Automation is already here, and we benefit greatly from it every day. From electronic boarding passes to smartphone maps to online banking, we’re using less paper in our daily lives and living better for it. Yet many everyday work processes are manual and still rely on paper or email.
Automating these processes is the first essential step toward achieving digital transformation in your business.
Let’s look at an example. Every organization uses a purchase requisition or purchase order process to manage spending. Unless they’ve invested in specialized software (not common unless it’s large), the typical company will have an Excel spreadsheet, which must be printed, signed and scanned for signatures. This is a perfect process to automate since it’s a key daily activity that’s not overly complicated yet involves multiple stakeholders.
Three Things To Consider
When digitizing this process, consider the following:
- Replace Excel with online forms: Purchase orders require information such as a table of items being purchased, the supplier details, etc. Online forms are dynamic, validate the accuracy of data and perform calculations. They also work with SQL databases and other systems to reduce data entry.
- Route for approvals: The purchase order form is routed to participants who are notified and approve electronically. Signing the form on a laptop or mobile device is crucial to avoid printing and scanning. Automated processes notify, remind and enforce business constraints.
- Store documents: Once the PO is processed, the final document can be automatically and securely indexed and uploaded for storage and retrieval.
An Eight-Week Plan
Using modern software and a systematic approach, you can digitize your purchase order and other processes faster than you might think. Here’s how:
Week 1: Awareness And Buy-In
Having chosen a target process, identify key stakeholders and secure buy-in toward the goal of creating paperless purchase orders in two months. It’s best to choose a mix of people from multiple departments and at least one executive. Create awareness of the high-level goals so stakeholders can easily see how their everyday tasks are affected.
I’ve found that a good approach is to share a YouTube explainer video like the one below. They’re easy to find with minimal digging (just do a Google search for “purchase order automation explainer video”). They’re usually short (one to two minutes) and easy to consume.
Week 2: Discovery
Dig into the purchase order process in as much detail as possible:
- Who initiates a purchase order?
- How do they enter information?
- Is it emailed for signatures?
- How do you know when it’s signed?
- Where does it end up?
- Where are the bottlenecks and pain points?
As you investigate these details, your users will tell you “I wish I could do this” or “I wish I didn’t have to do that.”
Week 3: Solution Design
Now that you understand the pain points, work with your software provider to design the paperless system to automate it in a way that addresses the problems you’ve discovered. Once designed, discuss with stakeholders to ensure that it works for them. An iteration or two may be required until you get it right.
You’ll know you’re close when users start asking, “So, when can I start using it?” This means they can visualize how the solution addresses their frustrations and improves their everyday work.
Week 4: Version 1
Create the first prototype. Some of you might be skeptical about getting there in just one month. But using modern low-code platforms, you can:
- Drag and drop to create forms.
- Use point-and-click wizards for dynamic behavior.
- Visually define routing, including conditional routing.
- Connect to SQL databases and other systems without coding.
These platforms are easy to use, so you should be able to complete a prototype within a week. It won’t be the final solution, but that’s the point — to create something quickly, solicit feedback and iterate. Check out the short video below to see how.
Weeks 5 And 6: Feedback, Testing And Iteration
Go back to those enthusiastic users and get them to try out your new purchase order process. You’ll quickly hear things like, “It’s great, but this would make it even better,” or, “Can we add that?” Hopefully, the fact that you went through the design phase with users implies that the changes are not drastic.
Rapidly implement and test the appropriate feedback and go right back for more. I’ve found that with a committed group of people and the right software platform, two weeks is enough time to address most issues.
Week 7: Release
Now that you have a user-validated solution, it’s time to deploy it. Ideally, you’ve chosen a cloud-based platform that runs in a standard browser so deployment simply means upgrading to a paid plan without the need to install any software. You’ll still need to coordinate with IT for things like setting up authentication.
Run a few purchase orders through using sample data to make sure things are working as expected.
Week 8: Documentation And Training
Take the time to document your process so that others in the organization can support and evolve it. Otherwise, as time passes, the system becomes a black box that no one understands.
Finally, don’t forget about training users. By now, your small group of stakeholders are your biggest champions. As you train the rest of the company, recruit these champions to talk about their excitement and how the solution has addressed their frustrations.
Your automated purchase order is not static — it should keep evolving. Actively continue to solicit feedback as more people use the system and actually implement it. Your end users will appreciate you for it.
It may seem like a daunting task, but it is possible to roll out a completely paperless purchase order in a couple months by following this blueprint with a committed team and a systematic approach.
There’s no longer any excuse to stick with manual, inefficient paper- or email-based processes. Doing so opens up your organization to nimbler and faster competitors.
Give frevvo a try
Our purchase order workflow software is so easy to use that we’re confident anyone can automate purchase orders. We provide numerous completely free purchase order templates that you can try and customize for your needs. The templates include a basic purchase order form, one with SQL database integration as well as multiple workflows that route the PO for approval – some with basic routing and others with conditional routing.