Workflow Usability – Assessing Time and Value

By Jim O'Farrell on March 27, 2012

In recent blogs, my discussions have focused on the value associated with changing business processes from a workflow usability perspective—for example, the time savings and capacity enablement realized from streamlining a multi-screen material master data update or leveraging the ability to round trip data from SAP, updating in Excel and uploading to SAP. However, there is another significant area of cost savings associated with improving business processes: the original development and ongoing change management associated with business process innovation. So, in this blog and the next one, we will focus on a couple of key areas where this is clearly illustrated. Today’s blog takes a look at business process innovation from a workflow and costs associated with development perspective. productivity doodles small

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve conducted interviews individually with 50+ SAP system users on their views regarding business process automation and related workflow (I am using the term “users” lightly here, as I am really referring to SAP programmers, administrators, line of business managers, systems analysts, etc.). The interviews typically start with fairly straightforward questions, such as “What are your roles and responsibilities as they relate to your SAP system?” and “Briefly describe your SAP infrastructure.” Then, we get into a series of questions about workflow solutions pertaining to their SAP systems. For example, “What business process workflows have you automated?” or “What workflows related to your key processes (e.g., order to cash, procure to pay, financial closings, hire to retire, onboarding) are still conducted with paper, email or simple spreadsheets with no SAP integration?”

The conversations have been quite interesting, especially in relation to the cost and time metrics associated with building business process workflow solutions, maintaining business process workflow and changing workflow. Of course, in terms of resource, many of you know that highly technical programming skill sets are a reasonable requirement for creating and maintaining these workflows. Skills in C++, Java and other SAP programming languages have also been important for some of the interviewees due to their commitment to leveraging their SAP investment.

Several anecdotes point out the complexities and resource requirements involved in the ongoing challenge of adapting to changing business requirements. According to one interviewee, the ability to add PO # on invoice processing work list would take at least 45 days to program and deliver. Another client in manufacturing shared that a business process workflow for purchase requisitioning would require at least 6 months of elapsed time for development. A high-tech manufacturer estimated that the development time for a purchase requisition workflow would take 3-4 weeks for a simple workflow (develop, test and rollout), or 15 weeks with six experts at an average rate of $140 per hour for a more complex workflow. Likewise, a user from a major life science company stated that there is a “minimum of 100 hours of development to change a routing rule.”

A couple of other comments tended to repeat themselves. Many people shared that “5 years ago, we’d only consider existing SAP workflow,” but “today, we are open to externalized workflow,” partly due to challenges with developing and, more importantly, adapting the workflows to the ever-changing business requirements. Another observation dealt with the population of Lotus Notes workflow applications that are implemented for externalized workflow applications, but still requiring some kind of manual updating to SAP (“yes we know about it…”, when users were asked about Alloy and “no, we don’t use it”, citing time commitments and developer expertise).

The bottom line observation from these existing users is that business process workflow requires extensive resources, time and money to create and, more importantly, to update as business requirements change. With this in mind, my advice is simply this… One should consider adaptable workflow solutions designed to leverage widespread deployment infrastructure—especially the kind that business analysts can create and maintain, minimizing impact on the IT application backlog… I can think of at least one solution – http://workflow.winshuttle.com/


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