Sage ACT 2011 is now available. There are several exciting new features, but one in particular is called Smart Tasks. And indeed, they really are smart. You may have already seen the video from Napkin Mike talking about this new function. Several blogs have already been written about what Smart Tasks include and how to use them. This blog is going to be more about why you care about automating business processes. You probably already “get it” that it is better to do things more efficiently. What I hope to show is there is a cost benefit to improving work flow processes.
First off, process management or work flow is a great way to think about smart tasks. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. It’s not enough to describe what's really going on and the potential power. It needs a bit more definition to understand what’s going on. Work flow to me means a set of processes that occur in a specific order. There are dozens of steps companies and business owners go through every day whether it’s the handling of a new client, completing a sale, or putting in place service contracts. Those are just a few of the kinds of process flows you find every day in organizations.
Improving business processes is a big topic and for good reason. Remove steps and you increase productivity. Increased productivity = more sales = less money spent. Search Google for BPM – business process modeling – and you get an idea of the scope of the research on this topic. People are being asked to do more with less. If so many people are investing that much time, effort and money into this methodology, then it makes sense to understand it and try it in your own environment. The simple function of automating some business processes via smart tasks is a movement in that direction.
Studies show that automating business processes, even just a little, can reduce labor costs, increase productivity, lead to shorter cycle times, reduce errors and put in place consistent process management, increased customer service and increased profits. Everyone wins – the workforce and the customer.
Whenever you work with a file, send an email, lookup information, update a field, you are performing a “touch.” The studies talk about removing “touches” to improve turnaround times. If you are doing less human “touches” thru automation, a human is then able to do more work or do the things an automated process can’t do – like call the client. No automated process can do the personal things like reaching out to the client via calls or meetings. What they can do is give you more time to do those tasks and react more quickly as your business grows - which it will because you are reaching out and “touching” the client personally. There is a positive action/reaction side affect from personal contact. Knowing that, why wouldn’t people want to automate steps?
What are examples of steps you could potentially automate? In the sales world, things you can automate include:
Automated Lead follow up
Automated Pipeline updates
Better Information flow between groups
Improved Speed of Order fulfillment
Better overall customer communications
In the financial world, things you might automate include:
New Account Setup
Invoice Processing and Exceptions
Let’s take the financial side a bit further. To help understand some ideas of improving business processes through automating tasks, we’ll use a financial planner model. A client calls and says they are interested in having a meeting with a financial planner. Ok. That initiates a series of steps. The front desk calls and schedules a meeting with the client. They also schedule a call to determine what the client is interested in seeing. This then triggers pulling a series of Prospectus forms from files. It also triggers setting them up as a prospect file. There then needs to be a follow-up meeting with the client to talk about their financial solution. Following that there needs to be an email sent to trigger a meeting in 6 months for review.
In previous versions of Sage ACT! this was an Activity series. The series would put a series of events on calendars, which might be more than one person. That's cool. If you needed to shift the timing of one of the events, you could, but it wouldn't change the timing of all the remaining events. If you needed to send out an email, you would get a reminder to do so, but it wouldn't send the email. If you needed to invoke another process or change a field signifying that something had been done, you had to do it manually. Ok. Got that. Now, let's kick it up a notch. By the way, those were all work flow.
Now, let's make them smart. What if you could put in place a process that would automatically send the email at the correct time? What if you changed an event and your process then moved a day. Would that happen in Sage ACT? Would events move accordingly? With Smart Tasks, you can do that. It's the sending email automatically that gets me every time I think about this. How awesome is that?
This is, in essence, smart work flow. You now can put in place series of events that truly happen in a work flow manner. Part one happens, we move to part two. Part two happens, we move to part three. And so on. And events are triggered at the correct time.
I used the Financial Planner model here because it's pretty standard. You can, in your own environment, think of other situations where you too have a series of events that happen and trigger other actions. Once you understand what you can do the sky is the limit.
Going forward using Smart Tasks, you really need to know and understand your business processes BEFORE you automate them. There is a side benefit to analyzing how you do things in your business. You might uncover some things that are redundant and remove them all together. The following chart is an example of the business process discovery:
Using the chart above, to design your smart tasks you would:
Identify the steps
Review them with all parties concerned
Design your smart task process
Test the steps and implement them
In summary, anything you do to improve customer relationships and streamline business processes is a plus. Smart Tasks in Sage ACT! are yet another tool in your arsenal for growing your business.