Case Study: How a Government App Improved Email Workflow for Employee Training

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Looking at ways to improve email workflow for employee training was a top priority for the City of White Rock. This small to mid-size organization needed to find a way to automate and simplify daily business processes. The City of White Rock turned to Gravity Union to develop an app within the Office 365 ecosystem.

Challenges

One of the biggest problems with managing training for employees was that it was a time-consuming process that resulted in many errors. These specific challenges included:

  • Excessive Amount of Emails 
  • One of the challenges was dealing with too many emails. Opening a course for registration usually resulted in an email for over 200 people. Once the email was sent, the request to enroll is messaged back to the same person, which results in a barrage of new emails. The amount of time to sort through each of these messages quickly becomes unmanageable as the course offerings continue to expand.
  • Manuel Process
  • Another time-consuming process was copying and pasting the relevant data from the email to another system, such as Microsoft Excel. For example, a registrant's information for a new course had to be manually copied to a spreadsheet to stay up to date with course capacity and waitlists.
  • Changes Result in More Manual Steps
  • Course information modifications also resulted in another mass email, whether it's a change in whose attending, timing, or the location of the event. All of these extra emails further made the entire process more time-consuming and inefficient.
  • Difficulty in Compliance Tracking
  • Staying up to date with compliance guidelines is nearly impossible with email. Some training courses need certification, such as CPR. All of this information needs to be tracked, as someone needs to send an email reminder once a certification lapses. Keeping up with all of this data is very difficult with email, and it's prone to many errors.
  • Limited Staff
  • One person is often responsible for managing training workflow for the entire city. These small organizations are often stretched thin, as minimal redundancy exists in these departments. This problem becomes even more difficult if a person takes a vacation or is out of work for a few days. Nearly all of the workflow stalls until this person returns to work. Complex workflows become even more difficult to manage without data backups, as the loss of data is an all too common issue.

 

Automation and tracking provided an excellent opportunity for the City of White Rock. Using this technology to improve upon their existing system can reduce the number of errors to improve efficiency and lessen the dependence of relying on one person to manage the entire HR training process.



Main Benefits of Using Power Apps

Gaining access to a suite of tools, such as Power Automate and Power Apps makes it easy for non-developers to create web and mobile apps.

These tools are especially beneficial for increasing email workflow for HR departments. 

Cost and Time Benefit

One of the benefits of using Power Apps and Automate is that it's much faster and easier to use various data sources for applications. You can often create an automated workflow in less than a day, while complex apps may only take a few weeks.

Familiar Tools

You also have a greater chance of success by working with familiar tools. A Power App provides an interface to the information. At the same time, all of this data resides in SharePoint lists, which requires minimal training due to the city employees being familiar with this technology.

Easier to Test

Custom applications often require additional testing. However, the testing process for Power Apps is much easier, as you don't have to worry about testing separate components. Ultimately, this greatly reduces the amount of time for debugging.

Built-In Security

An added benefit of using Office 365 is that it's already designed with built-in security. You can use PowerApps at any time while having peace of mind that your application is much safer and secure compared to creating a custom application.

Improve Sustainment

Power Automate and Power Apps are designed for the non-developer, making it much easier for non-technical people to make updates in the future. You will never have to depend on one person to manage everything. On the other hand, supporting a legacy custom application is a much more time-consuming process that often requires the original developer.


While Power Automate and Power Apps offer many benefits, there are also a few things to keep in mind.

Licensing

It's always important to remember the cost of using an app. Not all Office 365 licenses are the same, as some licenses don't allow each employee to use Power Apps, as the licensing may add significant costs. Licensing also changes frequently, and keeping up to date with these changes is important before you invest.

Understand Data Source

Not all SharePoint lists are appropriate for use as a data source, especially if you use complex relational data. You may want to consider using a source that enables the admin to edit data, which automatically creates a more straightforward process.

Prioritize Requirements

Proposed features can often get much bigger without prioritizing essential elements of your application. Creating a priority list is important in reducing the chance of scope creep that often occurs in any software project. Building a manageable app gives you the flexibility to enhance it over time without any limitations.

Team Member Roles

Creating roles for each team member is important to ensure everything runs smoothly. Typically, you will want a person with software development experience to work on the logic of the app while using a licensing person to make sure it is accessible for your employees. You may also consider using a designer for simple branding purposes.


How It All Works

The new employee training app for the City of White Rock is built by using Power Automate, Microsoft Power Apps, and SharePoint lists.

Users can access these apps from a mobile device or computer.

  1. Power Apps
  2. Power Apps is the interface that allows users to view available courses, sign up for additional classes, or withdraw from a course. This app is designed to work on computers or smartphones for all employees at the City of White Rock.
  3. SharePoint Lists
  4. SharePoint lists make it possible to store course data and registration information. These lists make it possible to save a historical list of past courses while also displaying the current list of available courses. A registration list also stores registered users on a waiting list for specific courses.
  5. Power Automate Flows
  6. Flows for each of the lists work in two different ways, whether flows are triggered once a change happens or an automated flow occurs at regular intervals.
  7. One type of flow occurs between the courses list and catalog once admins make a course available. This flow automatically copies the data from the list to the catalog to reduce an error due to manual copy and paste. Course information can also be adjusted by the admin if needed.
  8. Another flow sends out a reminder a few days before the beginning of the course to each registrant. This automated message saves a lot of time and minimizes the chance of an error.


Final Launch Stages

The City of White Rock is currently using a pilot phase to test the app's functionality, while the HR team is using SharePoint to manage each training course. If all goes according to plan, the City of White Rock is expected to have a new app in the near future.

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