RedTail Solutions®, Inc.

How to Drive ASN Process Automation Improvement

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Last month we discussed the importance of driving further automation into your fulfillment processes and improving customer satisfaction as a result.

So just how do you get started on determining where the opportunities for improved automation lie?  Here’s a quick outline of the process to improve a process:

  • Document in a process flow or description how things work today – this is often referred to as the current state or the “as is” process
  • Capture the inefficiencies and opportunities to improve the current process
  • Design an improved process and the benefits it will deliver – this is often referred to as the desired state or the “to be” process
  • Be sure to capture the investment in people and technology that will be required to achieve this improved operational state
  • Develop an ROI analysis to determine the financial worthiness of the changes – perhaps you will need to consider a less ambitious program to achieve the desired financial outcome
  • Plan for change management – often forgotten, this step is crucial to successful adoption of a new way of working for your team

Documenting the Current State

The first step is to document the current process and the issues that hamper operations.  Issues can include inefficiencies, inadequate resources, redundant steps, etc.

There are two traditionally effective methods for capturing the current process and issues:

  • An individual or small team is assigned to walk through the process, talking to those involved, and documenting decision points, tasks/activities, and issues.
  • All the players in the process meet (single lengthy session or series of shorter sessions) to document the process.  In this approach it’s important to assign a facilitator to lead the group and a scribe to capture what’s discussed.

As a follow up it’s important to meet with all the players in the process to review what’s been documented, gain consensus on accuracy, and confirm that all the significant issues have been identified.

There are many tools for documenting processes.  Word and Excel are excellent for describing the steps in detail.  Visio or PowerPoint provide tools for representing a process graphically, an important way of communicating the big picture.  Here’s an example of a warehouse process flow:

Process Diagram

Designing the Desired State

The desired process reflecting improvements now needs to be captured.  This is sometimes referred to as the “to be” state of the process.

As with capturing the current state there are two possible approaches to designing the new process:

  • An individual or small team is assigned to design the new process
  • All the involved players meet to design an improved operation.  I strongly encourage this approach since it will improve acceptance and subsequent adoption of the new approach by those impacted.  Change is difficult and getting buy-in through participation in designing the changes will help.

Deliverables

Either way, it’s important to accomplish the following:

  • Document the old and new processes
  • Note the changes required to affect the desired process, e.g., modifications to your ERP system
  • Document tasks and additional resources required including:
    • ERP system modifications
    • New software, e.g., an automated data capture system, warehouse management software, a shipping solution
    • Technology such as bar code scanners for warehouse personnel
    • Staff training
  • Cost out the resources required
  • Itemize the benefits, both quantitative and qualitative, that the new process will bring to the firm

Next Steps

Now you know what it will take to improve operations.  You still have to determine whether it makes financial sense for the company to invest in this project.  Assuming you can document a solid Return on Investment (ROI) you are ready to present the plan to management and gain approval for moving forward.  We’ll discuss how to go about completing an ROI analysis in our next blog.

Assuming you get that approval your challenges include project management, software and technology selection and change management.  We’ll also provide some advice on these topics in subsequent blogs.

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  1. [...] Following our last blog post, How to Drive ASN Process Automation Improvement, you went to work to envision, design and document a new automated approach to pick, pack, and [...]

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