Introduction to Process Automation

August 13, 2018

Creating the Foundation for Work Process Automation
Let’s talk executive to executive. You need work process automation.  Have you heard the term before? Does it sound like buzz words to you? It did to me too, but automating tasks that are low skill, repetitive, and better suited to technology can give you real benefits.

“Benefits” being:

  • Saving you and your team time, so you can do more strategic things
  • Saving money, by not having people take on things they’re not passionate about
  • Reducing risk, as certain tasks are best left to software which makes less mistakes and doesn’t get tired. Additionally, having an electronic audit trail is a bonus.

Getting started: What I’ve learned
Getting started with this concept in my own business took time.  Here’s a few things I learned from doing this myself at Convverge.  I hope my growth here might save you some time and make your journey to a more automated workplace as enjoyable as possible.

  1. Automate something

    Pick a task and automate it.  Simple.  No doubt there are many options to choose from. Here are a couple for your consideration:

    • Approved financial expenditure (AFE) request processes
    • Collecting electronic signatures for important documents and storing them in a secure place
    • Approving employee expenses or paid time off requests
  2. Start small

    Often larger and more complicated processes and workflows are going to be your biggest wins.  However, these are also harder to tackle, and like anything, you want to practice first.  Therefore, to start, simple is best.

  3. Create a “foundation” project

    Next break ground on your initial project and get ready to learn a lot, fast.  Document as much as possible.  Anything that goes right, or wrong is going to help you save costs later.

    By leveraging lessons learned from your foundation project(s) you will avoid pitfalls and increase your likelihood for success with your larger vision for automation.

    You can call it whatever you like but I like foundation project in lieu of POC or experiment.  It’s a small point but I often worry that calling it an experiment and POC might bias people into believing it’s not going to be a long-term business investment, or worst that it’s okay to fail.  What you learn here is going to form the foundation for your work process automation, so why not think of it as such?

  4. Talk about it

    In my experience there are likely 5-10 obvious workflows to tackle (see point 1), but you need to be collaborating with you internal teams.  Process automation, when done well, can spread like wildfire.  Who wouldn’t want to have their job made easier and have the company better for it?  You can try and plan out your own strategy for automation, but a better way is to get people to tell you what they want and need. Secure their buy-in early!

  5. Measure throughput

    There are numerous ways to measure your performance, and you’ll want to try to capture a baseline on whatever metrics you deem appropriate before you introduce the automation.  I say try because manual processes are often hard to quantify.  A huge advantage of automation (especially when coupled with a measurement or BI tool like Power BI) is that they are so so SO easily tracked and monitored.

    Common measurements:

    • Number of transactions (times you do something)
    • Time required for each transaction
    • People involved
    • Incomplete transactions (process started but never completed)
    • Ratings like employees’ feelings towards the transaction or their perceived technical complexity rating

With many options available to us, there isn’t “one way” to approach the introduction of new innovative ideas and technology into our organizations.  The barrier to modernization has never been smaller with tools like SharePoint, Forms, Flow and Power BI advancing at lightspeed.  The question is becoming less what do I use, and more how do I make these tools work for me.

If there’s any insight I can share in getting you ready to lay the foundation for work process automation or accelerating the process we’d welcome chatting over coffee.

– Eric Veenendaal, President

Microsoft Teams is now free!

July 12, 2018

If you’ve been wondering about the new collaboration tool giving Slack a run for its money called Teams and you work at an organization with fewer than 300 people; you’re in luck! Microsoft just announced that it would be offering Teams with two (2) gigs of storage at no cost to clients in the SMB space. SMB being clients sub-300 employees.

Microsoft is following the lead of its largest competitor in the space, Slack’s freemium model. What it means for you is you get a highly feature-rich product with 140+ integrations with other apps and services for FREE. Microsoft is betting that by giving you the best parts of the app for free, you will get hooked. From a user’s experience; you probably will. It’s a fantastically practical and useful business tool that we at Convverge have also been using for the better part of a year.

