How Europe’s fastest-growing semiconductor firm scaled its workflows

It’s something many growing businesses will identify with: the realisation that while manual processes were fine in the early days, workflows that exist on paper or in people’s heads simply will not scale beyond a certain point.

IT around processes may not be viewed as one of the more exotic areas of technology, but it can have a massive impact on the daily operations of an organisation. Think about all those tasks we take for granted, such as filling in forms for holiday requests, or even just ensuring that guest Wi-Fi access is secure but simple.

This was the challenge facing Dialog, one of the world’s leading suppliers of integrated circuits to electronics firms. With $1.16 billion in revenue in 2014, the UK-headquartered firm is one of the fastest-growing public semiconductor companies in Europe.

In the past few years, Dialog has grown from 400 to around 1,700 people worldwide spread across some 30 sites. Recognising the need for a process and workflow framework able to support an increasing diversity and volume of both operations and employees, Dialog decided it was time to invest in the relevant technology.   

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“Our strategy is to automate as much as possible and to minimise the amount of coding needed,” says Dialog’s intranet team leader Joachim Dobler, who is based in Germany at the heart of the company’s IT function. “This means that IT staff can focus on other tasks, rather than spending most of their time building workflow software.”

After some experimentation, Dialog settled on a future based on two main platforms: SAP for finance, HR and supply chain, and SharePoint for document management.

But it also wanted to implement a workflow environment that provided clear visibility across the entire organisation regardless of the underlying IT, and a system that would not require extensive manual coding to suit its requirements. 

“We reviewed the market thoroughly and chose K2 because it is a separate process engine and while it integrates very well with SAP and SharePoint, it does not sit inside either of those,” says Dobler. “K2 gives us single visibility of all our workflows.” 

The K2 solution could also create a development environment whereby apps could be customised to suit Dialog, but with minimal amounts of coding.  “Some work is required, but the amount required is simple for our developers,” Dobler adds.

Since implementation in late 2013, Joachim and his team have been progressively building a variety of workflow apps, such as project code for engineering, change requests and access to project data, and automated software updates.

Requests against these can number hundreds or tens of thousands, depending on the workflow. Approvals are all stored in Dialog’s database, providing a complete history of all workflow processes if ever required, for instance by financial auditors.

Of course, any new technology only provides real benefits if adopted by users – and this is something Dialog has put a great deal of effort.

Dobler actively encouraging users to come forward with suggestions of workflows they would like designed. “The response has been very good,” he says. “We are working through those requests now.” By November 2014, there were 1,700 K2 users within Dialog.

“It’s an iterative process and involves sitting down with users to work out the specification for each workflow. That is time well spent because it is much better to get the foundation for the workflow right from the very beginning, rather than having to re-design the workflow later on.

“We try to meet weekly with users to make sure that we are on track. It’s a very collaborative process and is much better than presenting people with a finished workflow in which they were not involved in the creation.”

Dialog is also investing in training and tutorials around use of K2, including a series of videos.

With the combination of K2, SAP and SharePoint, Dialog has a framework that supports thousands of daily interactions with workflows, both now and in the future. 

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The company also knows that should new workflows be needed, K2 tools will make this simple and quick to achieve, without creating significant amounts of additional workload for the software development team.

So what advice would Dobler give to his peers in other fast-growing businesses facing the challenge of transitioning to a single, scalable, automated and transparent approach to process workflow management?

“Take the time to really understand the business problem, what the interface needs to do, and what the overall process is,” he says. “Most people can see their own process but not how it interacts with other departments, so it is important to put all those pieces together and see the whole picture.

“Also, creating the workflows people really want through collaboration – rather than just giving them IT and then expecting them to use it – is a great opportunity for IT to show how it can really add value to the business.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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