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Project Royalty – The PRINCE2 Methodology

December 6, 2017

PRojects IN Controlled Environments v2 is a proven methodology for conducting project based change in a structured and manageable manner, and is recognised worldwide as a highly effective control model, offering best practice resource and risk management guidelines that can be applied in any project environment.

PRINCE was originally based on PROMPT, a project management method created by Simpact Systems Ltd in 1975, and adopted by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in 1979 as the standard to be used for all UK Government information system projects.

When PRINCE was launched in 1989, it effectively superseded PROMPT within Government projects. PRINCE remains in the public domain and copyright is retained by the Crown. PRINCE2 was published in 1996, having been contributed to by a consortium of some 150 European organisations.

Here at Select Technology we are embedding PRINCE2 principles within our Professional Services Team, and bringing these benefits to our Clients which enables more consistent and predictable results regardless of whether we are installing physical server infrastructure as part of a planned hardware refresh, migrating a Client’s workloads into a cloud environment, or implementing network infrastructure change.

So, what does this mean, in real terms, for Clients engaging with our Professional Services Team?

A single word answer, to that very open question, would be Control. The structured process model of PRINCE2 enables a project to be broken down into management stages with defined boundaries and goals, reporting and issue highlighting mechanisms that both inform and advise the relevant roles, and pre-agreed actions in the case of any tolerances being breached (be they time, cost, quality, etc.).

By the organised use of Risk and Change Management procedures, and an evolving Business Case providing continuous business justification, the Client is kept informed at every stage. Risk is inherent in any changes from the status quo, however all that “risk” really means is “the unknown”. Risk can be both positive (in the form of an opportunity), or negative (in the form of a threat). Controlling these “unknowns”, and making them “known” (or manageable in the event they cannot be made known), is at the core of PRINCE2 and provides the most real-world benefit to Clients.

Project work should never be considered a potential money/time blackhole, but a force for change that can have a huge and positive impact on a Businesses operational effectiveness. PRINCE2 helps to reinforce Client confidence in the outputs being delivered, and satisfaction in the outcomes delivered back to the Clients business.

After all, who wouldn’t want royalty involved in their next major IT Project?

 

Written by Scott Relf, Projects Manager & Registered PRINCE2® Practitioner

With a background in Operations Management, Scott has applied his expertise to our Services and Service Desk functions since joining in 2014. He now leads our Project Consultants as they provide specialist implementation services.

Plan for the Worst, Achieve the Best

November 7, 2017

The weeks blog centres around planning for availability.

Obviously this isn’t an all-encompassing check list for Disaster Recovery (DR) planning, but it should provide a high level starting point.

Availability, or uptime, are priorities for all businesses big and small. The keys to which are understanding and planning. -One important point to bear in mind, you don’t need to have all the information right away, and you don’t need to be overly granular straight away, that will come as the plan evolves.

Understanding: This is an entirely business orientated issue in the first instance.

  • Understand the business topology (departments, sub departments, etc)
  • Understand the way they work, and the tools they rely on.
  • From here you should be able to state which departments are the most important, and how long the business can live without these delivery areas – this helps to define your RPO’s and RTO’s.

At this point you can start your plan. As I’ve already mentioned, don’t get hung up on the details too early, IT is nothing more than a business enabler and as such the technology is arbitrary. Understand what the business does, and what it need to do as a bare minimum to keep operating.

Planning: Once you’ve established the business delivery area’s and their respective recovery objectives you can start to dig into the nitty gritty:

  • Where are these key services located?
  • How are they accessed? (this can play a large part, you need to make delivery of those tools & services as simple and cost effective as possible)
  • How often are they backed up?
  • Where & how are the backups stored? (are you meeting the 3-2-1 rule)
  • It’s important at this point to engage with your product vendors (either through your internal IT department or trusted IT partner) to understand what data is required to recover those respective services back into an operational state.

