Danish IT-company will revolutionize KMD’s case work

Published at ITWatch on the 18th of May 2017 - Written by Kristoffer Veggerby @ ITWatch. Read the original ▶

The potential is huge, but also unfulfilled, stated an earlier rapport from the Danish ESDH-market. A Danish supplier working together with ITU (IT university of Copenhagen) has developed a solution, making the Lean and Sigma way of thinking obsolete, by in turn providing the users with full control and ability to innovate as they go along. 

Last year, the IT-consultation company DevoTeam released a rapport regarding the market for ESDH-solutions regarding the public sector. The term ESDH (electronic case and document handling) dates back to the 1970’s from when the public sector was in need of an optimizing process, which could deal with case and document handling. Ever since, the ESDH-terminology has grown increasingly common and is now being used equally as much in the private sector within disciplines such as capture, journalizing, workflow, distribution, archiving and conveyance.
Devoteam’s rapport had the self-explanatory subtitle “Effective processes – the unexploited opportunities”. This conclusion divides the rapport into two; the supplier and customer point of view, respectively. Seen from the supplier’s perspective, it is no longer sufficient to merely provide a digital archive to the customer. If the ESDH-systems are to be legitimized henceforth, suppliers ought to play a more active role in regards to assisting public case and business management. Most suppliers offer either general tools for process management or modules which support specific workflows, although it is said that the ESHD-systems are still not mature enough in this particular area, summarized the rapport. Concerning the customers, it’s gradually being understood that effective digital workflows do not naturally occur by themselves, merely because an ESDH-system has been implemented. The management now have larger expectations (and are demanding) that the large investments in ESDH-solutions bear fruit. Though very few leaders manage to provide the necessary boundaries to properly reap the rewards. Additionally, the study conducted by Devoteam indicates that only about 20% of the customers systematically follow up on reaping the rewards. On the other hand, these customers (consisting of only 20%) are better equipped to cope and maintain a constant transformation within the organization and can create the necessary change. Systematism and perseverance are keywords, because if everything is handed over to small group of enthusiastic individuals, the entire process will come to a halt shortly after. This is particularly due to the fact that an inadequate amount of resources has been set aside to reap the benefits, states the rapport. That there’s an unexploited potential is also documented in the study – “we’re paddling off in a speedboat”, as one of the participants quoted.

To sum up, despite good intensions ESDH remains to prove itself in many documented scenarios. As a result, Devoteam mentions in the rapport also, the necessity of a new approach regarding the acquisition and implementation of ESDH, with a much larger focus on supporting the workflow and to take advantage of the opportunities within the system. “In overall terms, the ESDH-systems have yet to live up the expectation and potential of becoming an efficient optimizing-machine.”

DEVIATIONS FROM THE MASTERPLAN

Exformatics is a company which specializes in supplying standard solutions, that are based on Microsoft SharePoint, to handle knowledge sharing, case and project management, workflow and document handling. Development director, Morten Marquard, agrees with the conclusion from Devoteam, namely that there’s a large unexploited potential regarding ESDH solutions.
“Something like a workflow-system has on countless occasions been claimed to be the solution to every single problem in the world, though it has never really lived up to people’s expectations, because none of the users end up using them. The stated workflows are too rigid and do not take all the cases into account, where it’s necessary to deviate or adjust the plan”, says Morten Marquard and explains further, that adjustments from the masterplan occur more often than not. This is particularly the case when for example a doctor, specialist or nurse, who together with their patients, need to carry out the right treatment and at the same time must take into consideration, that the course of illness may progress in an unforeseen manner, or that the patient may suffer from more than one problem. Or the unemployed and caseworkers, at job centres, who must deviate from the original plan of action because certain rules and laws have changed. Or financial advisers from banks or insurance companies, who counsel their customers according to the rules and must at the same time keep in mind that living conditions or priorities may change along the way. This is why an effective system should support these deviations – not act against them.

“The Lean and Six Sigma way of thinking builds upon the idea that there’s only one correct way of doing things. Only one way of reaching the objective and it’s typically described by the management and external consultants. Although members of staff who work with the system are fully aware that in reality, this is not the case. Though the problem is, they’re abandoned by the system when things don’t go as planned because the system simply doesn’t take these things into consideration”, says Morten Marquard.

