Automating and Improving Business Processes When You Move to Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations

When a user migrates from Dynamics AX to Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations, they may wonder if any of their regular business processes should be changed. Some manual processes may benefit from becoming automated, and some may need to be redesigned to become more efficient.

An important distinction to begin with is the difference between change (which can also be referred to as improvement) and automation. These two things are often conflated, which makes sense because it’s likely that new automation occurs while seeking improvements.

Note: Even though most customers, commentators, and consultants still call it Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations or D365FO, Microsoft now technically licenses it as Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management.

To understand the differences, we need to clearly outline change and who’s responsible for it. Not everything can be automated in a business. If it could, companies would be made up of machines, programs, and AI processes instead of people. Employees are still needed to think critically and make subjectively logical decisions. So, recognizing when a small change can result in a big process improvement is key to being successful in implementing a new ERP system. Often, simple changes can be the most effective for improving someone’s process, and there’s no better time to examine those than when moving to a new system.

On the opposite side of the scale from the subjective logic of change is automation. Through the process of migrating to a new system, there are often areas that are ripe for automation. Typically these entail repetitive tasks that are consistently triggered by the same processes and have the same outcomes. But it’s important to point out that it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no human involvement. Automation can range from completely to only minimally automated, or even segmenting larger processes into sections of automation alongside manual work.

Signs Your Process Should Change

As illustrated above, change and automation have some crossover. We often see that a combination of improvement, change, and automation is exactly what a business needs when moving to a new ERP system.

Key Signs

Tribal Knowledge

Tribal knowledge is when a tenured employee knows exactly how, why, and when something should be done. These knowledge keepers have been doing it for so long that no one questions the process and very few can complete the same tasks to the same level of quality. The innate problem is that if the employee is out of the office, then the work simply doesn’t get done. Worse is when other employees avoid acting without first consulting the knowledge keeper. This is a sure sign that the process must change.

Manual Work

As mentioned earlier, not all manual work will go away. While it’s a necessary function of any employee, most manual work tends to be time-consuming and error-prone, especially if it’s concerned with data entry. One of the clearest indicators that needs to be assessed is if it’s assumed that the manual work is requisite for the role.

Using Excel

Microsoft Excel is an exceptional tool with a very justifiable following. However, when Excel becomes the primary location where important information is stored, that’s when there’s a potential problem. Versioning is a common problem that can wreak havoc on understanding updated data. Since many employees have different saved copies with potentially different naming conventions, it’s impossible to understand which copy has all the most updated work in aggregate.

Upgrading is Extremely Difficult

This is common with legacy processes, particularly when user adoption issues are involved. When it’s a struggle to incentivize process adoption or only a portion of users ever consistently complete the process, this is a sign that the process is too cumbersome or confusing.

Signs Your Process is Ready for Automation

Bearing in mind that there is overlap between change and automation, there are similarities between these signs and those that indicate change is needed. The difference lies in the reasons for the need.

Manual Work

It’s time-consuming, error prone, and decreases employee satisfaction. If an employee is collecting information from the same sources and doing the same work every day, that’s a clear indicator that automation would elevate that process.

Data Entry

If the source of the information and the data input location is consistent, then repetitive data entry indicates that automation should be used rather than process change. This is particularly true if the employee doesn’t have to make any critical decisions that would change the data entry location.

Frequent Emailing

When email is essentially its own data warehouse for both information and past activities, then it’s a sign that automation should be assessed. Important information and archived communications that can inform other people’s work can be pushed into shared systems via process change and/or automation.

Database-Based Non-Standard Business Processes

Specifically SQL queries or integrations that routinely require a developer to intervene are excellent points for custom integrations. This is particularly true when moving to a new system since that’s a key time when processes should be analyzed and improvements implemented.

Examples of When to Employ Change and Automation

Tribal Knowledge Examples

To recap, tribal knowledge can indicate that processes need to change or be automated or both. This is because it touches all processes. It’s important to mention that tribal knowledge will always be valuable. But capturing it in a way that can be shared amongst other people is the key.

Warehousing

In a warehouse or distribution center, a worker or two may know that a specific customer likes their orders combined or shipped in a certain way. These workers naturally take care of that customer’s preferences without documenting them so other workers don’t know how to handle those orders with the same care. So, pick release consolidation is a great example of where automation or change would really benefit the company.

Manufacturing

Based on prior experiences, an employee may know which set of items should be made first or last based on typical demand or downstream work. In this case, that tribal knowledge can be the foundation for automation. It can assign a priority level to items systemically, so that any employee could step into that role and execute on that same knowledge.

Manual Work Examples

This also provides opportunity in both process change and automation because there are so many varying reasons for and aspects to manual work.

