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The real story: How Estes built a citizen development program to improve workflows

Katie McBeth, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

Imagine the path an item like your mobile phone takes through the supply chain. From a manufacturer overseas, to a cargo ship, to a port, train, distribution center, truck, and fulfillment warehouse – by the time it ends up in your hands, the item has passed through a number of different systems and businesses. All along that route, the item has to be scanned, tracked, billed, and handed off to the next stage.

While, to outsiders, every step of the supply chain and logistics journey your phone takes can appear to happen like a well-coordinated, well-oiled machine, under the surface are a lot of the same workflow challenges and inefficiencies plaguing many businesses: complex processes, outdated and disparate systems, strained resources, and overwhelming paper trails. Sound familiar? One logistics organization is turning to low-code development to help solve some of those challenges.

During an average year for Estes Express Lines – the largest privately owned less-than-truckload freight company in North America – asking their IT team to take on the entire task of digitizing and optimizing manual workflows was an improbable endeavor. Their IT team had to preserve their limited resources for large-scale updates.

But then the pandemic happened, and the supply chain was inundated with more consumer demands than ever before. The bottlenecks of prior years coupled with labor strains suddenly became a major challenge for Estes’ efficiency and accuracy. They needed a solution, and fast.

Luckily, through the use of Pega’s low-code factory approach, Estes was able to quickly put together a citizen development team to develop and launch new workflows for their back-office functions. In a recent webinar, V.P. of Administration for Estes, Tad Blackburn, shared how they made it happen in record time.

How Estes went from controlled chaos to a frictionless solution

Before Estes began refining their processes, their workflows often involved a lot of back-and-forth communication over email and phone calls. They offer less-than-truckload (LTL) freight shipping, handling millions of shipments annually, requiring invoicing, tracking information, and other data. Employee inboxes were getting overwhelmed with emails. And when errors happened or questions arose, employees would have to find the information, update the system, and provide updated information to the requesting party. Sometimes, they wouldn’t get the information they needed, and requests would have to be resent. Also, the growing number of requests and the necessary follow-up was becoming difficult to manage. As Tad shared:

“The free-formed email process was just so inefficient [for us]. So, what we found was that with low code we were able to structure requests to get the information that we needed the first time. It saved time on both ends, for both the requester of information and whoever is processing that information.”

On top of that, users had to verify the data in the requests, adding unnecessary steps to an employee’s workflow.

With Pega’s low-code platform, Tad and his team were able to envision a solution. But to get there, they would need to devise a plan and tackle their workflow inefficiencies one at a time. To start, they outlined three steps:

  1. Identify the people
  2. Invest time in the right training
  3. Start simple

1. Identify the people for citizen development

The Estes team started thinking about who had familiarity with their terminal processes and could collaborate with IT on a solution. Choosing the right technically proficient people for the job was essential, as they wanted to get started right away but didn’t want to substantially increase the workload or create new problems for their IT team. Eventually, they landed on a group of five “super-users” who had grown up with the business.

“They basically showed technical aptitude, the business know-how, and a level of inquisitiveness around their role in the business, which made it a ‘no-brainer’ to give them a shot at citizen development,” Tad noted in the webinar.

With their team identified, they arranged for a few weeks of training on the low-code platform before they could get started.

2. Invest time in the right training

Next, the team at Estes set up two training courses for their citizen development program. Using Pega Academy, their super-users learned how to use Pega’s visual, low-code platform to create more efficient workflows. With these courses, they cultivated the foundational skills to start developing their own low-code apps.

To reinforce what the super- users were learning in Pega Academy, Estes also set up a weekly “study-hall” with their IT team so they could get hands-on instruction. These study halls had the added benefit of strengthening connections between the business and IT departments. As Tad shared in the webinar:

“IT has been very supportive of us setting up the citizen developer program, allowing them to focus on more enterprise projects while we are taking care of smaller tasks within our team.”

Overall, Tad explained that his super-users team spent about 45 to 50 hours in online instruction over about a month’s time. Once they kicked-off the project, the team devoted about 40% of their work time on low-code app development, while still maintaining their daily roles and responsibilities at the business.

3. Start with simple solutions

Once the team was trained, they were ready to start their first development project. Estes’ team wanted to focus on simple solutions that would have major impacts. Within a month after training concluded, they were able to build and roll out their first application.

One of their earliest projects focused on re-rate requests. Re-rates typically happened when either pricing entry errors or accidental omissions of a segment of a customer’s business were discovered. In some cases, extended pricing negotiations required that the pricing agreement be backdated. In the past, the requests would be made via email, but responses were uneven.

Employees would struggle to track data and figure out why the re-rates needed to happen. The low code solution their team created allowed them to build a query so users can identify freight bills and see an audit trail of when and why changes occurred. The solution was simple but made a world of difference to their employees, who now had better visibility around re-rates.

The ripple effects of more efficient workflows

As the team continued to roll out low-code-developed updates, their program had ripple effects across the business. Beyond the IT and business teams creating a stronger connection, they also noticed improved employee satisfaction as processes became streamlined. Overall, employees felt less overwhelmed about having to manage their inbox or track down information. And their customers were a lot happier with the improvements, too.

Tad also admitted he was surprised by the willingness to adopt these new processes. “Change can be a little difficult when you have people who have spent years following certain processes,” he told our webinar audience, “it’s a hard habit to break. However, it really wasn’t as painful as we would have anticipated, so we really had great adoption.”

The only regret with adopting low code? “I wish we had started sooner,” said Tad. And when asked what advice he’d give to other businesses, Tad advised to start small:

“Look at what processes at your business could use small improvements, and as you tackle the little projects, you’ll gain experience to start tackling bigger problems. Eventually, you’ll have a team that is experienced in problem-solving, knowledgeable on low-code solutions, and ready to create more efficient processes across your entire business.”

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Product Area: Customer Service Topic: Workflow Automation

About the Author

A writer and researcher with Pega, Katie McBeth explores the impact intelligent automation can have on business success both today and tomorrow.

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