“The sad thing about it is that it has a major negative impact on the efficiency of peoples work. The employee finds out very quickly that the system cannot be changed. Consequently, members of staff begin to make their own small systems on the side, and are forced to do anything and everything in order to carry out their work. All of these signs are pointing in the same direction; employees should have the ability to influence the system they’re working with”, says Morten Marquard and continuous: “the main problem is that most resources are being used on describing the things which everybody already agrees upon, and understands, instead of focusing on the deviations and problems which may occur in the process. Efficiency occurs when we can manoeuvre ourselves in the ideal direction and at the same time receive help to address any deviations along the way, in a structured manner.

Speaking of efficiency, the McKinsey-rapport concluded that “The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity though social technologies” from 2012, that knowledge workers could increase their efficiency by 20 – 25%, by implementing social technologies to their workflows.

GPS-INSPIRED

Professor Thomas Hildebrandt from ITU has, together with Exformatics, developed a completely new management tool, the DCR-graph, which can make it easier for knowledge workers to carry out optimal decision-making and adjust the process, even if the objective or rules are changed along the way. Thomas Hildebrandt calls the tool a Knowledge Workflow GPS. In fact, the DCR-graph is a dynamic navigation tool which functions very similarly to the indispensable GPS for cars drivers, that can automatically detect when the car makes a quick detour at a petrol station or finds an alternative, when the scheduled route for example isn’t possible due to roadworks. “When you and a knowledge worker, for example your financial advisor, are supported by an it-system based on DCR-graphs, you won’t be bound to specific routes or procedures, which you otherwise would be, had you been using a traditional IT system. With an Adaptive Case Management tool, using the DCR-graph, you’ll receive advice about what’s legal and recommended, and be given the opportunity to choose between alternative paths. Furthermore, it will also be possible to provide suggestions regarding the process, which in theory can be implemented immediately. For this reason, new rules and legislations can be implemented to pre-existing processes without the requirement of the system being down over an extended period,” explains Thomas Hildebrandt.

Morten Marquard: “For a number of years we’ve been on the lookout for techniques which can declaratively support our method. The DCR-graph fulfils this need and matches our already existing model very well. Optimizing workflows and processes is an essential requisite in order to sustain a high level of productivity and innovation. Declarative models are the way forward, and DCR-graphs are to my knowledge the best formal models that exist.”

ACADEMIC AWARENESS

It’s not only Exformatics who finds the DCR-graphs to be very promising. Thomas Hildebrandt has generally experienced a very large, positive amount of interest from the business industry, and has been contacted by several large companies showing great interest in the graph, particularly concerning its potential future impact on public digital management and research projects. Also in the academic community, the DCR-graph has caught people’s attention.

“In a strategic research and development project, together with Peking university in China, we’ve taken the initial footsteps towards developing a DCR-graph based programming language. The prospects of developing a context-dependant and event-based system seem very bright. In an EU-network, we’re among other things working on getting to grips with workflows that are able to run across different organizations and even borders. Moreover, together with our partners from both the public and private sector we’re constantly challenging the DCR-graph with real-world scenarios and rules”, says Thomas Hildebrandt.

DCR IN DREYERS FOND

Morten Marquard elaborates further, that Exformatics has already successfully implemented the DCR-graph into the organization Dreyers Fond. Dreyers Fond issue’s funds twice a year of up to 20 million Danish kroner to project and study visits, which benefit and support the lawyer and architect community. Previously, applicants would have to fetch a form from the foundations website, print it, fill it out and send it off. Afterwards, the processing would take place manually. Thanks to the DCR-graph, the entire workflow has now been converted to digital form; from the very beginning when the applicant types in the information on the foundations website, to the funds are disbursed. A formula transmits the information from the website directly over to the DCR-graph, which afterwards incorporates the data to among others “Navision”, the foundations bank and tax authorities. The integration ensures that the data is available from several different systems and that the information is directly sent to, for example, the tax authorities.