At this point you should have an understanding of where you are and where you need to be, and you can start putting together a Disaster Recovery plan, this should consist of:

  • Business Topology and the associated tools/services
  • RTO & RPO’s
  • Possible DR Scenarios (don’t get hung up on this, it’s impossible to predict every scenario, focus on the high level: specific localised failures, loss of the business premises, etc.)
  • Where the services will be located/recovered to
  • Vendor Contacts
  • Staff Contacts
  • DR Co-ordinators (who within your business will be responsible for co-ordinating the recovery, vendors and staff).

Now here comes a very important step: TESTING. Test your plan, recover your services in an isolated environment and review. Was it successful? Was it within your Recovery Objectives? If the answer to any of these is NO then you need to work with your vendors & IT partners to understand why and identify changes to address this.

It’s important to note that your DR process(s) is an evolving document. Every time there’s a change to the business, be it strategic or technical, look at how this affects the businesses Recovery Objectives and the DR Plan.

Every businesses DR plan will be unique to them, but as a general rule there are two area’s which can simplify the process and drive down Recovery Times:

  • Native High Availability – ensure your local resources have high availability and are fault tolerant (where possible). Mitigating the start of a disaster is far less costly than dealing with one! Look at moving your services into hosted offerings, Office 365 is a great example, Microsoft have spent billions making a highly available and fault tolerant infrastructure to provide it’s services. Piggy back on this and you can significantly mitigate the risks and impact of hardware and site failure.

As part of investigating this avenue with your prospective vendor, ask about their uptime SLA’s and DR plans, make sure you have confidence that they can meet their promises and keep your business running. It’s also worth looking at having a vendor agnostic backup of your data, at the end of the day it’s your data and keeping a copy in an independent location will help you achieve the 3-2-1 rule and protect your business

  • Implement An Availability Solution Not A Backup Solution – for those of you who read my previous blog you’ll know I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about backups. A backup is a copy of your data stored separately from the production copy of your data. For day to day file recovery that’s great but what about loss of whole services or hardware? Where are you going to restore your failed service(s) to? An availability solution should provide you with not only the backup mechanism but a place with which to recover to, be it local or in the cloud. It also goes some way to making your DR plan a lot simpler as you already have the recovery process in mind as well as a console to orchestrate from. Good backups will be a by-product of a good availability solution.

Written by; Russell Gower-Leech Bsc – Select Technology Systems Senior Project Consultant

Russ has been working in IT with MSP’s for over 10 years, starting as a support engineer and working his way up through field engineer, project engineer and finally found his calling as a Consultant. He really gets a kick out of designing technical solutions to meet, and exceed, Clients business needs.

He is one of Select’s Cloud Champions, helping clients leverage the power and flexibility of the hybrid cloud. He is also the in-house Veeam Evangelist – “I really love the flexibility and resilience of Veeam based solutions, especially as I spent the early parts of my career working with products like Backup Exec.”

Hear no Evil, See no Evil

November 1, 2017

The Insights Team are one of the proactive sides of our services department. We look after the software and tools that assist our engineers in delivering an excellent service. We’re also tasked with ensuring that the essentials, such as antivirus software, patching, cloud based email and backups are delivered consistently and efficiently.

Being proactive means that we operate outside of the regular service desk environment, where the focus is naturally on reacting to, and resolving issues when they arise.  We’re busy behind the scenes looking at how we can prevent the issue from occurring in the first place.

When our service desk processes a support ticket, they will gather as much relevant information as possible. This is not only important in providing a timely resolution, but it assists us greatly in building a better picture of the challenges our clients are facing.

Using our business intelligence tools, we perform regular reviews of the tickets we’ve handled recently. This enables us to identify trends and potential pain points, with a view to providing a solution to the root cause, rather than just the symptoms. If we see that 90% of a client’s tickets relate to failed backups, or there’s a spike in tickets relating to the wireless network, we’ll be asking why. This helps us to provide a truly proactive service. Using this intelligence, we can work with other areas of the business to provide long term solutions, reducing the number of support tickets that the client has to open.

Another area that’s constantly on our radar is efficiency. We’re always looking at better ways to carry out common tasks, which in turn leads to quicker resolution times for our clients. This can range from defining tried and tested processes for our engineers, to scripting the entire solution. Having spent a number of years on the service desk myself, I’m aware that time is limited for developing longer term efficiency savings ‘on the fly’. The priority has to be resolving live issues. The Insights Services team is ideally placed to take on these tasks.

