Real-World Solutions, Part 5

The Power of General Workflows:

In the last post, I gave a brief example of how you could use a workflow to keep up with your Office Supply Inventory.   In this post, I’ll take that example a step further and use workflow to show you how you can save money and reduce the amount of supplies consumed for non work-related activities.

Example 2:  Office Supply Ordering

Currently, you walk down to the Supply Room and grab pens, notepads, and envelopes at your leisure.   However, lately the supplies have been running low – and quickly!   The Office Supply Manager notices that school is about to start again, and this is when employees typically raid the Office Supplies to furnish the needs of their school children.  Not only is this unethical behavior, but it’s very costly to your business!!   You need to get control of your office supplies, now!

How to get control:

Create an online form (You could use InfoPath Browser-based forms, or a Custom SharePoint List to do this) where people can order office Supplies online, through the corporate Intranet.    The form doesn’t have to be “fancy”.  It can contain simple fields, such as the following:    SEE MY SAMPLE FORM

  1. Category: (i.e. Pencils, Pens, Folders, Binders, Paper, Envelopes, etc.)
  2. Item: (i.e. #2 Pencil, Black RolerBall Pen, 3-Ring Binder, 8 ½ X 11 Paper, Business Envelopes, etc).
  3. Quantity:  How many do you want?

Fill out the order form online:

Have the user fill in these 3 fields.   The form can automatically check the Quantity field, versus the Inventory List in SharePoint, to determine if there are enough in stock to fill this order (Saves time searching Inventory, Saves a phone call/email to the Supply Room).

Check for Inventory Availability:

If there are enough items in stock, the order continues.   If not, a message can be presented to the user that there are not enough items in stock and that you should limit your order.   Additionally, the Supply Manager could receive an email stating that this particular item is low in stock.

Submit for Approval:

If the order is valid, the user can submit it for approval.   This is where you control the costs!

Rather than have a Senior VP confront the new Office Supply Clerk with an unethical request for 10 reams of paper (awkward!), the SYSTEM can tell that VP that they are not allowed to order that many items without providing business justification.   This way, you can control who is ordering mass quantities and make sure they are authorized to do so.  You can also avoid that awkward confrontation with the new guy in the Office Supply Room.

NOTE:  I have even gone so far as to implement a VIP List in SharePoint where ordering thresholds are higher for these people.  If your name appears on this list, you are authorized for higher amounts.  Group Admins who order for the entire team are a great example of this exception.

The user submits an order for approval, which places the order data into another SharePoint List (Supply Orders) and sends email to that person’s Manager to approve the order.   If approved, the order is fulfilled, Inventory is updated online (Real-time), and the supply is delivered to the user’s desk.    You can even send email confirmation that the order was delivered (in case the employee wasn’t at their desk when the item was delivered).

Accounting and Auditing

The Office Supply Manager can create a single SharePoint List, called Supply Orders, with the following views to quickly track status of all orders:

  • Pending Orders
  • Approved Orders:
  • Rejected Orders:
  • Completed Orders:

This list can be exported to Excel, where Inventory Managers can quickly sort by Fiscal Quarter, Month, or Year and total the Office Supply Expenses.  Further, you can group expenses by Department to determine which Department spends the most money on Office Supplies.

Auditors will LOVE the fact that you can clearly see where your office supplies are going and how they are accounted for across the company.

  • Inventory Time Spent: Zero minutes
  • Awkward Approval Conversations:  Zero
  • Order Approval Time:  2 minutes (conservative) per order.
  • Un-accounted for supplies: Zero

By they way:   All of this can be done out-of-the-box with ZERO code!

In the next post, we’ll look at Business Process Management and how it plays into this whole “Workflow vs. BPM” thing!   Stay Tuned!!!!

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