It was of paramount importance for the foundations committee, that they were able to asses and cast a vote on applicants digitally from their PC’s, as well as from their tablets. This was among other reasons to reduce the inconvenience and trouble related to evaluating applications. In the long term, it is expected that part of the applications can be approved before a board meeting. For this reason, the foundations committee will have more time to make an in-depth, thorough evaluation of a specific and often complex case.
“It’s fascinating that new business rules can be realized by an adjustment in the DCR-graph, subsequently altering the systems logic. We’ve occasionally made use of this in our delivery, because the customer’s requirements did not comply with all the rules,” said Morten Marquard related to the results in the DCR-graph from Dreyers Fond. At a later date, Exformatics expects to be able to incorporate other social rules which we’re familiar with from other online solutions, into the DCR-graph. Similarly to visiting Amazon’s website or the library, and afterwards being able to see the activity of other users, it’s easy to picture this same type of “recommendation” feature incorporated into a management tool, such as the DCR-graph.

“Imagine, as a user of the system, being presented with a guidance saying: Other users with a similar issue have done this and this. That would be a tremendous help,” finishes Morten Marquard.

FROM CHAOS TO COSMOS

The museum “Davids Samling” (Davids Collection) replaced their shared drive, containing heaps of documents and suffering from a lack of overview, with Exformatics’ ECM solution. The result was better knowledge.

sharing, well-organized documents and information, and having all communication gathered in one place.
Prior to Exformatics’ support, information-gathering at “Davids Samling” was chaotic. Copenhagen’s museum had countless documents regarding museum pieces and exhibitions saved on their shared drive, whilst many internal mails, and mails to and from cooperating partners, were simply piled in the inbox of different individuals. “Earlier we used different drivers on the network to separate and archive documents, photos etc. It was an old-fashioned way of doing things, where anybody was able to create a folder. This meant that in the end, everything was extremely chaotic and it was virtually impossible to find anything. We tried to establish a bunch of rules regarding when (and when not) to create a folder or attach an e-mail, though we quickly gave this up because we realized that too much data would be lost, for example document-dates,” says Simon Heide, museum manager at “Davids Samling”.

Today there’s – literally speaking – the cosmos at “Davids Samling”. Among 30 of the organizations 55 members of staff are users of an Exformatics-solution for activity and document handling. The solution itself has been given the same self-explanatory title, “the cosmos”, and is used by the museums technical and administrative department. Incorporated into the solution is a CRM-system which among other things registers art dealers and objects, and manages the plans and details of the museums arrangements.
“We use the solution initially for our work, especially any work regarding documents, documentation, co-ordination or finance; we’re managed by a foundation and are therefore obligated to document most of our work”, says Simon Heide. “It wasn’t a requirement to begin with, that it needed to incorporate other solutions, though it quickly became obvious that it would be particularly advantageous if the solution could also fetch data from our object-database.”

The integration to the TSM-database, The Museum System, meant that users had access to a vast amount of data regarding the museum pieces – for example documentation and preservation-rapports – and it was all made available from the same place.

E-MAILS TOOK CONTROL

It was not only the chaotic shared drivers which lead to a lack of overview among the employee’s at “Davids Samling”. As several employees were concerned, their working days were also influenced by external factors which they had no control over.

“Our main day-to-day problem was arriving at work and opening Outlook. We spent so much time on responding and forwarding each and every e-mail, though we never managed to properly organize and prioritize among them. Outlook and e-mails, which were thrown back and forth, were very time-consuming and distractive. Now I use the cosmos on a daily basis, I use it as my home page when I start my day. Here I see which messages I’ve received and which tasks are left to solve,” says Simon Heide.

Another essential part of the solution is the incorporated communication-function called “the activity stream”. In the activity stream, which functions very similarly to a wall on Facebook, people are able to communicate by posting comments. This is where all the efficient, business-related communication takes place, rather than in a separate application, for example a chat-box.

“From the very beginning we hoped to find a solution which would ease the strain and overload on Outlook, and additionally find a means of communicating with each other internally. Previously we would struggle to keep up and were often behind with our work. Now, by using the activity stream, we can communicate both generally, within individual cases and within our order-module, which is an important function. Here the museum orders solutions from the technical department, who then forward the order to the correct person. We then additionally use the stream to communicate the on-going status and updates of cases. On the front page, we communicate general information to members of staff, meaning that the solution also functions as a type of intranet for us,” finishes Simon Heide.

Translations

Danish

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