Let us take these one at a time.
Policy First let us define this commonly misunderstood word.
Policy n. 2.a. A course of action, guiding principal, or procedure considered expedient, prudent, or advantageous.
We computer people also like to call this Business Rules. Examples of policy are: “All men must wear ties to project a professional image.” “No product must ship until the invoice is paid and the payment registered in the accounting system.” “Quality Control must be notified of any customer complaints by use of form 123k.”
Good policy evolves within the organization by seeing what works and what doesn’t and making fundamental rules to enforce what works and prevent what does not. Process automation should not seek to modify existing good policy. It should enforce it.
In a manual, paper process there is nothing preventing someone from failing to send form 123k to Quality Control except the training of the employees. Poor training is one primary causes of failure to follow policy. If someone does not know the correct policy he/she will make something up to fill in the void. This makes training extremely important. Unfortunately, very few organizations provide adequate amounts and quality of training.
The prevalent form of training is verbal or “on the job” training. This leads to trainees misunderstanding instructions, trainers failing to impart complete information and no written record of what was taught. Employees need to be told what to do and how to do it multiple times and yet are still asking basic question months later.
Because the employee didn’t fully understand the “training”, the problem compounds itself when he/she attempts to train the next employee.
Remember the game you played in grade school where one person would whisper an instruction in one persons ear and her would whisper it into the next person and so on? By the time the instruction had passed a few people it had changed. By the time it has gone through the entire class, it has no resemblance to the original instruction. Think adults are any better at this game? This demonstrates a general inability to duplicate.
Until organizations realize how to train their employees fully and competently organizations need a way to enforce policies and procedures without the risk of someone changing them through ignorance or malice. (see http://www.trainingsuccess.com for an organization that can dramatically improve training within your organization.)
Process Automation to the Rescue
Process automation can greatly assist in preventing communication and training problems. By controlling the flow of a process, process automation can prevent incorrect policy and procedure. In our form 123k example above, as the customer service rep is taking notes from the call, an electronic form 123k is being filled out as well. Before she can submit her notes, the system requires that she fill out the remaining form 123k fields. This not only encourages correct policy with regard to form 123k but also forces the customer service rep to fill in all required fields in the form.
Here is another example. The shipping label system has a hook into the orders and accounting systems. The shipping label system simply will not let the user print a mailing label for an order if the accounting system does not show a payment.
Requirements and Characteristics of Process Automation