The rapidly changing and competitive business climate of every organization demands critical, real-time operational decisions that can significantly impact other facets of the company. Information agility is the backbone of business agility with data flowing in and out throughout different yet collaborating business units.
The oil and gas industry is a prime example of the variety of information that can flow upstream within an organization with exploration and production projects generating volumes of correspondence that include well file documentation, supporting documents for maintenance, standard operating procedures (SOPs), requests for proposals (RFPs), authorization for expenditure (AFE) bids, contracts, land records and more.
Downstream there are complex contracts to create, share, review and manage, as well as various legal and facilities operations. All of this information is the lifeblood of the company. However, a majority of information is still predominantly on paper or is unstructured and not readily available. This can lead to costly operational issues and reduced productivity and profitability. Unfortunately, the information with the most competitive potential can be the very thing “choking off” vital operational insight. Now more than ever, organizations need to be on the pulse of how to best unlock this operational data and proactively transform it into useful competitive advantages.
Many companies are breathing new life into their business processes by expediting data across the enterprise with dramatic results. Since rapidly changing technology means business intelligence and traditional analytic tools are no longer good enough, organizations are placing a new emphasis on data capture. The successful capture and processing of data, combined with a new era of smart process applications, is guiding companies that are exploring new, agile ways of lowering operating costs, enhancing customer service, reducing risk and significantly increasing efficiency and overall productivity.
The First Mile
Experience taught us that those first information-intensive communications an individual has with an organization can be labor-intensive, manual and prone to errors. This can be called the critical “first mile,” since what happens during this stage of the process can shape customer impressions and brand loyalty. As the amount of data grows, there is an increased need to make this first mile of interactions simpler and smarter for employees across the enterprise. Maintaining data availability and ensuring high-performance accessibility are important priorities, particularly with high demand and around-the-clock global operations.
In our example with oil and gas organizations, many variables such as regulatory compliance issues, inadequate refining capacity and environmental constraints, emerging economies and consumption all point to a growing demand for complex and integrated systems to manage information acquisition and provide intelligence on processes in order to stay ahead of the pack. Enterprise capture and five other key areas are driving the demand for expedited data. A closer look at each exemplifies the virtually untapped potential of capture-based solutions and their benefits to industry operations.
Enterprise capture is at the root of smart process application potential. The main challenge with most enterprise data is that it is dispersed globally as paper files, drawings, maps or images, and digitally stored on corporate servers, in the cloud or with third-party partners, consultants, contractors or engineering firms. In addition, legacy documents cause challenges as they are rarely classified, stored offsite or become economically unfeasible to scan or manually index the large volumes. These older or incompatible forms of data may be a convenient medium for capture at the time, but they are slow and error-prone. More importantly, without access, they can obscure operational visibility and limit collaboration. For many teams, days can pass between the point at which issues are identified and documented and the point at which the data is entered into a system where it can be acted upon.
But, what if a streamlined capture process could help automate and accelerate business processes by capturing all types of paper and electronic documents, including work orders, procedures, field data forms, product manuals and blueprints — while transforming them into accurate and actionable information? Automated document-driven processes can significantly improve companywide operational efficiency in new ways, such as:
• Transforming business documents into structured electronic information via automatic document classification and data extraction from paper, fax and handwritten forms;
• Processing business-critical data for applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) contracts, accounts payable, supply chain management, asset and land management, engineering, maintenance and human resources;
• Managing customer, contractor and supplier files in different stages, from drafts to final approval and execution;
• Processing critical field data at the first mile;
• Reducing risk when evaluating new opportunities with the most updated, publicly available data
• Facilitating blueprint management between corporate headquarters, plants, engineers, contractors and suppliers;
• Coordinating and exchanging information using standard office equipment such as MFPs, phone systems, email, fax, SMS, MMS and voicemail;
• Archiving legal files in accordance with industry rules and regulations.
Enterprise capture integrated with the right smart process applications not only automates document classification and separation capabilities, it makes it possible to automatically index documents by extracting metadata with OCR and other existing methods. A full reporting suite then gives quick and easy access to system information, statistics on volumes, operational efficiencies and processing goals. This streamlined type of enterprise capture immediately impacts the bottom line by reducing the risk and high costs associated with manual document processing. Even better, it translates high-value data into easy-to-find company insight for more informed decision making.
To illustrate a recent use case scenario, one of the largest producers of oil and natural gas liquids in the United States sought a new capture solution for its rapidly growing imaging center. Their IT group worked closely with Kofax, a leading provider of smart process applications, and a Ricoh consultant to tackle the main challenges of limited existing platforms, quality control issues and lack of flexibility. Together, in less than two months, they implemented a streamlined solution capturing more than 1 million pages per month. Their internal IT team initiated 34 batch classes for various departments, which has since grown to more than 165 batch classes, circulating crucial “life blood” to virtually every department across the company.