Also hard at work in the background is our Remote Management and Monitoring (RMM) software. This is busy detecting unpredictable issues as they arise, such as hardware failures and offline servers. The fine tuning of this system is an ever evolving task for the Insights Services team. We constantly look at ways of automatically healing issues that are detected, meaning there is a resolution long before the end user is affected.

Another important part of our work in Insights Services is carrying out regular reviews of the software and systems we deploy. In a fast paced industry, it’s essential to make sure we’re benchmarking our current packages against alternative offerings. By the same token, we’re always on the lookout for changes, or news within the industry which may affect our clients, such as a recently discovered security threat.

Working within Insights Services is a rewarding role. The changes we make are often subtle, however the benefits can be widespread.

The Consequences of Your (in)actions

October 26, 2017

If you were ever to make the journey down to the Select Technology office, as you walked through the door, you would be greeted by a wall that spells out our guiding principles as a business.

One of these values relates to Innovation. We believe that to be the best organisation we can be, we owe it to our customers to be continually improving. Looking at what we do and how we do it and changing where needed to ensure that we continue to be successful.

Innovation is an interesting concept. Some organisations seem to think that Innovation means change for changes’ sake. Some believe that Innovation and change are essential and will embrace change at any cost. While these viewpoints both have merit, most organisations choose to exist somewhere in the middle, keen to embrace the positive benefits of change but wary of breaking something that is fundamental to the success of their business.

Change, for good or for bad, should in my opinion always be embraced. Meaningful analysis of the impact of specific changes can help highlight the benefits and mitigate the risks. A thorough understanding of what works well within your business (possibly by embracing critical analysis of your business using tools such as Power BI) will help you gravitate toward changes that are positive by nature.

The reality today is that change is a constant. The digital economy means that, no matter how fast we run or how hard we work, someone will always have just worked out a more efficient, more streamlined way to do something, think of Blockbuster & Netflix or Text Vs. Instant Messaging.

Innovation in business can be tough. Wouldn’t we all love the time to be able to stop what we are doing for long enough to be able to analyse WHY we are doing it. However, to ensure that we are always at the forefront of our industry, this is exactly what we must do. We are genuinely seeing the death of “but that’s the way we have always done it.” Sure, there are organisations that believe that is right and will continue to say it, unfortunately for most organisations that think this way the clock is ticking.

Let’s look again at Blockbuster Video. In 1997, when Netflix was formed, Blockbuster was worth $8.4BN. They were utterly convinced that their way was the best way forward. They believed in it so completely and were so resistant to change that when, in 2000, when Netflix approached them about a merger (Reed Hastings was asking for only $50M for Netflix to become part of the Blockbuster business) they sent the internet upstart packing. The rest, as they say, is history. Netflix is now worth $65BN, at the time of it’s demise in 2010, Blockbuster was worth only $24m. Blockbuster did launch its own online streaming service, but by 2006 when it was launched, Netflix already had almost 10 years of experience in the market and Blockbuster just couldn’t compete.

We all owe it to ourselves to continue to have an open mind about how things can be done differently. That organisation that comes to you and tells you they have a new way of doing things should at least be listened to. It might not be the right way for you to go forward but no longer can we simply dismiss these approaches as we have done in the past. That is exactly what Blockbuster did.

Is Your IT Support Like a Leaky Boat?

October 19, 2017

I wrote a thought provoking blog back in August called the “The IT Service Value Paradox – “How not calling your IT Support Company is actually better value for your business

I thought it would be a good opportunity to follow up and put a bit more context surrounding this concept and ultimately what makes us different here at Select Technology.  Those who know me will know that I love a good metaphor, after all, in an often overly complicated world; it is a great way to simplify things and help re-frame people’s perspectives.  So here goes:

Support with no proactivity is like a team sitting in a leaky boat, a vicious cycle of continually bailing out water with seemingly no time to fix the holes while randomly drifting along with no plan for the direction of the boat or its desired destination.

