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8 Things You Need to Know About Business Process Automation and Workflow

Apr 1, 2013 6:51:56 AM by John F. Mancini

Today’s guest post is by Mitch
Taube, President of Digiscribe
International
& Digiscribe New
England
.  He can be reached via email
at [email protected] or via
phone at 800-686-7577, ext 1103

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.23.19 AM

While document scanning and
document management technologies and services successfully eliminate paper
problems, it’s workflow automation that generates the greatest return on
investment because this is where business processes are truly streamlined.

This is a guide for how to
ease the pain of document-intensive business processes with workflow automation
in a way that maximizes ROI, generates some quick wins and can lead to higher
profitability and perhaps even competitive advantage.

1 -- Identify
the Source of Your Pain

The
first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem by
identifying critical business issues. Common business pain that can be
addressed through workflow automation includes:

  • High
    costs and error rates due to employee inefficiency and manual processes
  • Duplicate
    or late payments, missing early pay discounts, and losing invoices
  • Paying
    for goods and services not received
  • High
    invoice aging and poor cash flow
  • Fines
    for not having complete and proper documentation for employees, like I-9
    forms
  • Not
    being able to find documents quickly during an audit or lawsuit or not being
    able to find all documents
  • Lengthy
    or incomplete new employee or new account on-boarding
  • Hiring
    freezes while needing to get more done
  • Lack
    of management visibility into business processes
  • Poor customer service

Do any
of these sound familiar? If so, then you’ve got some streamlining to do…

 2 -- Understand
the Rules of Engagement

One of
the most important steps in automating any business process is to understand
the rules of engagement, which include following rules, adhering to regulations,
and following document retention requirements. This governance is established
by a combination of internal corporate policies, external industry regulations
and local, state, and federal laws.  Regardless
of the source, it’s important to be aware of their existence and how they
affect the documents that drive your processes.

Of particular note, you need to understand the federally
required retention schedule for employee records, which can range from 2-30
years—and indefinitely in some cases. Below are some retention schedule
examples. Because they can change, this is not a comprehensive list and may be
trumped by state or industry guidelines. We recommend consulting with a
certified records manager before creating a records retention policy and
specific guidelines. Usually your document management partner can help you or
refer you to a specialist.  The industry
trade groups ARMA and ICRM are both good resources for additional information
on records management.

  • FMLA
    records:
    three years
  • INS
    I-9 forms:
    three years after date of hire or one year after date
    of termination (whichever is later) or indefinitely for foreign workers on
    visas
  • Payroll
    records:
    three years
  • Drug
    tests:
    five years (records pertaining to the process: only
    two years)
  • OSHA
    forms 300, 300A & 301:
    five years
  • Health
    records:
    six years
  • Exposure
    to hazardous materials records:
    30 years
  • Benefits
    plans and pension documents:
    indefinitely

3 -- Document
Your Process to Process Your Documents

The next
step is to document where you are today. What documents need to be captured?
Where do they come from and in what format are they? (i.e. paper, fax, email,
PDF) Who needs to be involved in their processing? How do rules and regulations
affect the process? How can this be done in a better way? What exceptions are
there to the processes and how should they be handled?

Documenting
your processes allows you to gain clarity and determine the sources of
inefficiency, bottlenecks, and problems. You can then re-design the process to
focus on the desired result with workflow automation. An easy way to do this is
to sketch the processes on a piece of paper, possibly in a flowchart format.  Visio or even Word can be used to create
flowcharts easily. 

The biggest mistake an organization can make is to replicate
their manual, error-prone processes with technology. If you’re going to invest
in hardware, workflow software, and professional services, you need to
re-create the process by taking advantage of what this new technology allows,
especially that which was not possible before with a manual  process.

4 -- Be
SMART & Define Your Goals

After
clarifying your critical business issues and fully understanding the external
and internal rules governing your documents, you’ll want to determine the key
objectives of your process improvement activities.

When
determining goals, being bold is one thing, but being SMART is another; remember
that goals need to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

For
example, you may want to determine which vendors offer early payment discounts,
how much could be saved if they were taken advantage of, and if you’ve got the
cash flow to do so —then you can also determine vendor priority for who gets
paid sooner rather than later.

Another example is to determine average invoice aging per
customer. You can set an overall average, say 45 days down from 60 days, as well
as identify goals per key customers who tend to pay late. This alone can
dramatically improve cash flow.

