Digitech Art 1117by Christina Robbins, Digitech

As we near the end of another year, what trends are you paying attention to? Which do you think will most significantly impact your business in 2018? I believe that for those of us who help companies manage content and automate processes, there are three critical trends to watch. Learning more about these opportunities can help you to figure out how embedding them in your business strategies will increase revenue in the new year. The most important content trends for 2018 include: 

The continuation of strong growth for cloud-based services. 

The proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) enabled applications to assist our customers with everything from categorizing and indexing content to more effectively finding what they need. 

The heavy focus on optimizing business processes through automation at the forefront of strategic business initiatives. 

Let’s dive into each of these trends to understand how they may represent opportunities for you. 

Cloud Continues to Grow 

Did you know the cloud is in its second decade of existence? Though we wandered about a bit as consumers trying to figure out what to call it (remember ASP, hosted and SaaS?), the cloud has firmly established itself as a core technology consumption methodology for millions of users and businesses worldwide. It has become so ubiquitous that you may be tempted to assume there is no more room for growth, but the analyst community disagrees. Forrester predicts that global cloud revenues will top $146 billion in 2017, and it is growing at a compound annual rate of about 22 percent.1  IDC agrees, citing their own survey of more than 11,000 IT leaders. They explain that more than 70 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as “cloud first” companies, meaning they prefer to implement cloud services over other IT options. Additionally, this research revealed that many organizations are shifting toward “cloud only” strategies.2 

Customers prefer cloud for many reasons. According to Forrester, they cite rapid implementation, ease of use, and lower initial and ongoing costs as the primary reasons. In addition, Nucleus Research has confirmed the overall financial return for cloud projects is 2.1 times that available from software implementations, up 24 percent since 2012.3 

So, how does cloud fit into your 2018 opportunities? Consider the efficiencies you can offer customers because you can sell them cloud storage. Think beyond simple hardware and IT cost reductions and talk to your customers about how secure mobile access to information might help business-critical processes or what their strategy is to manage their rapidly expanding base of digital information.  

Real Customer. Real Results. 

Since 1915, Commercial Metals Company has manufactured, recycled, and marketed steel and metal products worldwide. They are a $4.6 billion enterprise with 120 facilities in more than 12 countries.4  

Tasked with centralizing AP processes across the company’s 40 U.S.-based recycling yards, Director of Shared Services Alberto Centeno quickly realized the only way to effectively reconcile purchase orders, invoices, and shipping
receipts in this distributed model was to move to a cloud-based Enterprise Content Management (ECM) service. With documents securely available in the cloud, CMC set the stage to automate AP processes.  

Invoices are now electronically routed through reconciliation and approval processes, and their automation benefits are impressive. CMC reduced the time it takes to complete three-way match for each purchase order by 33 percent, saving each yard 125 hours monthly, a total productivity gain of around 60,000 hours every year! And they have reduced their cost per invoice processed, which is saving the company more than $2.6 million annually. 

Artificial Intelligence Gets More Accessible 

As computers gain power, data volumes explode out of control, and cost pressures demand organizations do more with fewer resources, AI is often touted as the magic cure-all, and software manufacturers are rushing to embed these powerful algorithms into business applications that have real value to consumers. Analysts at Research & Markets expect the market for AI-enabled business applications to grow to almost $39 billion by 2025, and most other major analyst firms list artificial intelligence among top trends for the foreseeable future.5  

Narrative Science explains that only 38 percent of organizations are currently using AI technologies in the workplace today to automate tasks, yet 62 percent are making AI a priority and plan to implement in the near future. Why? The second most common reason is to help them automate repetitive, manual tasks like data entry.6 

Real Customer. Real Results. 

So how can AI help your customers automate business processes? “You can’t automate something you can’t read or look at,” explains Troy Brown, Director of Innovation and Tools for Arvato, a company that specializes in the development and implementation of customer solutions for more than 150 million customers around the globe. When a large high-tech company asked Arvato to help them automate processing of more than 63,000 license contracts annually, the first step was to convert non-standard, paper-based contracts into digital files complete with index values allowing users to search for and find the information by keyword in their ECM application.  