Dissecting this metaphor and applying it in the context of the real world IT Support looks like this:

  • Think of the boat representing a support company’s clients
  • The people are the support team
  • The holes are clients risks and support exposure
  • The incoming water is the relentless incoming support
  • And the boat direction/destination is support strategy.

Of course in this situation any thought regarding proactivity is hampered by the relentless incoming water, the boat is therefore slow to move forward and reach its desired destination and the people are caught in a vicious cycle.

Whether in-house or outsourced, in IT there is always a degree of reactive time but most people would agree that not enough proactive time is available which just isn’t good for the business.

The value of our service is not judged by how many times you call us for help or how fast we react when you do – it’s actually about how we reduce risk and improve your business through our unique processes.  After all, when you call for support it’s because technology is limiting your business rather than complementing it.

We are different at Select Technology.  Alongside our busy Helpdesk – we have dedicated teams and unique processes designed to continuously look after our clients proactively resulting in better results.

  • We have teams whose sole purpose is to find those holes in the boat and devise strategies to remove or reduce them
  • We have teams who spend scheduled time onsite regularly reviewing our clients infrastructure against our best practices to ensure risks are mitigated
  • We have Leadership teams who meet with our clients quarterly to have business discussions and how technology can help achieve their business goals.

Our unique approach brings stronger and more predictable results, which fundamentally reduces business risk meaning we enjoy relationships that are more positive with our clients.  For us it’s about positive actions which lead us all to positive results.

Leveraging the Power of Azure – Dipping Your Toes in the Cloud

October 12, 2017

I was recently speaking at a Microsoft-sponsored Azure workshop held at Select Technology. Talking to the customers it become clear very quickly that lots of them struggle with inflexibility and lack of scalability within their current IT infrastructure.

Unlike some of the enterprises I have worked for in the past, small businesses are not always fortunate enough to have large and redundant server/ network infrastructure which can be used for unexpected workload increase or simply research and development (R&D). Sometimes it can simply down to physical growth, the server room cannot host any more hardware.

In fact, I was recently talking to one of our clients who were looking to upgrade, or even possibly replace, two of their core business applications. The challenges they had were: one, no hardware to utilise for R&D and two, they preferred to test the product before investing in it to establish if its fit for purpose. The only option they believed they had was to put some capital investment into server and storage hardware, to be able to test these applications. We will see later on in this blog how we addressed these challenges for the client, without any investment in the hardware.

In this blog we will see how you can start looking at Azure to migrate workloads. Azure is a truly hybrid public cloud, which gives you the ability to leverage the power of the cloud in conjunction with your on-premise infrastructure.

Hybrid Public Cloud? Another IT buzz phrase?

Not really. How many of you out there are already using Microsoft Office 365, or online accounting packages, and still have files and applications on on-premise servers – if you do, you are hybrid. More and more application vendors are now providing online alternatives for their products, so hybrid environments are becoming more and more common.

So how can you start dipping your toes in the Cloud?

Research and Development – Azure gives you the ability to test new applications by quickly spinning up virtual infrastructure. It gives you the ability to get it wrong – yes that’s right, you don’t have to worry about over or under spec’ing hardware or a solution. Going back to the example at the beginning of the blog, we created 3 virtual machines for the client in Azure to test their new applications and make a decision on whether or not they wanted to adopt the application. It gave the developer the freedom to work on the application and right size the servers before going Live. The biggest advantage that they had was that they could simply turn it off and it will not cost them a penny, but what if the client had invested in the hardware to test the application, and then discovered it’s not fit for purpose?

Storage in Azure – Many of you Infrastructure engineers out there will be able to relate to this. Storage is one of the very expensive components in the IT infrastructure but no one really wants to own the data. People leave but data never leaves, it’s kept for that “just in case moment” and it’s the same with shared and application data. So it makes sense for such archive data to be migrated to Azure storage. Typically for the same amount of SAN storage, you can buy 4 times the Azure storage for archive data.

Extending your current infrastructure – If your infrastructure is at its full physical capacity, Azure becomes an obvious choice as it’s truly hybrid. It supports site to site VPNs and dedicated express routes into the Azure. You can host services into Azure without physically expanding your current server room.

