Digital Pathways Toward Optimizing Workflow

This guest blog was contributed by Ted Ardelean | 9/5/13
While there are many ways to define workflow, it is essentially a sequence of processes through which a piece of work moves from initiation to completion. Typically, for most administrative processes, the sequence includes converting documents from paper to digital format, whether those documents are invoices, customer correspondence or personnel files for new employees.

In this scenario, enterprises face at least two key challenges in keeping the costs associated with their workflows low and their processing cycle times short. The first challenge is to manage the paper-to-digital conversion process in a way that is fast as well as accurate and enables effective integration of the digitized information with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other software systems vital to a successful enterprise.

Contained within this particular challenge is another: making sure that the original documents are connected with their digitized versions and are readily accessible at every step of the workflow process. This is important because when you digitize information from an invoice, for example, and enter the data into an ERP system, someone at some point will want to view the original invoice to obtain a more complete picture of the details associated with the transaction.

To highlight the second challenge, I’ll cite one of the key principles of mathematics: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Often in a workflow process, you don’t have a straight line from the beginning to the end of that process. You have a line that has gaps in it. Most organizations try to bridge these gaps by constructing manual pathways around them. Our experience in helping companies optimize their workflow processes is that implementing digital solutions is a more effective approach.

Here’s one example: The U.S. unit of a multibillion-dollar global cosmetics and beauty company wasn’t paying its bills quickly or accurately enough. Some suppliers were concerned by the company’s lengthy payment process. The company contracted with Canon Business Process Services to streamline that process so that payments were made more quickly and accurately – resulting, hopefully, in happier vendor relations.

Part of the problem was that the company’s suppliers would send the invoices to the plant managers, who were responsible for confirming that the orders were valid and correct. This approval process resulted in delays of up to 45 days because the process was largely manual.

Our solution was to have the suppliers send the paper invoices to one of our business processing centers, where we can scan and extract invoice data using an optical character recognition (OCR) system. Specific data fields are automatically extracted, such as vendor name and purchase order number, then matched up with information in the company database. Successful matches are verified, and the invoices are quickly moved further along the payment process. We collate any exceptions into a report that is sent to accounts payable, which in turn works with the plant managers to reconcile discrepancies.

How much faster is the new process? Instead of 45 days, the company now completes payments in an average of two days.

Many similar opportunities to substitute digital pathways in place of manual approaches exist with organizations involved in “onboarding” processes. These activities include obtaining information from new customers or employees and entering that data into the appropriate information systems. We helped one company evolve its manual process for onboarding new employees. The new digital process covers applying for a job, accepting the job, joining the company and filling out the necessary HR forms. Additionally, because all employee records are now digitized and stored in a repository, any authorized HR employee with a Web browser can retrieve any document at any time. Previously, HR personnel had to physically search for these documents, which could be located at any one of numerous offices throughout the country.

These are only a few examples of organizations that have experienced how, when it comes to improving workflow, creating digital pathways can be a straight line to success.

Ted Ardelean

Ted Ardelean is a marketing director for Canon Business Process Services, Inc., a leading provider of managed services and technology that enable organizations to improve operational efficiency while reducing risk and cost.

Ted Ardelean is Director of Research & Development Marketing for Canon Business Process Services. Visit www.cbps.canon.com for more information.