The recent annoucment that Azure Functions now has preview support for PowerShell was big news for me, and should be for a lot of others looking to automate standard azure deployment and operational tasks.
True digital transformation requires more than incremental improvements and goes beyond individual projects or processes. As George Westerman, Didler Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee presented in their book Leading Digital, to become true digital masters, organizations need to think differently and work to enable their members to rethink everything they do in order to identify opportunities for automation. By addressing the capabilities for enhancing workflow automation as a personalized technology capability, organizations can take a giant leap forward and feed the innovation cycle without limits.
In the context of SharePoint-based workflows, this likely goes against common practice with most organizations who choose to focus on automating core business processes or system integrations used throughout the organization. These projects are much bigger in scope and complexity and require a lot more of the organization’s resources to complete. These projects often have a great return on investment, but there is ultimately a limit to the number of projects an organization can take on. Many organizations will see a long backlog of open project requests; commonly stretching at least 2-3 years due to lack of resources. In addition, the people that use these systems often do so in a very detached way. They follow the process and use the stated system, but they often are not engaged in the decisions or in making further improvements in this or other processes. This is one of the fundamental differences in classic Business Process Management (BPM) versus the current trends for Workflow & Content Automation (WCA) with the former being very focused on formal process optimization by a few experts and the latter being more focused on less formal automation lead by a much wider audience of citizen developers. To achieve digital mastery, everyone needs to be fully engaged and driving innovative changes which aligns well with the WCA concepts that bring together people, process, and content.
So it is with this concept that we make our pivot and focus on making automation personal! If we teach the members of the organization how to think about these automation improvements and how to leverage the tools they have access to we have a much bigger impact than solely focusing on those larger, complex processes. Think about the ramifications of enabling the members of your organization to each find a way to save 30 minutes a day. The productivity boost would be staggering. This is a journey more so than a destination so if we teach them right they can save 30 minutes today, and then look at the next thing they could do to make their lives easier, save time, or eliminate a mundane task.
Available Automation Platforms
There has never been an easier time to make this transition from a technology standpoint. With readily available tools that create no-code or at low-code solutions, most organizations have access to the tools needed. Here is a selection of potential tools:
- Microsoft: SharePoint Designer, Flow, Logic Apps
- Nintex: https://www.nintex.com/
- K2: https://www.k2.com/
- Ultimus: http://www.ultimus.com/
Culture Can Amplify Capabilities
The real challenge though is unlikely to be technology but rather culture and user enablement. Many organizations have this mindset that there is a solid wall between business and IT. They also believe that IT is responsible for providing both the tools and the solutions. While organizations can have some success with this model, there are some extreme limits tied to the size and spend of a given IT organization. By promoting the tools + solutions and enabling users to use them throughout the organization, this wider audience of citizen developers can have a significantly higher impact.
To get to this point, the organization as a whole needs to support a culture of innovation and user enablement. This cannot happen without full support from senior management and aligning it with the expectations set for positions throughout the organization. Aligning productivity improvements with personal goals can help lay the support foundation, as can a regular award or recognition program that highlights individual or group improvements. In many lean and manufacturing environments there is the concept of offering regular Kaizens which offer a great opportunity to grow both teams and individuals focused on solving a particular problem. This concept can be applied to just about any business or organization.
When organizations make this culture shift to empower and enable their users the benefits can amplify organizational capabilities and have a dramatic impact on reducing cost and improving profitability. A recent Gartner study entitled Process-Centric Technologies Increase Revenue, found that CIOs are finding that process-centric technologies have the ability to increase revenue, in addition to the traditional benefits associated with cutting costs and increasing efficiencies. This is change even the most hardened of executives can get behind.