Document-intensive processes, such as mail, print and copy center operations, are critical to the success of many businesses. Yet when it comes to measuring the performance of these and other document management activities, many organizations rely on quarterly, or at best monthly, results in spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
Access to real-time performance management metrics for outsourced document management processes is elusive for many enterprises outside of their core competencies. An automobile manufacturer, for example, might use a dashboard to monitor production in real time, but it’s rare for such a company to also monitor its document processing activities so closely. These activities, however, cost money and can affect overall business performance almost as directly as a company’s core business.
This situation begs for a fresh approach; one which leverages today’s leading-edge performance management tools with data views that can help organizations benchmark document management processes and ultimately drive continuous improvement. With this in mind, I will explore how a performance management system can help support the goal of optimizing document management processes in order to drive benefits such as reducing costs, better managing documents as vital financial and information assets, and securing positive returns on investments in outsourcing. While performance management systems can be applied to an organization’s overall performance or specific processes such as accounts payable invoice or insurance claims processing, I will focus mainly on how they can be used to improve document management activities, such as print/copy center operations.
Four key metrics
Whether your document process management activities are managed internally, outsourced or a combination of both, it is important to first clarify a few terms before discussing new systems and tools for improving these activities.
• A service level agreement (SLA) is the contract an organization has with a service partner requiring the partner to perform certain functions at a pre-determined proficiency level; e.g., process all incoming mail within four hours of receipt, ensure 98 percent uptime on all print/copy/fax machines or produce any archived record within 30 minutes of a request. Very often incentives are included in an SLA if the service provider meets or exceeds certain excellence benchmarks. Conversely, there are penalties for underperformance. These provisions equate to a performance guarantee.
• A metric is typically a percentage or ratio, such as on-time performance percentage or accuracy percentage.
• A measure is a data point; e.g., 1,000 mail pieces.
• A key performance indicator (KPI) is a metric that an organization monitors through a document management system to gauge compliance with an SLA and to make progress against a balanced scorecard. KPIs should be specific, measurable and results-oriented.
The importance of SLAs
For any analytics tool or performance management system to be effective, clearly defined and agreed-upon parameters must be in place, particularly for services that are outsourced. Otherwise, an organization can’t really know if its managed services provider is delivering solid business benefits. Properly implementing SLAs can help avoid this scenario. The chart below outlines eight steps that an outsourcing services provider and its client might follow to successfully navigate this process.
Translating KPIs into appropriate SLAs
Key performance indicators are critical to maintaining effective SLAs. While the terminology may be clear enough, several challenges arise with KPIs. One is making sure that the KPIs you are tracking are those that matter to the business. Another challenge is translating KPIs into truly relevant SLAs so that you can clearly chart progress toward strategic objectives. A third challenge is finding a performance management system that can “roll up” indicators from disparate sources into a dashboard that enables senior managers to view, at a glance, current overall performance against strategic objectives. The wrong (i.e., inappropriate) KPIs can steer an organization off course.
Whichever KPIs you choose, it’s important that they are flexible. Ten years ago, a bank, for example, might have set as a key performance indicator the percentage of paper statements mailed on time. Technology has made that KPI largely obsolete. A better metric for today might be the percentage of accurate electronic statements posted.
It also makes sense to rank KPIs in terms of importance. The same bank during an economic crisis might place a special focus on three or four critical KPIs in addition to the metrics it monitors during stable business conditions.
In general, you should have only as many KPIs as you need for a clear and effective view of your performance that leads to actionable results. By definition, a few KPIs tell the story of the rest.
Just as a person driving a car can read only so many gauges — speed, RPMs, engine temperature and fuel level — a business can only monitor so many performance indicators before they are no longer key but superfluous. Cost per mail piece, for example, has implications for financial performance and volume management, so additional KPIs on these counts may be redundant.
Putting the metrics to work
Once you understand the building blocks of key metrics, the trick becomes putting them to good use. This is where today’s leading business performance management systems come into play. These platforms provide a variety of approaches that offer the potential to realize solid business benefits — for example, the ability to roll up performance management data from disparate sources into one dashboard so that executives can draw correlations for analysis and reporting.
One organization might use such a tool to monitor the performance of its human resources and accounts payable activities. Another company might leverage an analytics system to monitor and continuously improve its outsourced print/copy operation. This could include aggregating data in real time from disparate systems within the operation, such as fleet equipment monitoring, asset management and service ticketing, into one dashboard for more cost-effective, streamlined management. The best analytics tools also have the capability to determine security breaches on specific devices, such as encryption not running or a hard drive not being properly erased.
The print services dashboard view highlighted below, for example, enables a company and its managed services partner to analyze real-time trends in the outsourced print services being provided such as:
• Overall print volume with year-over-year comparison.
• Equipment service ticketing including who opened a service ticket, when and what issues were connected with the ticket.
• Equipment performance concerns with email alert notifications.
• The number of print devices in operation including color and monotone print volumes.
• A maturity forecast for the all of the company’s equipment by manufacturer, which enables executives to be aware of lease expirations and better plan for them.
• Exceptions to established equipment security profiles with email alert notifications.
By clicking on the “data discovery” link located in the upper right-hand corner of the print services dashboard, system users can customize the metrics they want to monitor. For example, users may want to monitor the number of monotone and color images printed over the past three years for a particular site operation. (See data discovery dashboard view above.) Another convenient feature is the capability to export the most relevant data into Excel and/or PDF files for fast, efficient distribution to executives as appropriate.
As I noted earlier, a key feature of the most effective performance management systems is the ability to cull data from disparate sources and correlate that data to provide insights that can be used to improve operations. In the print/copy arena, print management software is available that offers performance management metrics. But in many cases those metrics are static, such as print volume per day, without the ability to drill down and correlate volume by device, location, number of users, service calls on the device, etc.
Other potential applications
My prime example up to this point has been the potential benefits of a print services dashboard. However, I want to stress that analytics tools can be valuable for monitoring many other vital business metrics.
Consider, for instance, an accounts payable (AP) operation that is focused on automating invoice processing to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Tracking KPIs is a key way to help ensure meeting these and other goals. The AP invoice processing dashboard could feature real-time information including the number of invoices processed per operator/month, invoice processing cycle time (receipt to ready-to-pay), exception rate, cost-per-invoice and suppliers converted to e-invoicing. Drill downs can provide a wealth of information to shed light on exception rates and productivity concerns. The point is that the same fundamentals for measuring performance and leveraging interactive dashboard reporting can be applied to any business process for which data is available.
Until the past few years, performance management and reporting have been characterized by a significant amount of guesswork because previous approaches, including spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, were limited. They usually featured monthly reports on a narrow range of metrics. With the speed of business today, these approaches are no longer sufficient.
A new methodology is gaining traction. It enables organizations to manage such activities as document process management by measuring and correlating performance from disparate sources in real time, against objective metrics that support the firm’s strategic objectives. Enabling enterprises to achieve this level of performance management has been the driving force behind a new breed of analytics tools. These solutions are better enabling organizations to obtain a deep view into their business processes and thereby make better decisions about them. Companies can now feel more confident that their SLAs and key performance indicators are being aggressively monitored against their business objectives and agreed-upon standards. They have the opportunity to experience breakthrough performance management and leverage a new formula for success.
Tim Connor is Senior Director, Technical Services & Print Solutions for Canon Business Process Services
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Workflow.