The paid model kicks in when you’ve reached your storage limit or want the handful of premium features. The good news there is premium licensing starts at $5/user.

Power BI Desktop Update – April 2018

April 18, 2018

The month of April brings with it some great Power BI news! For those of you who are using Power BI as your self service BI and Analytics tool, you will no doubt welcome these features in your organization. Each month Power BI continues to roll out features requested by the user community. Microsoft takes pleasure in your suggestions and ideas. People post ideas and the community “upvotes” the content they feel is most relevant to their needs and then the team at Microsoft reviews these requests and then has their engineers get to work.

There were two big features that were brought out this month and they are Buttons and Q&A Explorer. In the past you had to assign an image that maybe resembled a button but now you can actually choose a number of default shapes that are provided to you out of the box by Power BI. Why should you care about a button? Strictly from a user experience perspective you can now make your reports more user friendly by adding effects, for example, when you hover over a button it will change color to give your users a way of knowing they can interact further with their report. With regards to the Q&A Explorer this provides another level of depth that your users can enjoy when interacting with their Power BI reports. This feature allows people to ask questions on the data that has been provided in the report by selecting a button.

Let us show you both features to gain an idea of how this works for your organization:

Once you have some data placed on your canvas you will now notice in the ribbon a feature called Buttons. It allows you to select default shapes without having to find ones online or going through the motions of creating your own.

Buttons image

Once you place a button on the screen you can now place a hover effect when your mouse touches the button.

Original ButtonButtons 2Customized ButtonButtons 3Hover feature added to Customized ButtonButtons 4

Adding the Q&A Explorer is also a very easy to do. If you select the Q&A button (as shown above) on your report, Power BI will assign it to operate as a tool to ask questions about your data. This is a very welcome feature by many people as this is yet another level of Power BI taking their self service BI tool to the next level.

Q&A Button

When you select the button a new window opens up which allows people to ask basic questions and Power BI delivers the results immediately.

We really enjoy looking for ways to improve our clients experiences in Power BI and as new capabilities are added each month it continues to allow us to be more creative with our approaches and it offers you more exciting ways to interact with your data no matter how large or how small.

If you would like to see these and many other features in more detail here is a link for you to review the video posted by Microsoft for April’s 2018 Power BI features.

If you have questions about how we have worked with other organizations and their Power BI needs, and would like to partner with us to help you incorporate these new features and others, please reach out to us on our website or call us toll free at 844-460-8540.

Power BI + SharePoint Online: Integration made better

February 13, 2018

As part of Power BI’s regular updates to their product, they have updated the Power BI Service to now have some well desired features, which you can view on their blog.

One of these features is no longer in beta mode, and that is the ability to embed Power BI directly into SharePoint Online. If you have an Office 365 account and SharePoint Online is functional in your organization you can take advantage of this.

If you have questions about how we have worked with other organizations and their Power BI needs, and would like to partner with us to help you transform your data to build useful and dynamic reports, please reach out to us on our website or call us toll free at 844-460-8540.

Power BI – What’s the BIG deal?

January 31, 2018

By now, most people are aware of BIG data terms that are out there in industry. Most organizations are finally gaining traction in the Business Intelligence (BI) space. With so many software applications available it can be confusing to know what works best, what is the easiest for your IT department to deploy, what is the quickest for your organization to learn and what is the cheapest option available?

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a free Microsoft application that allows people to mash data from a tremendous amount of data sources and provide unique and actionable insights into your data. It’s a dynamic data visualization tool that changes when you click the objects on the screen. And let’s be honest…who wants to stare at tables and charts that don’t change if you click on them?

Below is an overview of how Power BI takes a data source and consumes it and provides something worth looking at.

There are 3 main products that fit into Power BI as an overall product.

There is the Power BI Service where you publish your reports online to your organization.

Power BI Desktop is where you build reports, transform data and make the magic happen.

Lastly, Power BI Mobile is where you can consume your reports on your phone or tablet.

What data sources can Power BI connect to?

What can Power BI do for you?

