8 Things You Need to Know About Business Process Automation and Workflow
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
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:
costs and error rates due to employee inefficiency and manual processes
or late payments, missing early pay discounts, and losing invoices
for goods and services not received
invoice aging and poor cash flow
for not having complete and proper documentation for employees, like I-9
being able to find documents quickly during an audit or lawsuit or not being
able to find all documents
or incomplete new employee or new account on-boarding
freezes while needing to get more done
of management visibility into business processes
- Poor customer service
of these sound familiar? If so, then you’ve got some streamlining to do…
2 -- Understand
the Rules of Engagement
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.
records: three years
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
records: three years
tests: five years (records pertaining to the process: only
forms 300, 300A & 301: five years
records: six years
to hazardous materials records: 30 years
plans and pension documents: indefinitely
3 -- Document
Your Process to Process Your Documents
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?
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
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
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.
determining goals, being bold is one thing, but being SMART is another; remember
that goals need to be:
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
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?
want to find a company that:
objectively evaluate your situation
a depth of experience with your business process and solving your critical
able to recommend and implement a combination of hardware, software and
clearly articulate the value of every part of the proposed solution
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
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.
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:
employees so new hires aren’t needed and FTE can be reduced
salary save by not having to replace those due to attrition
cost of space regained from paper, file cabinets, and bankers boxes
the cost of audits and lawsuits
advantage of early payment discounts and ending duplicate payments
complete documentation for a new account
AR faster and improving cash flow
new accounts quicker
business by providing superior levels of customer service
for instant access to records (e.g. public information, student
transcripts, medical records)
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
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
About John F. Mancini
John Mancini is the Chief Evangelist and Past President of AIIM. He is a well-known author and speaker on information management, digital transformation and intelligent automation. John is a frequent keynote speaker and author of more than 30 eBooks on a variety of topics. He can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as jmancini77.