Backup and Disaster Recovery (DR) – Many of the small to medium size businesses operate from a single premises. Data is backed up to a backup server on the same site and most of the time in the same server room. The only form of offsite backups are tapes or external hard drives. Gone are the days when once an evening backups were sufficient. Businesses want frequent backups throughout the day (refer to my colleague Russell’s blog of 16th May here). In addition, what about DR if you don’t have a secondary site? Azure’s site recovery manager gives you the ability to easily and economically have a DR solution without having the need for a secondary site.

Public Facing Apps – Businesses no longer operate in isolation. There is an increasing demand on businesses to share data with clients, partners and suppliers. If your infrastructure has the capacity and your internet lines are fast and resilient, you can probably achieve this internally. But what if they are not? I will give you an example of another client we recently worked for, who was in similar situation. The Customer had a 70-30 split between mobile engineers and office based staff. They were looking to upgrade their “Field Resource Allocation” software, accessed both internally and by the mobile engineers. It made sense to host the software at an easily accessible and central location and Azure was the obvious choice for them. The application is now in Azure, and accessible by both office based and mobile staff.

The sky is the limit when designing new solution and incorporating Azure, due to the hybrid nature of the platform. Above are just a few examples to provide food for thought but just imagine the possibilities of working with more mature workloads such as:

High Performance Compute
Business Intelligence and Analytics
SAP and SharePoint on Azure

At Select Technology we have a hybrid cloud-centric ethos and this is reflected by our Microsoft Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solution Partnership. Speak to us and we can help you with the options you have available to leverage the power of Azure.

Written by Mantej Yadav, Senior Project Consultant, MS Office 365 and MS Azure MCP.

With over 12 Years’ experience in Technical Roles ranging in Public, Private and Charity sectors, Mantej brings the experience working in the large corporates and passion for utilising IT tools to achieve business objectives.

With keen interest in virtualisation and cloud technologies, he is the in-house Cloud-Evangelist – “I get a buzz out of working with clients to identify their business IT requirements and design an IT solution which enables them to achieve their business objectives”.  

In addition to the providing IT Consultation to the clients, Mantej is keen on presenting and benefits of modern IT tools and speaking at events like Kent Vision Live 2020 and at Microsoft sponsored workshops.

The Importance of Documentation

October 5, 2017

Documentation is a vital part of what we do as a Managed IT Service Provider.  Customer intelligence is finding out things like how customers use applications, their experiences, and personal preferences – whilst ensuring that we can easily access the information in a secure manner.

Good documentation makes the entire process of providing support services more fluid and this translates into a more efficient and positive support experience for our clients.  Everything from new hardware and software configuration detail to 3rd party usernames and passwords are all centrally recorded which gives us the best platform to provide a great customer experience.

Good documentation is the base upon which 1st class customer service is built. It enables reactive situations to set the stage for proactive “Wow’s”, and it bolsters a team culture by making sure team members have the tools necessary to address customer concerns as effectively as possible.

We use a secure and agile cloud based solution which allows us to access all documentation relating to our customers using the internet.  This means that we have access to our full repository of information where ever we go.

Our documentation is effectivity in one location and fully integrates with our Service Desk system. All documentation is easily searchable via company, assets, hardware, software and known fixes to issues, this intuitiveness alone makes us more efficient.

All documentation is stored securely requiring multi factor authentication, which ensures that the data can only be accessed by authorised staff.

The system we use has the powerful capability to link documents to equipment, hardware, software, vendor, known fixes and more.  Linking enables us to easily identify which pre and post steps are necessary to complete a job at hand which may not have been known until the linked documents is seen.  This intelligence evolves over time as we use the system linking becomes mature which benefits all our technical team.

As a Senior Support Engineer, being passionate about good documentation is a must, as it not only makes my life easier but it directly translates to a positive outcome too.  After all, good documentation is an investment in future efficiency.