Out of the box it has charts, tables, KPI’s and numerous other features you can download for free on the Microsoft store that really bring your data to life. If you have developers in your company they can take Power BI to the next level by creating custom visuals that suit your businesses needs. Whether you are in Operations and have HSE needs, a Dentist office with teeth modelling needs or an Auto Parts company who needs to have some unique visual that represents the day to day work that is meaningful to them. Power BI is often limited by the creativity of the people building the reports. We can help customize and make your experience a very unique one with some of the custom development options Refineco offers yours.

Why Power BI?

Reporting needs are always an interesting dilemma in companies. In some cases, the reporting needs work but reporting continues to evolve and with it the information and perspectives that are required to have a 360 degree view of your business.

Some of the reasons why Power BI is the best choice for your BI needs:

  • It’s a Microsoft product!
  • Power BI has many visualizations and custom options for even more
  • It has a familiar look and feel to other common Microsoft Office applications
  • Power BI is in the cloud
  • Power BI has mobile apps
  • Power BI is not expensive relative to other related products on the market
  • It’s easy to use and cheap to train users
  • Monthly updates continue to evolve the product
  • Power BI has a very large user community
  • The user community decides what is most important as part of its future updates
  • It has a natural language query engine so you can type or ask questions about your data
  • Gartner considers the Power BI application/service as a major leader in the industry in BI and Analytics

Is Power BI expensive?

Most software applications can cost enormous amounts of money depending on the volume of licenses that you distribute to your organization and what kind of licensing agreement you must commit to. Power BI is relatively cheap overall depending on the volume of people that will use the tool compared to other products in the market. View Power BI Pricing for your organization.

How easy is it for my IT department to deploy Power BI?

Depending on how you plan to use the tool and what your data sources are it can be as simple as acquiring the necessary licenses, downloading and installing the Desktop application and publishing your reports to for your organization to consume.

We can work with your company to help deploy Power BI no matter how different your needs are from other companies.

If you have questions about how we have worked with other organizations and their Power BI needs, and would like to partner with us to help you transform your data and build useful and dynamic reports, please reach out to us on our website or call us toll free at 844-460-8540.

Mainstream support for SharePoint 2013 ends in 3 months!

January 25, 2018

SharePoint 2013

For those who still have SharePoint environments running on SharePoint 2013, per Microsoft, mainstream support for SharePoint 2013 will end on April 10, 2018.

After this date only security fixes will be provided for SharePoint 2013. Regular hotfixes can no longer be requested.

If you haven’t already done so, we recommend you start planning a migration to SharePoint Server 2016 or SharePoint Online as soon as possible.

What is Office 365…..really?

July 10, 2017

If you ask people what Microsoft Office 365 is all about, they’ll likely say Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

But did you know that Microsoft Office 365 has expanded its offering with new business apps? Users can simply log in to the Microsoft Office 365 dashboard from either a desktop or mobile device, and apps such as Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft Flow and Microsoft PowerApps are right there.

Why should you care? We plan to introduce these apps to you over the next couple of weeks and explain how they can benefit you and your organization.

Stay tuned…

Why is ERP Software Popular Again?

November 8, 2016

If you have spent any time online in the past two years, you are starting to see a solid trend emerging: the clear resurgence of ERP applications, especially around Calgary. Unlike 20 years ago when a number of still popular ERP software suits made their way into billion dollar businesses, this time the target audience is the SMB market. Everyone seems to want in on the action. Whether you are a restaurant, an ice cream shop, or a car rental place, you need software to manage you proprietary business. So what has changed since the 1990s?

Let’s look at a few important factors that resulted in a renewed popularity in the ERP space:

The Cloud is a real thing now

Maybe you’ve heard? Everyone is moving everything into the cloud. Records, documents, email, even SCADA. I know, it seems almost crazy. The bottom line is actually the bottom line: the cloud saves you money. This is why businesses are moving their properties in droves. That’s mostly because it’s now affordable and relatively easy to get there. The systems are stable, highly available and relatively well managed.

