Associative Trails

Sling

A flexible and innovative workflow building tool enabling companies to set up and administer approval workflows for business development, procurement, and all sorts of other key processes.

The custom add-in for Outlook means staff have immediate and prominent access to useful data without having to hunt for it. A lead can be added to the system the moment it appears in your Outlook inbox.

Works seamlessly with existing company CRM systems and databases. Integrates with external APIs for credit checking and more.

The challenge

The hard-coded business development workflow we had built for Scott Brownrigg a number of years before had done sterling service, but needed some updates - more flexibility, better integration with other company systems and a way of getting the relevant information in front of senior staff without them having to hunt for it.

Approval and notification workflows needed to ensure that other areas of the business were aware of new leads, that sufficient time and resources were available, that the client was suitable and credit-worthy, and the project fitted in with the overall company strategy. The collaborative nature of lead generation and business development meant lots of comments and feedback were getting buried in email threads.

Existing company CRM systems and databases had details of thousands of clients, teammates and projects - information that is really useful when responding to new leads and putting together pitches. We needed to unlock this potential.

The solution

We started by developing a feature-rich administration interface to build flexible workflows without requiring technical expertise. Administrators can quickly build a series of forms and gateways to capture the information required at each stage of the workflow, and send notifications, run checks, and request approval before allowing the lead to continue to the next step. The workflow forms can include any number of fields of different types:

  • Long and short text fields to capture qualitative information about the lead (e.g. title, description, etc.)
  • Select from a list of classification terms (e.g. project sectors, services provided, goegraphical locations, etc.), with the lists of terms being fully editable and re-usable in different flows
  • Add individual contacts, companies or staff members that have been imported from company CRM and staff databases. Assign them roles from lists of editable classification temrs
  • Numeric fields to capture quantitative information, including auto-increment fields (good for assigning project numbers automatically) and spreadsheet-like equations for calculated values based on other fields
  • Yes/no answers. Date fields. Web links, uploaded files and links to files stored on the company network

The forms are followed by editable gateways that run checks of the data supplied, send notifications and approval requests to the relevant parties, and branch to subsequent steps:

  • Administrators can set up groups of staff to receive notifications or approval requests. Groups can be re-used for multiple gateways or workflows
  • Individual staff can also be notified or asked for approval
  • Notifications/approval requests can be targeted based on the data provided in the form - e.g. "if Market sector is Energy, request signoff from Ethics team" and "if Region is Americas, send notification to New York office"
  • Gateways can be directly passed or failed based on the form data - e.g. "The value for Project must be more than £50,000"
  • The workflows can branch to or skip subsequent steps based on the data - e.g. "If Bid budget is less than £5,000, jump to Fee proposal form (skipping Full bid budget breakdown)"
  • Integration with the Creditsafe API means potential client organisation can be credit checked and enquiries approved, rejected or passed on for human evaluation based on the results

Contact and staff data is imported from existing company databases via an administration interface to specify datasources and import queries. A system of administrator-defined triggers sends data back to the company databases to keep them up to date.

“We were looking to update our 'Enquiry process' and Sling has definitely fulfilled this - particularly by using the Outlook add-in that makes access quick and ensures great team engagement.”

Staff can use Sling via the web-based application, or the Outlook add-in. The web app offers a rich interface that lets them manage live leads, add and browse notes added to contacts and projects, and provides a dashboard overview of the data that can be searched and filtered. Beyond filling in the workflow forms, the app provides a rich interface for adding collaborative notes to individual answers, providing feedback in the approval process, rejection and resubmission, and a full history of the lead.

The Outlook add-in provides a more focused interface that pre-filters the data based on the email the user is currently reading. The add-in can be used to quickly list the leads and projects a particular contact has been involved in, add new leads with fields pre-filled from the email metadata, and add notes to the contact for other staff members to see in future. Workflow approvals and comments can also be added directly in Outlook.

The outcome

Sling is available to all staff involved in business development. The new workflow is now much more flexible and responsive than before, and having personalised, relevant information available directly in Outlook has made collaboratiing on new business much easier.

The direct link with other company systems reduced the administrative burden and made the tool immediately useful from launch.

Integrating the workflow gateways directly with the Creditsafe API gives finance staff an immediate idea of a client's creditworthiness, allowing them to approve or reject leads before too many resources have been committed to the work.

Simon Jardine, Technology Director at Scott Brownrigg thinks the integration with other company databases is a key feature: “From a technical standpoint the ease of setting up processes and intergrating to our back end systems has meant we can use the solution in a multitude of ways. Giving us the flexibility and agility to capture and use data to drive business processes in efficient ways.”

Technologies used

Python, Django, PostreSQL, Outlook add-in API, Bootstrap, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Docker, Amazon EC2, Creditsafe API, OpenAsset API, OpenCV computer vision API.

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