Inefficient Document Workflows Still Challenging Many Companies

by Ken Neal | 7/27/15

A major challenge for many companies is improving manual, paper-intensive and often antiquated document workflows so business transactions can be completed more efficiently. A recent IDC Technology Spotlight sponsored by Canon Business Process Services showed that businesses that have automated workflows deal with a variety of pain points that spurred interest in automation.1 Following are the top five pain points:

·         Document workflows and rerouting within or across departments to complete business transactions

·         Lack of e-signature technology (the technology or legal requirements)

·         Document lifecycle and storage management

·         Security related to paper-based documents (printing/copying/faxing/scanning)

·         Sharing/collaborating

In order to alleviate these and other challenges, some companies are obtaining significant business benefits by implementing automation technology and strategies. One key finding focused on the specific source within document workflows that prompted automation. One third of the respondents (33 percent) mentioned that they manually extract content from paper-based workflows to integrate content from the document within the workflow, while 22 percent stated that they manually extract content from digital documents.

The study also shows that users contemplating workflow automation deployment tended to focus on eliminating the use of paper documents within the workflow. Ninety two percent of respondents stated they deployed scanning technology that converted paper to digital. Eighty-four percent of respondents used network fax to capture documents in digital files. 

According to the IDC Technology Spotlight, when organizations deploy services and solutions that digitally convert and integrate content within a workflow, users obtained significant benefits. Time and cost savings were the two most measured benefits while productivity was third, followed by error reductions and increases in revenue and return on investment. 

The Benefits of Automation in Accounts Payable

Two Canon Business Process Services client case history examples highlight the benefits of automation within accounts payable processing. A bank was failing Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) audit findings and experiencing low overall accounts payable (AP) processing performance. The bank received, via mail, about 8,000 non-purchase-order paper invoices monthly. This was increasing the cost and cycle time of the invoice process. Integrating non-PO invoices with the procure-to-pay system that processes the bank’s PO invoices electronically could improve operational efficiency, increase on-time payment, reduce costs and improve its SOX compliance. We implemented a system that includes centralized receipt of the non-PO paper invoices, automated workflow for processing the invoices and improved procedures for managing exceptions. Results include an 80 percent reduction in the number of SOX audit findings during the past year. Additionally, the bank realized a 20 percent reduction in overall AP processing costs annually and a significant reduction in invoice payment cycle time.

The second example involves an insurance company that was scanning, indexing and coding documents including claims and customer correspondence. Parts of the company’s document conversion process were automated, but some key elements were missing, such as a comprehensive performance management system that could provide insights and critical data in real time. We created a four-phase plan to meet these challenges.

In phase one, we assumed management of staff and operations for receiving, prepping, imaging and coding time sensitive documents and entering them into the insurance company’s claims process workflow. In phases two, three and four we are addressing the need to reduce costs while increasing efficiency. This includes moving some of the imaging activities to our business processing centers in the U.S. and Philippines. With these workflow improvements, the insurance company has saved approximately $140,000 annually. We also implemented a performance management system. The insurance company now has an interactive dashboard that tracks key SLAs. These SLAs include tracking the day our team receives an insurance claim and if that claim is scanned and uploaded into the insurance company’s systems by 5 PM the same day.

Ending the Paper Chase

We agree with IDC’s findings that organizations are struggling to reduce manual data entry activities as well as lower costs and improve the efficiency of their paper intensive processes. These approaches translate into inefficient workflows that cause delays and create a higher probability of errors. Canon’s “2014 Accounts Payable Optimization Study” disclosed that most companies still manually handle the vast majority of their invoices, including those that arrive via email and fax. In our experience with clients spanning a variety of industries, a similar situation exists beyond accounting to include virtually every department within the enterprise. There is an excess of paper-based, manual processes combined with the need to implement enhanced workflow automation. And also in our experience, as soon as the latter need is met, significant business benefits begin to follow.

1.     IDC Technology Spotlight, sponsored by Canon Business Process Services, Document Workflow Study: Implementing Solutions and Realizing Benefits. Adapted from Business Workflow Automation and Optimization Study Drivers, by Ron Glaz, and three reports: Pain Points that Drive Manufacturing, Healthcare and Financial, IDC #252543, #252417 and #251828 


Ken Neal is a certified enterprise content management practitioner (ECMP) and fellow, corporate communications at Canon Business Process Services, a leader in managed services and technology. 

is a certified enterprise content management practitioner (ecmp) and director of corporate communications for Canon Business Process Services, a leader in managed services and technology.