- Large numbers of complex spreadsheets validated manually.
- Up to 200 business rules and reference lists to be considered.
- Multiple file formats.
- Support turnaround times ranging from a few minutes to a couple of weeks.
- Peak activity during month-end.
- Heavy dependency on key personnel.
- Support staff spending most of their time answering relatively simple queries.
- General lack of documentation and understanding of business rules.
- High stress environment.
For many organisations numerous processes are initiated via the submission of Excel templates, for example, that must be validated, processed and responded to. Anything from accountancy journals and purchase orders to organisation structure changes and financial restatements, all are processed in pretty much the same way:
- User submits a request.
- Request source is validated, for example originating domain.
- Request format is validated, e.g. template format and version.
- Request is validated against business rules and reference data.
- Validation report issued where appropriate.
- Impact report and / or confirmation issued.
- Request recorded for processing and analysis.
In most cases the process is supported manually by either a central help-desk or dedicated team. Either way, support staff are tasked with understanding not just complex processes, but anything from dozens to hundreds of business rules.
Regardless of location, on-shore or off, the cost of that support is considerable and turnaround times restrictive, inconvenient and not conducive to the smooth flow of operations.
In any case where a template file is submitted that must be validated and processed, the process can be automated and improved. As well as reducing turnaround times to seconds, having the business rules built in means they can be used to produce easy to follow documentation.
Manual overheads can be reduced to almost nothing for the majority of queries freeing support staff to deal with more pressing or complex issues.
In the case of SAP journals, no meaningful error message was provided by SAP should a journal fail to post.
End users would resort to calling the help-desk where support staff would manually examine the journal in order to pin-point the reason(s) for failure. This was the case even for things as simple as invalid cost centres or accounts, too many lines in a journal or a simple failure to balance debits and credits.
In another team, the groups structure was controlled via change requests in the form of an Excel form. Given the nature of the group a large number of complex business rules, such as regulatory controls, had to be considered.
In this case it could take anything up to a couple of weeks to have a change request analysed, validated and returned with its impact analysis. Given the complexity of the subject matter sometimes longer.
Other Overheads of the Manual Processes
The structure change process was such that at least a full weeks effort per cycle (roughly quarterly) was being spent simply keeping track of change requests, handling authorisation and making sure they did not clash.
The effort taken to complete a single change could stretch to days with multiple iterations between end users and the support team.
Generally the complexity of the models was such that rework was often required. Combined with hard deadlines, this resulted in staff regularly working late to ensure avoid breaches.
Finally, the lack of clear processes in respect to structure changes made process improvement difficult.
Image 1. shows the working model, a simple process where an unattended mailbox handles queries and responses. The only manual effort being the monthly update of the reference data.
Image 1. Automated Mailbox Process.
- 24x7 globally available and fully automated validation services.
- HTML email responses that point the user to the exact item(s) that failed, provide clear explanations as to why and how to resolve the issue.
- User options managed via automated email.
- Reference data maintenance front-end.
- Automated statistics and mailbox status via email.
- Validation failure analysis for identifying training requirements and problem areas.
- Ability to flag validations as critical or just warnings.
- Automated mail-box monitoring providing administrator alerts should a mailbox go off-line unexpectedly.
- Domain recognition (for external email addresses) allowing administrators to open up, or block, the service to new domains.
- For structure changes, full impact analysis generated and returned to user within seconds.
- Turnaround times in both cases reduced to seconds.
- Validation definitions available via email.
- Database Back-end (SQL Server).
- Email client running on a dedicated virtual machine automatically processing all emails, responses and alerts.
- Reference data, reporting and mailbox controls provided via a dedicated front-end application.
- About one hour per month, or less, updating reference tables.
- Costs of maintaining automated mailbox and back-end database.
Benefits, Workload and Time Savings
- Approximately 6000 SAP journals validated each month.
- Mailboxes for SAP Journals, Group Structure Change Requests and Financial Restatements
- Help-desk workload reduced to the point where almost all journal queries handled by the mailbox.
- For end users, the reduction in turnaround times makes it possible for even the most complex journal, or structure change, to be validated and corrected many times in the space of just a few minutes. Previously, for structure changes, it could take days or even weeks. The generation of fully detailed validation failure reports, detailing resolution requirements, means very little training or experience is required as the system educates end users.
- With the vast majority of query resolution automated, support staff have more time to focus on more complex issues and process improvements.
- Journal validation was later integrated with another system (by Bitgen) used to track and monitor authorisation of agency journals in the interest of fraud prevention.
- Turnaround times reduced from anything from weeks to seconds.
- Immeasurable cost and time savings due to frictionless flow.
- Validation responses include full breakdown of failures explaining where, why and how to correct.
- Validation failure analysis for targeted training and continuous improvement.
Improve Flow, Save Time and Improve Quality
Whatever the process, if your organisation is handling template based documents that need to be validated, processed and reported on, an automated mailbox will not only save money and time, but will increase the visibility of your business rules, improve data quality and empower your users.