Five Steps to Creating and Optimizing Content-Centric Digital Workflows

five-stepsIn simplest terms, content-centric digital workflows are systems that facilitate the movement of content both within and beyond an enterprise. They are put in place to complete business processes efficiently and get this data quickly incorporated into back-end systems of record – all while ensuring a high level of information integrity and a reliable basis for strategic operational decisions.

McKinsey recently analyzed the potential for workflow automation in typical enterprises and found that across 800 professions surveyed, 60 percent of respondents could save up to 30 percent of workers’ time through automated workflows supporting paperwork-based processes. With such significant benefits to be gained, many companies are eager to create new content-centric digital workflows, but don’t know where to begin. Here are some recommendations for organizations in the beginning stages of creating and implementing digital workflows:

Baby Steps are the Way Forward: Identify key business challenges, and work backward to identify which departments and processes are causing bottlenecks. For example, a manufacturer may be having challenges meeting promised delivery dates for customers. This challenge could be stemming from an inability to assess and guarantee needed inventory on hand at any given time. One way to address this would be making the information residing in inventory management systems more “real-time” and reliable.

Observe current behavioral patterns, identify inefficiencies and assess impact:  The same manufacturer may have numerous warehouses spread across multiple locations, with workers spending most of their time on the floor. As shipments arrive, floor workers receive them by signing paper shipment confirmation forms. These papers are then stuck into folders or pockets, and not entered into the appropriate digital system until later in the day – or even worse, forgotten and never entered. This then affects production and delivery scheduling systems interfacing with customer-facing ecommerce application. Customers receive expected delivery dates that are later than they need to be, because the inventory system is not being updated in a timely fashion.

Map out what a better process would look like: Research shows that when recording goods, human error is the top issue in 46 percent of warehouses, therefore one aim for a digital workflow would be to reduce errors. Incorporating mobile capture would make it much easier for warehouse workers to simply snap a photo of receipt confirmation paperwork, which can then be submitted and routed directly to back-end systems of record. This simplification increases the likelihood warehouse workers quickly complete their step of the document workflow. Mobile capture solutions are highly effective at keeping “on-the-go” workers connected and productive.

Test the process: Once the ideal workflow has been mapped out, it is time to test it in a real-world scenario. This can take some time as the enterprise may need to bring in tools to help facilitate. For this example, the manufacturer would need mobile devices for warehouse workers and software to enable seamless submission. Line-of-business and IT leaders should work together to ensure the new automated workflow achieves the desired functionality.

Observe, Measure and Refine: Once testing is complete and the workflow is verified, the next step is to measure effectiveness in making workers more productive and achieving higher level business goals. In the warehouse, are receipt confirmation documents being submitted and routed to back-end systems closer to the time of supply drop? Does the company have better visibility into inventory-on-hand? Are they promising shorter time to delivery and meeting these dates? Is customer satisfaction higher?

When these questions are answered positively, the new workflow is a success. However, does the organizations have other areas that could benefit from a similar workflow? Could this workflow be broadened to improve other areas – for example, simultaneously submitting materials receipt forms to accounts payable, so that bills are paid in a timelier fashion.

Another question the company should ask is: is the new workflow helping drive smarter and more accurate long-term decisions? Does the existence of more timely, comprehensive back-end data help in identifying the best performing suppliers? Is the organization now empowered to strategically assign production jobs based on inventory proximity to customers, thus shortening time-to-delivery while reducing shipment costs? It’s important to think about what other areas of the enterprise could benefit in this way. Workflow components are increasingly available in a flexible, on-demand approach, allowing companies and individual departments to easily experiment with workflow capabilities to determine the ones that work best.

Digital workflows represent the future of work as we know it. The above points are high-level recommendations for beginning down the journey of creating content-centric workflows, and organizations need to be purpose-driven as they identify those processes that are ripe for optimization. The necessary platforms, tools and methods exist and are well tested around the world, and the first and most important step is to simply get started.

Stacy Leidwinger, VP of Product, leads the team driving product innovation within Nuance’s Document Imaging Division. She oversees the product roadmap and all phases of the product lifecycle with the goal of planning, launching and managing best of breed software products.