoidance drifts into paranoia. Focus shifts from "paperwork automation" into the endless realm of "people automation."

To avoid this from happening stay focused on "The Three Essentials" below.

  1. Identifying the paperwork to be automated.
  2. Identifying how the paperwork is filled out and used.
  3. Identifying connections between this paperwork and other paperwork.

It is so important to stick to these tasks. The goal of the Definition stage is to provide guidance for the Build and Deploy stage. That's it. "Total definition" is unnecessary. The goal of this stage is to provide guidance for the Buid and Deploy stage that comes later. Keep in mind you're not building an airplane.

To identify "the three essentials" talk to actual users who fill out the paperwork. A common mistake is to depend on people who are not those doing the work. If you don't talk to those doing the work you're almost guaranteed to experience problems. Staff are forever adapting paperwork and systems to fill process gaps. Staff who do not do the process themselves are often unaware of the gaps.

It's Paperwork, Nothing More.
When defining what should be on an electronic piece of paper it is useful to maintain the attitude "It's Paperwork, Nothing More." User-frienldiness is maintained when you keep the paperwork looking like paperwork. Straying from that principle leads to increased complexity, less intuitive design, higher long-term training needs, more mistakes, yada, yada. Straying has few upsides.

The bottom-line benefits of paperwork automation are derived from an increased ability to access, report, track, and manipulate the information on the electronic paperwork. Information on paperwork for "reference" purposes rarely needs special formatting, controls, and/or data validation. The best paperwork is the easiest paperwork that captures the data you want to measure and count -- with all other data being optional and/or freely entered in text inputs and comment boxes.

Chance are, if you're looking to make your paperwork look like something other than paperwork, then you need a Power Office tool, not a more complicated electronic form. When encountering such a situation, speak to Aestiva.

Special Form Components, Tools, and Reports
If you already have a Power Office installation then you know about Power Office forms, tools, and Reports. In this event feel free to define the special form components, tools, and custom reports you need. Keep the following in mind:

  1. Form Components relate to the manual editing of Forms.
  2. Tools create Forms from other Forms and add information to Forms.
  3. Reports do not need to be defined unless custom reports are needed.

If you are unfamiliar with Power Office Forms, Tools, or Reports, drop this part of your definition. Aestiva has a wide inventory of special tools and "Form Components" -- including tools that generate electronic forms from other electronic forms, tools that merge electronic Forms, tools that perform reconciliations, uploads, extracts, check-offs, status changes, and dozens of other tasks.

A bullet-point description, followed by a brief over-the-phone discussion, will be enough for Aestiva to identify the tools and components needed to automate an existing process. If you're looking to change your processes, please call Aestiva and ask for consulting help.

Delivering Your Definition
In general, the following is needed by Aestiva to cost your automation project:

  Samples of paperwork to be automated.
  Samples of custom reports, if needed.
  Bullet-point list of tasks done to/with the paperwork.

Provide the information above to Aestiva and set up a review meeting. After the review Aestiva will supply you an itemization of costs and provide you estimated delivery times.

For further information on defining automation requirements, feel free to contact Aestiva.

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