Rob Haggerty joined Select Technology in 2016 as Senior Engineer and has become an integral member of the team.  Rob is responsible for infrastructure and server related tickets as well as escalations from the junior team. Rob blends great technical skills with soft skills, perfect attributes for a customer facing support role.  Rob’s passion for service excellence drives his dedication to continually help us improve all areas of the business including developing our documentation solution.

The Enormity of Small Business

September 25, 2017

My Customers never cease to amaze me.

Within the last few months, I made the move from working within Microsoft to joining Select Technology. As I made the transition from the world’s largest software vendor into the SME partner world, I knew that I would no longer be working with the blue chip, headline brands that I have been fortunate enough to interact with over the last few years.

That said, despite the concerns of others, I had no doubt that the conversations I would be having would be equally as exciting and invigorating as any I have had before.

And Boy, did my new customer base ever prove me right!

Throughout this and next year, Select Technology will be participating in the Microsoft Partner Workshop Programme. In Microsoft’s own words “These hands-on events are led by industry and solution experts. Their small classroom setting provides lots of opportunities to learn from and share with peers and experts in your region.” In other words, they allow us to deliver real value to our existing and potential customer base by delivering a series of half day Events.

However, the real value in these events has been the opportunity for me to see into the minds of the brave small business owners that employ more than 15.7M people in the UK.

Without the structural support and financial security inherent in being part of a larger organisation, these SMB entrepreneurs feel the impact of EVERY decision they make. Against the backdrop of professional and personal risk experienced by a small business employee, the agility and imagination displayed has really caught me by surprise. The level of creativity and imagination is far beyond the majority of what I have seen over the years from much larger businesses. Despite knowing that one wrong move could have serious consequences for their business, the key players within these organisations continue to embrace technology, deriving new and exciting ways to utilise, adapt and re-purpose what is already available in ways that most larger customers would never imagine was possible.

Small Business really is the key to the future of technology. Agility in this space is not optional. These organisations need to be innovative to survive. This drives a hunger for technology unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Each time we host a Workshop, the individual that seems to learn most is me. Maybe it’s time for some of the larger Vendors out there to appreciate and embrace Small Business. It is apparent that the true value in any deal is not the ‘value’ of the deal. It’s the innovation and creativity that builds solutions that can be taken forward to deliver industry relevant solutions that benefit hundreds of similar businesses in the future.

I look forward to whatever working in this exciting sector can teach me next.

The Power of Love (Feedback)

September 20, 2017

Providing Managed Support services to multiple clients all with varying levels of IT needs provides us with different challenges every day.  On a regular basis we have to deal with an array of issues and requests ranging from Cyber Security threats to password resets.

Whilst we endeavour to resolve our client’s issues beyond their expectations, how do we truly know if we have happy clients?

Historically we would have regular calls and client meetings, along with periodic lengthy satisfaction surveys.  Whilst this did provide valuable feedback, it was too infrequent and denied us the opportunity to act immediately.  In addition, more often than not, we were engaging with senior management which resulted in disjointed and sometimes historic feedback which frequently created a chain of miss-interpretation.

We were clearly missing a very important part of the puzzle… the staff themselves!

In order for us to be fully in tune with the client sentiment, we realised we had to understand how the staff were feeling about their Service experience.  We realised that by getting agile feedback from everyone who consumed the service first-hand was crucial to our success.

To address this, we implemented an intuitive simple pulse survey tool called CrewHu.  So how does it work?  It’s really simple, as soon as a support ticket is completed, CrewHu will email the client with the most important question “How did we do on this request?”  And the best bit?  To submit feedback it’s just “one click” on one of the faces.

Once feedback is submitted, we can very quickly gain an insight into how we performed on a specific issue, for a specific person.  In addition, there is opportunity to provide further written feedback if a client so wishes, although this is optional!

CrewHu will send out real-time alerts to the right people when someone has left a rating.  Our team will quickly follow up to deal with the situation where a client isn’t 100% happy. This rapid interaction allows us to be responsive with addressing any concerns and helps us improve our client relationships.

So why is feedback so important to us?  Simple.  Our continued success relies on delighted clients, and so feedback is an integral part of our improvement cycle.

