Four tips to drive efficiency by automating your business using low-code apps

By Jeff Goodhue

Recently I was at a financial services organization working with a lead expert on the business team on some enterprise transformation models. During a break, we compared stories where good intentions led to a “yet another” exception process.

His example appeared simple at first: a new requirement to obtain his approval before any team member could enter a new request into the system to start the process. At the time, he wasn’t worried about the minor change.

However, after two weeks, he couldn’t keep track of all the emails and spreadsheet attachments that small change generated. I offered my sympathies and support to model this pre-process-process. “Nah, it’s only 15 minutes of my day,” he said. “But 15 minutes every day, roughly 260 business days a year. That’s 65 hours,” I said. Feels all too familiar, I thought.

man seated at computer monitor

Tasks, such as approving, reviewing, searching and routing, can consume our time in email and spreadsheets – time that could be spent innovating, helping customers or anything that delivers more value. What if you could stop this time theft by developing your own simple automation app without a big IT project – and easily connect it to enterprise systems in a secure and governed way?

While I wish I could say one solution can do it all, here’s some practical advice for solving these familiar problems using some low-code tools.

Tip 1: Avoid spreadsheets and email (please!)

spreadsheet

We’re all members of cross-enterprise and small, team-based processes. The enterprise processes typically get funded and employ tools, web portals and repositories for document management. Conversely, the small, team-based processes don’t get as much focus and fall back to email and spreadsheets. This works well the first and second times but breaks down as these solutions expand or survive past their expected life, and they always do. (Don’t get me started on digging out of an ever-growing inbox and moving to a collaborative messaging platform with thousands of channels.)

One of my favorite comics said, “But a spreadsheet would be so easy.” This is true, in part, but loses transparency quickly and when (yes, when) the spreadsheet author leaves, it’s a nightmare to maintain.

Remove some email and spreadsheets from your daily life and simplify your work tasks by building an app using a low-code platform. Make sure the app can connect to approved services in your organization to avoid duplicating documents and logging in to multiple systems manually. You won’t need a robot to automate five screens when you can easily connect to five systems without writing a line of code.

Click here for an example of a low-code application platform from IBM (video, 04:45).

Tip 2: Don't let documents stop automation (put them to work)

When modeling an automation, analysts and modelers can get stuck when a task’s input or output is a document. Without the structure of a database or the accessibility of a REST API, documents can seem like adversaries when they should be put to work as the allies they are.

There are many options to automate the extraction of data – even imagery and media – from documents. Low-code, intelligent data extraction platforms can power the augmentation and automation of your business. In addition, with the growing popularity of AI, you can add increasingly accurate Natural Language Understanding (NLU) models to automate document classification with high confidence.

Click here to experience how IBM Cloud Pak™ for  Automation provides a low-code training interface for AI document classification and data extraction models. You can also check out the videos here, if you’d rather watch than try.

Tip 3: Intentionally partner business and IT in small teams

When was the last time you heard “bring business and IT together”? This advice seems to move in and out of fashion every three years or so. From requirements modeling to waterfall, from user stories to agile and scrum, they all provide a method for business and IT to collaborate. But as low-code capabilities rise and scale across enterprises, I’m concerned business will separate from IT again, as they did at the height of other technology curves, so it’s worth resurfacing this perennial advice.

people working on laptop computer

To avoid wasting time building an app that business won’t use or IT won’t approve, the methodology you choose must be paired with a low-code platform to achieve maximum effectiveness. One methodology, three-in-a-box, brings together product management, design and engineering/development in small, three-person teams. Another three-in-a-box variation is a business leader, designer and engineering/development expert.

Low-code capabilities can support the three-in-a-box method by allowing the business leader and designer to quickly model their designs and even begin using them to power a prototype, showing the engineering/development team member what needs to be automated. As new automation services, including APIs, workflows, decision services and more, are created they can easily be added to the low-code app.

As mentioned in the first tip, make sure your low-code platform supports simple connection to the services you need – along with integrated governance, such as strong versioning, that matches the IT team standards for flexible deployment.

Tip 4: A picture is still worth more than words

When you need to describe how to get from one place to another, how do you do it? Words, pictures, gestures, audio cues? A low-code tool many analysts and modelers already use is a process modeler, probably because it’s easier for many of us to learn by looking at something. A process modeler allows the author to deliver a single model of instructions and high-level requirements.

decision diagram

 A decision model diagram

Don’t forget about using less common low-code model types, such as decisions and data models. To reduce initial project design time and increase ease of documentation and transparency, use low-code models that directly execute with no code generation required.

Summary

Everyone in business performs manual exception process tasks in email and spreadsheets that consume time each day.

Low-code tools can help by enabling you to automatically extract meaning from your documents, quickly design your ideas in visual models and immediately execute them as prototypes. Using low-code can save time for other things, such as innovating and staying ahead of the next business curve.

If you’re not sure where to get started, consider a free one-day automation workshop, or check out IBM Think 2020, 4 – 7 May, where you can experience the new low-code capabilities of IBM Cloud Pak for Automation and much more.

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