Automation on Quotation Work
Improvement of the efficiency of ‘manager approval’ and ‘quotation preparation’ using cloud-based Workflow.

 

Improvement on Quotation approval flow

The activity of submitting quotations to customers is a very important work for the Sales department. However, the Workflow is more complicated than you think, such as there are cases where “you have to get the approval of the manager” and “you have to send quotations as PDF”.

In this article, I would like to write about “Improvement of estimate approval flow” which one certain Sales manager (that’s me) actually worked on. (This is a compilation of articles of records of struggles for improvement which previously published in separate short posts.)

 

TOC
1. To Ensure that Only Quotations which Require Manager Approval to be Delivered
(1-1) Workflow on which only quotations that approval is required flow
(1-2) Workflow on which quotations that approval is not required also allowed to flow
2. Automatic File Generation Feature Eliminates Effort of Data Double Entry
(2-1) Occurrence of “Duplication of entering effort”
(2-2) Resolution for “Duplication of entering effort”
(2-3) Auto-step for generating quotation PDF
(2-4) Configurations for PDF auto-generation
(2-5) Significance of PDF auto-generation
3. Eliminate Cumbersome ID Assignment Work with Automatic Numbering Feature
(3-1) Number assignment for quotation ID is a troublesome
(3-2) Process Sequence number feature and Initial Value auto-setting feature
(3-3) Configuration of Initial Value auto-setting
(3-4) Significance of Initial Value auto-setting
4. Make File Names Easy-to-identify with Initial Value Auto-setting Feature
(4-1) Indistinguishable quotation PDF
(4-2) Configuration of Initial Value auto-setting

 

1. To Ensure that Only Quotations which Require Manager Approval to be Delivered

1-1. Workflow on which only quotations that approval is required flow

In the quotation business in Questetra, there is a rule that it requires approval by sales manager at the following conditions.

  • Cases requiring special discounts
  • Concerning services which are not on published price list (Consulting, training for administrators, etc.)

Therefore, the Workflow I designed at first was “Workflow on which only quotations that approval is required flow.

 

However, with this workflow alone, it means that each salesperson submits “quotations not requiring approval” on his/her own discretion.

In other words, it is not possible to recognize how many quotations have been submitted from the sales department actually. Also, there were many cases where a salesperson did not know if the quotation which he or she had created was necessary to be approved.

 

1-2. Workflow on which quotations that approval is not required also allowed to flow

Thus, I decided to modify it to the Approval flow on which “all the quotations” flow. If I could realize this, every salesperson can let their quotations go flowing on (register to) the Workflow without hesitation. Also, how many quotations have been submitted from the department in total becomes comprehensible since all quotations are preserved centrally.

However, quotations that are not required to be approved by the manager would be better not arrive in the Step of “2. Approve”. So I changed the Quotation Approval flow to be possible to enter the following information at the Step of “1. Register”, and so as the flow of the Workflow.

  • Discount type (check button: “Special discount required”)
  • Service type (check button: “SaaS”, “Other (implementation support, consulting, etc.)”)

 

 

In the Split (the element that is green diamond ) on this Workflow, the value entered at the first Step “1. Register quotation” is utilized. That is, only when either of the condition as the following is satisfied, it will flow in the direction of the Step of “2. Approve” by the sales manager.

  • When Discount type “Special discount required” is checked
  • When “Other Other (implementation support, consulting, etc.)” in the Service type is checked

Specific settings are as follows.

 

As a result, salespeople no longer hesitate for “need for approval” in the work of submitting quotations.

 

2. Automatic File Generation Feature Eliminates Effort of Data Double Entry

2-1. Occurrence of “Duplication of entering effort”

It was a good thing to be able to capture all the quotations, but on the other hand, the complaint that “burden increased” (the efforts of data entry have added) started to rise.

In other words, a salesperson is required to enter the customer name and the total amount, etc. first into a spreadsheet to create a Quotation file, then the same things into the operating screen of the Quotation approval flow.

 

2-2. Resolution for “Duplication of entering effort”

Certainly, it is useless to enter the same data over and over.

Nevertheless, in order to properly operate “Quotation approval flow”, it is inevitable to enter “company name” and “amount of money” to the registration screen by all means. Considering using it for retrieval or data aggregation, these must be “essential data”.

Thus, in order to avoid double entry of “company name” and “amount of money”, it is necessary to take either of the solution measures as the followings.