Accounts Receivable

In many companies, customer statements and invoicing are monthly manual tasks where AR professionals input and process data to create those documents. This is a perfect case for automation because there’s a standard cadence. There’s also a consistent amount or source of data, so the trigger points and execution steps are easily identified.

Another example in accounts receivable is in credit card processing and collections. These have standard variables that are easily incorporated into automated or semi-automated processes. When someone pays with a credit card, there’s no need for someone to manually create a receipt for the transaction. Automating standard credit card processing can ensure that the information the user already has to input is being immediately incorporated into the system.

Inventory

When a warehouse or distribution center receives large volumes of inventory, automation can provide the product, vendor, and scheduling information instead of manually looking up which purchase order or vendor a product is coming from.

Excel Examples

Even though Excel is one of the most popular tools in business, it should not be used for storing important information.

Demand Planning and Forecasting

A retail company sells T-shirts and must sell 5,000 T-shirts this year. Instead of understanding how much needs to be ordered every month to make that goal by looking at an Excel workbook that’s accessible only by a few people, the data should be entered into an ERP system. From there, the system will alert purchasers when new purchases must be made and how much they should order of which products.

General Ledger

This example is typically when companies use Excel to generate financial documents. These documents should be summaries that are shared with others rather than the granular data that was used for analyzing. This is a big red flag in data sharing processes.

Sales Order Confirmations

Instead of an employee using Excel to generate a confirmation that a sale was placed or processed and then manually email it to the customer, the system can see that the order was placed or processed and generate an email to that customer with the order details and any updates.

Data Entry Examples

Data entry is an extremely common source of manual work, especially in certain ERP systems and their age.

Lockbox Processing

Another example in the AR realm is automating the manual data entry required to log check deposits in an ERP system. This frees up more time for reconciling payments against outstanding balances.

Frequent Emailing Examples

Red flags can be in seen in scenarios where emails move back and forth about the same topic or issue and often in the same thread.

Approval Processes

Automating the approval process won’t eliminate email altogether since an approver may have additional questions. But in scenarios like seeking approval for purchase orders over a certain amount or vendor payment approval, it can expedite straightforward processes and initiate more complicated ones to save time overall. It also reduces the room for error when communicating what needs to be approved and reduces the possibility of losing or missing an email.

Database-Based Non-Standard Business Processes Examples

Generating Work Orders in Manufacturing

The combination of tribal knowledge and custom solutions to generate a work order, then release it to production, can potentially halt production. If it breaks when there’s no one around who understands the process and the person who wrote or manages the custom part of the solution is on vacation for two weeks, then you don’t have a way to prioritize your work orders.

Ship Consolidation in Warehousing

Shipping five different orders separately to the same customer in the same timeframe is both labor intensive and more costly for the customer. Creating custom solutions to help determine how best to combine shipments when they’re traveling to the same location are prone to instability. So, the focus should be on streamlining processes and creating automations to consolidate orders into fewer shipments.

Movement Journals in Inventory

When moving things from one location to another, whether it’s within one warehouse or across many warehouses, there are faster solutions than manually entering that 10 were removed from one inventory location and 10 added to another. Recording it may still be a requirement, but if it’s part of a standard process then automation can do that work for you.

Considerations

Not Everything Needs to Change

Moving to a new ERP system can be a complicated process. Identifying which of your business processes need to change and what would benefit most from the change can save both time and money. But companies tend to get excited about all the potential in a new system, and as a result, they sometimes make processes overcomplicated. It’s important to remember that oftentimes the simplest adjustment to an end user’s daily routine can make the biggest improvement for them.

There’s Value in Manual Work

Doing something manually, even if only at first, can help workers learn what the system will ultimately do. This can put you in a much better position for assessments and improvements in the future. By manually working the underlying process, employees understand them intricately. They’re then more capable of knowing if the automations or proposed changes are actually improving the business.

Bridging the Manual Work and Automation Gap

Dynamics 365 provides an Excel add-in tool that automates manual data entry. This means that data manipulation and comparisons can still happen in a manual sense, but there’s no need to repeat all those steps in the system.

Automatic notifications are another helpful tool that doesn’t cut off necessary manual work but speeds up awareness across teams. For instance, if a purchase order is submitted, the system can notify various teams, so they get ahead of downstream work. Using the organizational chart in the system, it can also forward the notice to the next logical person if the employee is out of office.

As you can see, there are a lot of considerations to make regarding your business processes when you make a move from Dynamics AX to Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations. Some processes could become automated to reduce manual work, and some processes may need to be changed in order to be more efficient.

Watch this video below to see better and more efficient ways to do some of your organizations’ tasks and processes:

If you have any questions about improving your business processes in Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations, please connect with us.

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