Automation has no chance without clean processes - Interview with Ute Schröder
More and more processes can be digitalised and automated. But before this happens, they must first be simplified and thus optimised. What sounds simple is often the biggest challenge for companies, as finance expert Ute Schröder from the C4B team knows. Ute Schröder explains in an interview what often causes problems and what prerequisites you should create in your company.
Process automation is at the top of many companies' wish lists. In your experience, what is the problem when it comes to making progress, Ute?
Processes and procedures have usually been established over a long period of time - and in my experience this is the biggest obstacle on the way to automation. If you have contradictory data from many sources, then the automation of processes will not work either. For digital transformation, you need uniform data and standardised processes. But so far, only a small number of companies have these. Most are still in the process of implementation.
What requirements must first be met?
Automation only has a chance if companies know processes and interfaces - analogue or already digital. This is often a mammoth task: analysing all processes that are used in one's own accounting system, for example, and creating meaningful and transparent process documentation for all relevant procedures - this presents many companies with major challenges.
Can you give us an example?
We discussed the example of an internationally active trading company in one of our Benchmarking Circles. On the way to Digital Finance, they first examined the invoice verification process. The three-stage process of invoice receipt, verification and approval showed a total of 174,000 variants across the entire company with around three million invoices received. 174,000 variants - how do you automate that? But it is the first, right and important step, because first, work processes have to be identified, structured and made comprehensible. This is the only way to optimise them. And the GoBD also stipulates by law that process descriptions must be created and kept up to date.
In your experience, where are the pitfalls - and how can they be avoided?
Pitfalls always lie in in-house special or isolated solutions. If you want to avoid stumbling here, you have to standardise your processes. Only then can new technologies be implemented. At C4B we work closely with the finance expert Denis Glowicki, who is CFO at Wicke-Werke. Denis once described the interface dilemma very accurately. From a company size of more than ten employees, it becomes difficult to know all the work steps involved, everyone becomes an expert in his or her own subarea, with a limited view to the right and left. It becomes difficult at the point where you no longer know exactly the upstream and downstream processes of your own activities. They are then simply carried out and often no longer questioned as to their usefulness. But this is no longer the way to improve your processes. Process documentation is also about identifying these interfaces - and then optimising them and sharing the knowledge - what comes before me and which work step comes after me. Incidentally, this was also one of the lessons learned by many companies during the pandemic: processes must be transparent and comprehensible for all employees, then it also works better with remote work.
What is the best way to approach the task of process documentation?
As a rule, a task of this magnitude cannot be accomplished on one's own. There are many consultants who offer their support. However, my business partner Dennis Cichowski and I, together with a total of four other finance experts from the field, have chosen a different approach and developed a tool for process documentation, the C4B Manuals. Prefabricated processes and pre-modelled flow charts help to map the company's own individual process in no time at all. Even without external consultants and expensive consulting services. We worked with hsp Software GmbH as the software manufacturer.
How exactly do the manuals work?
We have structured the individual steps as they occur in most companies. The processes are already stored and the flow charts are pre-modelled. After installing the software, you can work directly with the existing process description and individual steps can be customised. Our best practice process steps also include many digitisation and automation tips. It is a "living document", so to speak. As soon as something is adapted in the steps, the flow chart diagram on the right adapts to the live demo. It is also collaborative, as several people can work in it, distribute tasks, deposit documents and assign risks & ICS controls. We thus offer a tool that is unique on the market with prefabricated processes, a quasi blueprint for all processes in finance. Our documentation tool is unique on the market. And with it, it is then also possible to identify workflows, structure them and make them comprehensible.
Ute Schröder, business economist and controlling expert, is managing partner of the C4B Team GmbH & Co. KG. More than 10 years ago, she founded the "C4B Benchmarking Circle", a platform for finance and controlling executives. The experienced manager was employed for many years at Jungheinrich, where she was head of international controlling. Contact Ute Schröder on Linkedin or on Xing.
Cloud Integration, iPaaS, SaaS, BPA… Ough, hard to keep track of all these terms. They are currently used frequently (and increasingly) in the context of automation, and it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction and distinction. We have already written blog posts on the terms iPaaS, SaaS and BPA, but we’ll take them up again here to make the difference.
But let’s start with cloud integration, because that’s the central umbrella term in which we embed all the other technologies in this blog post.
To illustrate these advantages, an example is suitable that we know well from our everyday work as an automation agency:
The central data to be used here is the data of a major customer. This can be the simplest information, such as the address. This address is required in numerous but completely different processes in the company: on the one hand, for correct invoicing in accounting. On the other hand, in the CRM system, where all the data of the large customer is also stored. But the address is also important in sales, for example, when employees go to the sales meeting on site.
Now the customer announces that the address of the company has changed after a move. This information will reach you by e-mail. There are now two options:
01. The e-mail is forwarded to all affected departments, accounting, sales, customer service, marketing… All persons open their corresponding program, CRM, accounting software, marketing tools (such as newsletter marketing) and change the data already stored there of the customer. This means that in multiple applications, different people do exactly the same thing: change one address. 02. But there is also an alternative: By connecting your applications, thus by integrizing them, the customer’s e-mail, or rather the information it contains about the address change, is automatically passed on to all affected applications: CRM, accounting, marketing, ERP. This does not require any clicks, because the cloud integration detects a trigger, i.e. address change, and thus automatically starts the process.
What sounds unimpressive in a single process becomes more effective when such a process occurs several times a day or weekly. Because there is a lot of data that is available in different applications and should always be correct. If these applications are cloud applications they are suitable for cloud integration.
But cloud integration doesn’t just happen. There are now a variety of applications that enable and implement this. Such tools usually allow us to link the relevant cloud applications on a central platform and define clear rules on when, how, where, how much data should be passed on and what happens to them.
IPaaS, SaaS, BPA, ABC – who can still see through it?
To realize cloud integration, there are various applications and technologies that are sometimes used interchangeably.
Cloud integration cannot be done without SaaS, iPaaS and BPA
Cloud integration is rather an umbrella term that includes numerous technologies, such as SaaS, iPaaS and BPA, and this is also absolutely necessary. Cloud integration is a concept that is made possible by appropriate technologies.
However, all terms share the commonality that they are cloud-based and thus offer enormous potential for growth and scaling. In addition, they are often cheaper to implement and maintain because changed requirements are easy to implement.
As an independent automation agency, we implement cloud integration according to your requirements. We use a variety of SaaS tools and iPaas (strictly speaking BPA) software. Together we find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.