5 -- Find
an Office Automation Partner

Utilizing
document imaging and enterprise content management (ECM) technology to automate
business processes is best accomplished by working with an experienced office
automation provider. But how do you find a good one to partner with?

You will
want to find a company that:

  • Can
    objectively evaluate your situation
  • Has
    a depth of experience with your business process and solving your critical
    business issue
  • Is
    able to recommend and implement a combination of hardware, software and
    services
  • Can
    clearly articulate the value of every part of the proposed solution

Added
Bonus:
find a partner that will work with you in presenting a
proposed solution to all of the stakeholders; senior management, end-users and
even C-level executive leadership to simultaneously get buy-in from all groups
and avoid scope creep later on. 

6 -- Estimate ROI, Carefully

Unless
they feel your pain directly, your superiors will likely be unmoved (and
perhaps unimpressed) unless you present a compelling business case for moving
forward with your workflow automation plans.

This
business case needs to start with your partner’s proposal and include any other
related internal costs. The trick is to identify how much money will be saved
or made by implementing workflow and in what time frame. This may include:

Cost Savings

  • Repurposing
    employees so new hires aren’t needed and FTE can be reduced
  • Employee
    salary save by not having to replace those due to attrition
  • The
    cost of space regained from paper, file cabinets, and bankers boxes
  • Eliminating
    fines
  • Reducing
    the cost of audits and lawsuits
  • Taking
    advantage of early payment discounts and ending duplicate payments
  • Ensuring
    complete documentation for a new account

Revenue Generation

  • Collecting
    AR faster and improving cash flow
  • On-boarding
    new accounts quicker
  • Building
    business by providing superior levels of customer service
  • Charging
    for instant access to records (e.g. public information, student
    transcripts, medical records)

Comparing
solution costs with cost savings and revenues generated from workflow
automation should lead to at least a conservative ROI.  Be sure to tread carefully here: this
estimated ROI is how the success of the solution—and you—will be judged, which
is another reason to use a seasoned office automation partner.

7 -- Test & Re-Test for a Quick Win

Once
you’ve identified the best workflow automation solution, it will be up to your
partner to implement it. The best advice we can give during this step: keep out
creep and keep an eye out for “quick wins” in early phases of the project.
Everyone has an example of how a project that was supposed to take two to three
months really took two to three years because of scope creep.

Additionally,
focus on one business process and get a “quick win.” This can help build
confidence, erode resistance and can keep your team properly motivated to
tackle future projects.

Once
implemented, you’ll want to test the new process to determine how well it works
and identify where additional “exception processing” steps need to be
included—then re-test and test again. In some cases, you may have thought that
daily notifications were a good idea, only to find out that they quickly fill
up your inbox, becoming a nuisance. Testing allows for these adjustments to be
made prior to the official launch of the new process, which increases user
adoption and decreases resistance to change. Documenting the final version of the
process will help capture all of this hard work, thinking and experience, and
can be used to train new people.

8 -- One
Bite at a Time

How do
you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same is true with business process
automation. Start with one document intensive process, like accounts payable,
then design, implement and test it successfully with your office automation
partner. Make sure user acceptance is a high priority, as many technologies and
new processes have failed due to employee resistance. Measure the resulting
ROI. Then walk down the hall and implement in sales/customer service, HR, or
any other area that could operate more efficiently.

Processing these documents
with workflow automation represent the usual suspects:

  • Invoices
  • Claims
  • Sales orders
  • Remittances
  • New accounts
  • Applications
  • Medical records
  • Student records
  • Contracts
  • Benefits enrollment
  • Surveys
  • Case files
  • Mailroom
  • Expense reporting

To Summarize...

 Increasing efficiency, gaining visibility into your
processes, and cutting costs starts with identifying your pain, then documenting
your business processes, testing, and ends with a successful implementation of
workflow automation. The Best Part:
workflow solutions today are surprisingly affordable and offer very quick and
measurable ROIs, particularly when coupled with document scanning services to
handle capture and cloud document management.

 -----

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Are you…  

Struggling with how to maintain control of your business information in the era of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device to Work)?

Wondering about how to use the capture capabilities of Smart Phones to bring capture closer to the point of document origination?  

Trying to figure out how to seamlessly connect with your employees and customers via mobile?

Well look no further.  AIIM's one-day "Putting Your Information in Motion" Seminar (free!) will give you the answer.  Coming in May to a city near you…

May 9 - San Francisco, CA

May 16 - Denver, CO

May 21 - New York, NY

 

 

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