The beauty of such a simple and effortless feedback system is that it encourages more people to use it which gives us a greater and broader insight into service trends which leads to improvements such as process enhancements and even helping us identify training opportunities.  Feedback is a key ingredient for us and means we are always listening to our clients which in turn shapes the future services we provide.

We’re proud that we consistently achieve higher than average positive feedback and that’s why we publish our feedback live:

http://www.itsupport.co.uk/livefeedback/

Our consistently great feedback is due to our dedication and commitment, we constantly challenge ourselves pushing the boundaries, driving innovation leading to service improvements all built on the foundations of this crucial feedback from our clients.  And not forgetting our Services team who are fundamental and committed to delivering service excellence and helping our clients make sure their businesses run smoothly with reliable and efficient IT Systems.

Written by Nick Potter, Director at Select Technology – Nick began his career at Select Technology in 1998 as a network engineer. His ability to develop long-term client relationships prompted a switch to client management, using his technical skills to align technology with positive business outcomes. Nick is integral to the leadership team, but still lends his expertise to this vital strategic planning role.

Workflow automation: a step closer to the paperless dream

September 11, 2017

For very nearly forty years the myth of the truly paperless office has been a tantalising goal, remaining just out of reach. However, with readily available workflow automation tools, such as Microsoft Flow, the myth is closer to becoming reality than ever before.

The difficulties in implementing a paperless work environment are many and varied. Compatibility concerns, copyright regulation and the complexities of digitising existing hardcopy records, the ultimate goal of “going paperless” is still shrouded in the transitory future. The omnipresent use of email in today’s workplace, and the ability to carry your office with you in the form of a smart device, has had a significant impact for the vast majority of businesses. Even without consideration being given to enterprise oriented social networking platforms such as Yammer, the ability to send a bulk email rather than print off multiple copies of a memo, for example, has edged the dream a little closer. As has a generational shift in workforce, younger workers are statistically more likely to be comfortable reading a document on a screen, rather than an original hardcopy, or even printing out a softcopy prior to processing it.

Business processes themselves can be guilty of perpetuating the need for physical hardcopy documents by their very nature. If a document requires approval or authorisation, and needs to be passed between multiple individuals, it can be very tempting to print a copy to pass around for signature or initial, prior to final processing.

In my last blog post (Cloud Agility Vs On-Prem Deadweight – Aug ’17), I mentioned Digital Transformation as a paradigm shift, a completely different way of thinking. Rather than emulating an existing process and merely introducing more technology, the idea is to examine what you are trying to achieve and the desired outcomes, then using the tools available more intelligently to facilitate the required output. The new process might be fundamentally different from the original, but the output provides what is needed, cutting down on waste (both in terms of time and material) and increasing efficiency.

Tools such as Flow, included in most Office 365 subscription levels, and SharePoint’s integrated workflow functionality, make automating business processes simple and effective. When business decision makers hear “customised process automation”, concerns could be raised that specialised (and expensive) development is about to be proposed. This does not have to be the case. Flow allows quick and easy implementation of a wide variety of automation, via provided templates or built from scratch using intuitive blocks. Flows can interact with over 160 different online services, both Microsoft and 3rd party, and with a handy mobile device app, Flows can also be made available on-the-go. Approvals and authorisations can be gained in real-time, rather than gathering dust in an In-tray.

A very simple Flow that can take minutes to implement, and is a great solution demonstrator, adds rows to an Excel Online spreadsheet with date, time and postcode, upon the click of a button in the Flow mobile app. Rather than completing paper records of business journeys conducted for expense reimbursement, the travelling employee need only click ‘Depart’ and ‘Arrive’ at the beginning and end of a journey. All of the relevant information is then available in real-time to the Accounts department, ready for processing. It may seem almost trivial, but the time saved in completing forms, and the accuracy assured by the automation, is appreciated by all involved.

In the case of implementing automated workflows such as the example above, the sky is literally the limit (and brings the “paperless office” ever so slightly closer).

Written by Scott Relf, Projects Manager

With a background in Operations Management, Scott has applied his expertise to our Services and Service Desk functions since joining in 2014. He now leads our Project Consultants as they provide specialist implementation services.