Business Applications: Workflow Applications

Every company is similar in one way; they all depend on people to get the work done at some level. People require communication and meaningful communication can often be difficult. I have had the pleasure of working with and studying many companies in depth in my career

Invariably the hardest thing is getting people to perform and keep working in the standard or expected way. I think most of us know the story of putting some kids in a row; then you whisper a simple phrase in the ear of first child and ask them to whisper it down the line from child to child being very sure they repeat exactly what they heard. They will be rewarded at the end if the phrase the last child heard was near the phrase the first child remembers. Invariably, even with only a very few children in the line, the last child states a phrase that bears little resemblance to the original. Well, the same thing happens with adults too!

Now think about day-to-day communications around your company and you will see time and time again where what you thought you said did not result in the behavior or response you intended. Now multiply that problem among all the people in your organization and all the times that they depend on each other to answer a “how do I do this question” and you may see the problem in a new light.

One answer to this problem is procedure and policy manuals, but frequently it is easier to ask the person next to you to repeat the policy than it is to look it up. Then you repeat it to the next person that asks and guess what? You have just played the children game in real life. The first person got the policy from another person and repeated it to you EXACTLY as it was stated in the original document correct? Well, it is very likely that it was not exact, and so on and so on.

Computer programs are the interactive way of forcing consistent behavior. The policies are written into the program and the only way to successfully get the work done is to adhere to the policy, otherwise the program stops you, requiring that you do it correctly. This is the equivalent of doing the activity with the book open, checking that you did it correctly at each step. One way to solve this problem is to buy the standard program or the framework; these are the programs that were made for your industry or the SAP-like general programs that are meant to be customizable to any industry.

One of the most uncanny aspects is that even if two companies look alike and are direct competitors doing exactly the same thing, when you look under the covers, they are likely very different from each other. The differences are, in many cases, one of the reasons why some customers go to one company and some to another. It may not always feel like this is the competitive edge, but the way you do business affects the way you communicate, and that affects which customers you will attract.

A standard program forces you to work in a standard way. To the extent that your niche is determined by the way you do business, you put your company at risk. For some companies, the determining factor is not the data that is kept by the computer; in that case it is very clear that a packaged program is just fine. A dental office, a doctors office, an insurance broker for a large insurance company that has software, perhaps a car dealer and others are businesses that most likely can be handled by a standard program.

But when you do things a little differently from the rest, and your adamant that this is important to you and your customers, then you are a candidate for custom application software. For example, one company services thousands of clients in small transactions but their competitive advantage is customer intimacy. Now how do you seem intimate with thousands of customers?

One of the things we built into the workflow was an easy way to remind the owner to send personal notes to clients on the schedule that they were used to, along with other services to help the owner get that accomplished easily. The program that all 100 employees work with every day embodies the rules of engagement that the owner has made a part of every transaction. New agents coming into the business cannot do it any other way. Training requirements are eased, consistency is increased, and the customers feel the close relationship without it killing the owners time. The business owner genuinely cares about their existing customers and can now put more time for new customers.

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