How to build a business case for improving your approvals process

30 January 2014

Brenton O'Callaghan

Brenton O'Callaghan

Global Head of SAP Innovation

We've all been there - you get approval to raise a PO for the new business critical system and if you can get it through the business approval process in the next 2 hours it will be delivered on Monday to allow the multi-million pound project to keep on track. You ring the CFO to get it done only to have him say "No problem but I'm on Holiday until Monday and I can only approve in the office - sorry!" Disaster!

Is this a human failure in the process? - surely there should be safeguards in place to ensure that business can continue while the CFO is on leave but all too often that is just not the case. With over 60% of us checking our email while we are on vacation there is now an expectation that you can be contacted and can action perceived minor tasks during out-of-office hours. While I agree that this statistic is not a healthy one, without dramatic industry change we need to adapt.

But it can be a difficult business case to present - proposing a change to a front-end process only - a process that works and has strict controls around it - how do we justify the change? How do we support getting our approvals actioned quickly, everywhere and with maximum information to support the decision?

The business case

Businesses run on approvals - want to pay somebody - it needs approval, want to transfer funds - it needs approval, want to elevate your privileges to fix a system - it needs approval. Approvals for these everyday tasks are very often the bottle neck. Now, don't misunderstand me - I am a big advocate of proportional change control (see my blog on change control in the FS sector). But it has to be a bit easier.


Let’s say each approval action from receiving the notification to hitting the approve button takes on average 3 minutes. That's three minutes to log-on, open the request, read through it, decide and hit the button. Now lets say that you get 40 approval requests per week - or an average of 8 a day. That is 120 minutes or 2 hours a week spent approving requests. Finally, let’s say as a mid-size company of 20,000 employees you have about 3,000 approvers. That would be 6,000 hours a week spent by company approvers doing nothing except actioning requests (or 312,000 hours per year lost!). So here is my question - what if the time for approvals was only 2 minutes? That potentially could save the company 2,000 hours a week or 104,000 hours a year.

Streamline the process

One of the biggest complaints I see about the approvals process is actually not about log-on time or slowness of the system. It, more often than not, is about seeing the data. Yes it is on the screen but unless you are an expert at the game "Where's Wally" you have to spend considerable time finding it. Screen clutter is by far one of the biggest time wasters in the approval process. Most approval tasks rely on three to four pieces of critical information, for example for invoices, who sent it, which account is it for and how much is it? So one of the biggest time savers in any approvals process is bringing this key information to the front while still allowing the approver to view all of the information if they want to.

Increased compliance

By bringing the business critical & decision reliant information into focus for the approver you can have a dramatic effect on compliance - for example, if the business says - no approval without a specific field being filled in, then you can make that field obvious when it is empty rather than it being easily overlooked in screen clutter.

Getting started

Getting started is not difficult - here are 5 simple steps as a start:

  1. Find out who the top 5 approvers are in the company, who gets the most, who action's the most…and get them in a room
  2. Adopt some design-thinking principals to facilitate some blue-sky thinking about their perfect approvals process
  3. Take away their input - put together some wireframes and then re-engage with those users (key to championing the solution & adoption)
  4. While all this is going on do some technology investigation to see what would fit their "perfect solution"
  5. Just do it.

This process is one that has proven itself time and again on a number of different projects for me and the most successful of these saw the whole process from the workshops to go-live taking less than 7 weeks - and that included the adoption of a number of new technologies.

So if you are looking for a fast ROI with measurable benefit to your business and your employees - look no farther than your approvals process.


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About the author

Brenton O'Callaghan

Global Head of SAP Innovation

Enterprise technology strategist and emerging technology evangelist

I'm a globally experienced SAP expert based in Ireland and I’m currently responsible for creating and bringing our SAP Innovation & Leonardo practice to market. My day job involves helping our customers to solve actual business problems in a rapid fashion using tools such as design thinking, SAP Leonardo and much more. I'm also responsible for exploring how emerging technologies and concepts can be applied within our customer base such as Machine Learning, Blockchain, DevOps and AI.
I've a background in computer science and have spent the last 9+ years in the SAP space across a wide range of industries across EMEA and North America. I'm a big believer that the best consultants have a mix of technical knowledge, industry experience and empathy and that is what I bring with my team to my customers. It's all about bringing about positive and relevant business change with the best possible technology.
Outside of work you can find me supporting the Irish Rugby team and the Boston Red Sox as well as my new found hobby - golf!


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