  • To make a Quotation file to be automatically generated based on the data entered on the requesting screen of the Quotation approval flow
  • To let the Quotation approval flow automatically start when a Quotation file is created

I chose to solve the “double entry” problem with the former method (the quotation file to be automatically generated).

 

2-3. Auto-step for generating quotation PDF

At the first Step “1. Register quotation” in the previous App, the quotation file was attached and the customer name and the amount were entered.

In the Workflow I designed newly, I revised the first step “1. Register quotation” so that the detailed information necessary for creating a quotation to be input. (Without creating the quotation file.) And I revised the flow so that the quotation PDF file is automatically generated with the “detailed quotation data” that is approved in the manager approval Step. Specifically, I added a Step referred to as “Service Task (PDF generation)”, which is a kind of automatic processing Step, onto the Workflow diagram.

 

2-4. Configurations for PDF auto-generation

It would be easy if it could have been done simply by placing “Service Task (PDF generation)” to generate a Quotation file, but that is not that easy. Several steps as the following are needed in preparation for PDF file generation. In order to generate “PDF file conforming to quotation layout of Questetra”, the following steps are necessary.

  1. Design a Workflow that allows detailed data to be entered at the upstream Step
  2. Prepare a “Base PDF” that specifies the format of quotations
  3. Configure Service Task (PDF generation)

 

2-4-1. Design a Workflow that allows detailed data to be entered at the upstream Step

In order to a quotation PDF file to be generated, it is necessary to be able to input all the information that constitutes the quotation such as the order details, at the Step of “1. Register quotation”. Specifically, configure it as it looks like the following figure.

 

In this case, I added Data Items as the following to make them possible to enter at “1. Register quotation” screen.

  • Quotation No. (String type)
  • Name of submittee (String type)
  • Name of person to submit (String type)
  • Message (String type)
  • Sales representative (User type)
  • Issued date (Date type;Y,M,D)
  • Valid until (Date type;Y,M,D)
  • Order details (Table type)
  • Sub total (Numeric type)
  • Tax (Numeric type)
  • Total amount (Numeric type)
  • Special notes (String type)

Also, though it is not important for this registering screen, I added two more Items which will be required for the settings we are going to make later.

  • Quotation PDF (File type) *A Data Item to store generated PDF file
  • Label for PDF file (String type, Initial value: quote.pdf) *to be the filename when a PDF file is generated

 

2-4-2. Prepare a “Base PDF” that specifies the format of quotations

In order to decide the “output position” and “display font” of each quotation data, create what is we refer to as “Base PDF”.

Specifically, create a “PDF form” (Fillable pdf) using the tool for creation/editing PDF(Adobe Acrobat etc.). As shown in the following figure, I set up details such as which item is placed where, left-aligned or centering, what kind of font to display, etc.

After that, register the created “Base PDF” as an Add-on. (Reference: “M228“)

 

2-4-3. Configure Service Task (PDF generation)

Double-click on the Service Task (PDF generation) icon which you have placed on the flow diagram to open the property screen, and make the final set here.

If you have already registered “Base PDF” as Add-on, you can select the created “Base PDF” by checking the Add-on menu button. Also, for “File type data item to saves the PDF file”, and “String type data item to specify the saving file name”, respectively specify “Quotation PDF file” and “Quotation PDF file name” (which have set at 2-4-1.).

 

2-5. Significance of PDF auto-generation

After setting up the Workflow App so far, releasing it. Then actually entering the detailed quotation data at “1. Register quotation”, you can confirm that a quotation PDF file in which the data was inserted at the automatic Step of “PDF auto-generation” is generated automatically.

This solved the “Double effort” problem, which was a dissatisfaction concerning salespersons. I hope they will be working in a good mood with this.


There is an even better thing about this improvement. That is, mistakes are reduced.

The more times you enter data, the more risk of mistake you get. The probability of mistakes decreases since the number of data inputs is only once. Automation in the Workflow brings not just saving labor but also improving the quality of work.

 

You can download the improved Workflow App from HERE. If you are interested, please download and unzip to import it to Questetra BPM Suite for a trial. Sample Template PDF is also included.

 

3. Eliminate Cumbersome ID Assignment Work with Automatic Numbering Feature

3-1. Number assignment for quotation ID is a troublesome

It was a good thing that all the quotations were automatically generated. However, on the other hand, the voice of dissatisfaction that “it would be better if assigning of the quotation ID is automated” began to rise.