Arvato utilized an AI-driven forms processing and capture application to automatically categorize and extract critical indexing data as contracts were being scanned. They next embedded the digital contracts into a workflow that simplified the process of verifying contract details and streamlined sharing important data with other business processes and applications. Arvato estimates the automation project saved their client more than 10,000 hours of productivity and $3 million annually. “PaperVision Forms Magic enabled us to access the critical information our client needed. Being able to extract the data with AI has enabled us to automate the entire business process,” commented Brown. 

Keep your eyes open as more AI-driven options enter the content services marketplace in 2018. Carefully evaluate which might offer significant returns for your customers, and plan now to make AI a core competency for your organization over the next few years. 

Process Automation Remains a Strategic Priority 

Business processes are getting squeezed from both sides as a need to reduce costs pushes up against an expectation of ever faster results. What’s the cost of slow processes? IDC found that 62 percent of businesses believe slow processes actually limit revenue!7 And AIIM indicates that more than half of businesses intend to spend on BPM and workflow this year.8 Process automation remains a top strategic priority in every business. 

You know this market opportunity is growing rapidly, and you’re poised to take advantage with a combination of technologies that allow you to solve even the most complex business problems. This is a wonderful opportunity to sell solutions, rather than simply a single software application. Often the solution to a business process problem includes imaging, information storage and retrieval, collaboration, workflow, and forms processing technologies.  

Real Customer. Real Results. 

Founded in 2000, Terrus Real Estate Group provides strategic real estate planning and real estate brokerage to commercial construction and property management companies. The firm manages 1,300 leases and accompanying documentation and receives about 20,000 invoices annually. In their paper-based process, employees entered critical data by hand into multiple systems, and paper documents were passed by hand for review and approval. After scanning more than 21,000 pages of documentation, the firm was poised to automate their business processes. The scanned documents are automatically uploaded to their ECM system, which kicks off the workflow engine to identify document types and send them through the appropriate approval processes. This process improvement has saved management 1,150 hours annually and has resulted in a 30 percent productivity improvement for staff.  

How might BPM impact your 2018 sales strategies? As you target paper-intensive processes like Accounts Payable and Human Resources, workflow often increases the average size of each deal you close, which means more revenue. Make sure it’s on your list of key trends to leverage into business growth in 2018. 

It can be tough to sort through the hype to understand which market trends are most important for your business, but knowing where to start pays big dividends. For 2018, keep your eye on the technologies that help your customers with their strategic priorities, including cloud, artificial intelligence, and process automation. As you do so, you’ll continue to grow. 

1  Bartoletti, Dave, et. al. (November 18, 2016). Predictions 2017: Customer-Obsessed Enterprises Launch Cloud’s Second Decade. Forrester Research.

2  Anderson, Cushing. (October 2017). “Train to Accelerate Your Cloud Strategy.” IDC.

3 Wettemann, Rebecca (April 2016) “Cloud Delivers 2.1 Times More ROI”. Nucleus Research. Retrieved from: http://www.digitechsystems.com/cloud-delivers-2-1-times-more-roi/

4  CMC. (Jan 11, 2017). “Shaping the Future: Commercial Metals Company 2016 Annual Report.” Retrieved from: http://ir.cmc.com/Reports

5  Research & Markets. (March 9, 2017). “Artificial Intelligence Market Forecasts 2016-2025 Across 27 Industry Sectors.” Retrieved from: https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/03/09/933837/0/en/Artificial-Intelligence-Market-Forecasts-2016-2025-Across-27-Industry-Sectors.html

6 Narrative Science. (2016). “Outlook on Artificial Intelligence in the Enterprise.”

7  Boyd, Angele, et. al. (May 2014). “The Role of Documents: How they Drive Business.” IDC.

8  Larrivee, Bob. (2016). “Industry Watch: Paper free: Are we There Yet?”

Christina Robbins is marketing manager at Digitech Systems LLC.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Workflow