There is an App for Everything!

The reality is that there is so much business software out there today that no matter what kind of business you run, there is bound to be something out there that fits your business management needs. You will find software that an ice cream parlor can use to manage flavors, their little accounting books, shifts and such. And the same goes for the car repair shop.

The SaaS model is well established

SAAS, otherwise affectionately known as “Software As a Service” is sales approach that software vendors used to sell their ERP software. Microsoft Office 365, Dynamics 365 and SharePoint Online are great examples of this model, for many reasons:

  • You no longer need to worry about buying license keys and keeping them hidden in a safe place for when you re-download and re-install the software. You just get an invoice for use, similar to your utility bill.
  • Upgrades, patches, and various hotfixes are now handled for you.
  • No need to dedicate servers or physical boxes, which in turn causes you to hire infrastructure specialists to keep those heaters running.
  • No need to worry about backups, high availability, regional coverage–all this is done for you. Or at least, you hope it is.
  • If you suddenly find a better vendor, you drop the previous one and the relationship is done. You might get a few annoying retention calls, but that’s about as painful as it will be to change providers.

Customers demand lower prices

Remember back in the day when the internet came, and you got your first giant beige PC with six 5.25″ slots, a shiny new US Robotics 2400 modem and a 14″ SVGA monitor for just under $3K from Radio Shack. After 2 hours with tech support, you finally got online, only to ask yourself: what now? Then you realized that you can go to WebCrawler, type in “Tiger” and marvel at maybe a dozen or so pictures of the animal. Yup, the experience is not much different today. Except you are standing in Canadian Tire with a iPhone in your hand “Googling” the price of the snow shovel that you’ve been neglecting to get. You realize that Home Depot has them for $5 cheaper.

This buying tactic is now standard fare. If you still think customers care about merchandising, quality of store interior, availability of merchandise and even quality of merchandise, you must wonder why Costco and Superstore are killing it. Ultimately, this puts pressure on both giant and tiny business to bring their costs down. Most of the time that means letting people go and automating many tasks with computers! This is where ERP software helps to bring your efficiency up by automating many tasks that used to be done by a person with a notebook or even Excel. ERP software will bring down the cost of doing business, but only if it performs.

Constantly needing to target your customers

When I used to think of ERP, I thought of ledgers, invoicing, shipping and human capital costs. Many pivot tables that show you grueling reports that you pour over to try and understand your business a little bit better. “Oh it seems that yellow bicycles are constantly sold out, and we constantly overstock 10 of the red ones.” Freeze that. That’s you, in the back of the bicycle shop realizing that you need to make a change. You realized this based on statistics resulting from keeping good sales and inventory records. But do you see the gap here? The part about “pouring over” is not a joke. That’s our problem today, even here at REFINECO. We have so much data on everything that it’s impossible to make sense of it. Sure, we also have reports, but they too take time to digest.

Enter BI or Business Intelligence. This is another area that has immensely matured and no ERP suite is complete without one. The basic idea behind this BI concept is that you list your top KPIs, then work backwards to identify the indicators and eventually pin the reports that produce them. That whole process results in a series of specialized dashboards that tell you how you are doing and what changes you need to make. These days BI is often the difference between a successful vendor and one that is struggling. Do you think that Indigo decided to intentionally sell toys and coffee because it was a really good idea? Really, toys and books? Why not vegetables or even tires? Companies like Indigo have been using BI for the better part of a decade to carefully target their merchandise at the people who want it most.

ERP is getting easier

Lastly, with the advent of popular UX design standards emerging from the likes of Google and Apple, the software is slowly becoming easier to use. Everyone is figuring out that making things look like a spreadsheet stretched over an airplane cockpit is simply a joke. Companies are striving to make their ERP software look fresh, clean and easy to use, and most importantly fit-for-purpose.   A clean and well organized UI that limits the number of clicks and mixes a good blend of dashboards, form entry and analytics into every interaction, is the one that a not-so-computer-savvy business owner will select to aid in running his company.