That is, in the Workflow App at this point, a salesperson has to enter the quotation number at the first step “1. Register quotation”. To do so, he or she had to look up the management ledger (Google spreadsheet) for the quotation IDs and find a unique number each time. I suppose it was nothing but troublesome for salespeople.

Thus, I decided to make an improvement that the data item “Quote number” to be set in advance.

 

3-2. Process Sequence number feature and Initial Value auto-setting feature

To assign “Quotation number” automatically, I am going utilize “Initial value setting using Process Sequence number”.

Cloud-based Workflow Questetra BPM Suite has a numerical counter referred to as “Process Sequence number” for each Workflow App. “Process sequence number” is a number that a value plus 1 to the “Process sequence number” of the Process started last time given at each time a new Process is started (each time a new quotation is registered).

 

So, I made a setting so that “character string including Process Sequence number” is automatically set as the Initial value in the Data Item “Quotation number”. Specifically, a number is automatically assigned to “Quotation number” according to the following rule.

  • 9 digits in total
  • The first six digits shall represent the year and month – for example, quotations issued in November 2017 and January 2018, it is set to 201711 and 201801 respectively
  • The last three digits shall be the “Process Sequence number” – for example, in the case of the 10th and 150th Quotations issued in the month, it will display 010 and 150, respectively
  • The “Process sequence number” is reset every month

For example, the quotation number to the 150th quotation registered in January 2018 will be automatically numbered 201801150.

 

3-3. Configuration of Initial Value auto-setting

On the setting screen of the Data Item “Quotation No.”, setup the Initial value at the screen displayed by clicking the Edit button shown in the following figure.

 

You enter a “magic spell” into “Initial” in the displayed dialog. For the “magic spell”, you need to describe the rule for the quotation number, this time I made it as the following. (Reference: “M207“)

 

#{#format(processInstanceStartDatetime, 'yyyyMM')}#{#sformat('%03d', processInstanceSequenceNumber)}

 

3-4. Significance of Initial Value auto-setting

With this improvement, it has become possible to assign automatically the Quotation number, and the number is set to a Data Item. This will reduce the burden on salespeople somewhat, and eliminate erroneous inputs in Quotation number.

However, there still is a lot more to be improved in the Quotation approval flow…

You can download the improved Workflow App from HERE. If you are interested, please download and unzip to import it to Questetra BPM Suite for a trial.

 

4. Make File Names Easy-to-identify with Initial Value Auto-setting Feature

4-1. Indistinguishable quotation PDF

Even though I have made several improvements, it seems that salespersons are still dissatisfied.

What came next was a claim that they wanted to make those automatically generated quotation PDF file names to be easy to identify.

Indeed, in the Quotation approval flow that we have created so far, the names of the Quotation files automatically generated after being approved were all named “quote.pdf”. For a salesperson who frequently submits Quotations, it was necessary to change the filenames “quote.pdf” to one that is easy to identify manually in order to distinguish it from other Issues. The efforts of this modifying were the cause of dissatisfaction for salespersons.

 

4-2. Configuration of Initial Value auto-setting

Therefore, I made an improvement so that the name of automatically generated PDF file includes the Quotation number, automatically. This improvement was easy.

I described earlier about the “magic spell” which was to automatically generate a number as the initial value of the Data Item “Quotation number”. And this time, I made a setting so that the initial value of the Data Item “Label for PDF file” includes the spell. This time, I make the name of the quotation PDF file to be in the format “quote-quotation number.pdf”. So that, if the Quotation number is 20180123, for example, the filename will be “quote-20180123.pdf”.

I enter the same value which we entered in the initial value of the Data Item “Quotation number” following the string “quote-” into the initial value of the Data Item “Label for PDF file”, and then enter the string of “.pdf” at the end. In that way, a filename “quote-quotation number.pdf” will be generated. (It might be easier to understand an explanation that you just put the initial value entered in the Data Item “Quotation number” in between the strings “quote-” and “.pdf”.)

 

With this improvement, quotation PDF files with a different filename are generated for each Issue. Salespersons can now find the quotation number simply by looking at the filename.

 

You can download the improved Workflow App from HERE. If you are interested, please download and unzip to import it to Questetra BPM Suite for a trial.

 

(The sequel to this “Records of struggles for improvement” is about “to fully automate file management with BOX API”. I hope you read it if you have time.)

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