The new process has saved hundreds of hours of labor every month for the Division Order group, the imaging center and the mailroom. They have also cut postage costs by $9,000 per month.
Advancements in technology are creating an ever-growing flood of new data into industry. There is no escaping new demands to integrate massive amounts of disperse data across mobile, cloud or third-party data sets. These larger volumes of data are coming in both structured and unstructured formats lacking standards for collaboration. Key partners make business and operational processes exceedingly complicated. Included in this mix are the inherited data repositories from acquisitions and mergers.
Whether in upstream, midstream or downstream production or consumer interaction, the availability of information can boost productivity through better data sharing and more effective collaboration. This is an area with great growth potential, as newer tools are helping large-scale global operations by automating information-driven business processes, maximizing the value of assets, and enabling business agility to cope with an ever-changing environment.
However, a key challenge is emerging with this growing need to manage a mix of both human and automated decision making. There is innovative progress being made by companies looking to increase revenue and improve collaboration efficiency in ways such as reducing non-productive time and improving operations, response times to key constituents, better managing assets and meeting regulatory compliance.
Business Intelligence and Analytics
Capture is at the root of expediting data, and process-aware business intelligence solutions are taking the value of information to a higher level. Better business analysis can deliver interactive views into end-to-end operational process performance, accuracy and productivity, which in turn, makes business insight easier and more cost-effective.
With complex production processes and information sources widely dispersed and growing at a rapid pace, the increasing costs and complexity of new business makes analytics a necessity. Service levels also continue to escalate requiring operational processes to be fully optimized.
In continuing our example with the oil and gas industry, it too is ripe with opportunities to exploit some of the most business-savvy and analytic resources available. It is possible to gain insight to operations via graphic dashboards that provide a view into everything from benchmarking and cross-stream analysis to well visualizations and reservoir output trends. By applying analytics to data, companies can uncover unexpected patterns that help develop new processing models and carry out strategies to improve bottom-line results.
Most importantly, viable solutions now make it possible to provide rapid, no-coding environments for near real-time process intelligence and business analysis. This enhanced business analysis allows for management to better:
• Optimize production and reduce costs;
• Set more accurate targets;
• Provide accurate reporting;
• Integrate and compare production data;
• Evaluate recovery techniques;
• Prevent recurring unplanned events/failures; and
• Optimize plant availability
Field managers, geologists, crude run drivers, derrick hands and roustabouts all need to capture and submit information from the field. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are now doing more of the heavy lifting. Information can now be captured via SMS, voice or image capture — with data extracted and validated as if it were scanned — eliminating the need for extensive manual entry.
Mobile applications can be used as another convenient channel to capture and deliver data, so that organizations can make more informed decisions quicker. A key reason for this digital gravitation is that hand-written field notes are often unreliable and subject to misinterpretation or errors. In addition, real-time production information is vital for expedited and more accurate business decisions. The explosion of mobile and smart devices offer new levels of convenience, personalization and speed for field personnel to engage in real time.
According to Matt Sakauchi, vice president, product marketing at Ricoh Americas Corp., “The new capabilities offered by mobile solutions enable organizations to integrate powerful, interactive capture and process management features into smartphones and tablets to make data collection easier, more accurate and faster.”
The myriad of government regulations, regulatory compliances and legal challenges make this the final area with significant growth potential for automating capture and incorporating analytics for process intelligence. Factor in potential emergency or crisis situations, and the importance of having every document available, tracked and traceable is invaluable. The cost of a single compliance breach can far exceed the initial penalty in lost revenue, reputation and overall performance. Additional challenges stem from managing data at any time from corporate headquarters or remote sites, and according to industry retention schedules or location.
However, companies can now use smart process applications to eliminate the risk of non-compliance while increasing the ability of IT systems to communicate and share information. This allows for a proactive versus reactive approach to compliance by optimizing procedures, monitoring process compliance and keeping information at the fingertips regardless of time or location.
Success Is a Moving Target
Regardless of the approach taken to manage and expedite information across your company, one fact is certain — the process is never complete. Now more than ever, enterprises require agile solutions that can change on the fly, capture new data, collaborate with more resources and provide analytical insight into how current processes are working and enable process optimization. Most importantly, solutions must extend their value to all other areas of the business. Since information truly is the “life blood” of the company, then it’s clear that the right capture and smart process application tools are at the heart of circulating that information in order to drive down operating costs, ensure market competitiveness and increase bottom-line results.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Workflow.