Business Process Automation – Taking Document Management to the Next Level
Automating the capture, storage and retrieval of your documents is the first step towards improving your efficiency. Reducing paper storage, having immediate access to documents regardless of your location and eliminating lost documents all have tremendous benefits for any organization. Just making document electronic however, does not address the human element.
People make decisions using documents all day long. Many of these decisions are routine. Some may not be. In either case, if you can define the business logic that drives these decisions, you can automate them. It’s this automation that truly frees up an organization. Routine decision making is not where your staff adds the most value to your organization. Business is fluid and so new issues arise all the time. Thinking up new solutions for new problems is why you need experienced staff.
So how does this relate to document management? One of two things happen in business all the time, either a document triggers a process to start, or a process starts that triggers the use of documents. Even more often these are combined into a larger process where documents are triggering actions and are then being created or routed, and on and on.
Without a document management system in place, documents are routed via interoffice envelopes, the mail, fax or e-mail. Once they get to the recipient, there is no guarantee that this person will act upon the document in a predictable timeframe. Further, there is no guarantee that the person will make the same type of decisions in a consistent fashion. People are prone to error and distraction.
The Human Factor
The human factor is what makes a difference in any organization. These differences can be both good and bad. People innovate, they create, and they solve problems. People also procrastinate, make mistakes and may not be consistent. When you examine both the good and the bad, usually routine is what causes many problems. People need to be stimulated. If something is routine, then automate it so that the human factor does not negatively affect the outcome.
Think about the process of contract review. Many people could be involved in the review and approval of a contract. There is the legal department, the issuing department and some level of management oversight.
When a contract is created, a department might ask the legal department to draft it. Once drafted, it might be routed back to the requesting department and then back again to legal. This back and forth, or collaboration is one of the first steps in business process automation. Here we have two groups who are marking up and tracking a document. When one finishes the other is notified. At any point in time there is no confusion as to who is responsible for the next review.
Once finalized by legal and the department, other business rules could continue the routing. If the document was to buy equipment, it might be routed to facilities to approve, or if the contract had a value over a certain amount it might be routed to management. These routing decisions can be automated based on your business logic or certain values. Further, if someone in the routing chain is unavailable, then your business process might automatically route it to an alternate person. This eliminates the bottleneck of a contract sitting on someone’s desk while they are out of the office or otherwise unable to follow up. Notifications can keep everyone in the loop. Gone will be delays because of any one person being a bottleneck.
The contract example illustrates a simple workflow. For some businesses, their processes can be very complex. Automating as much of these processes as possible reduces the time needed to complete them and dramatically reduces the chance of human error.
Because every organization has different business processes, the best way to start your business process automation is to consult with a company that has experience automating processes across a wide range of business issues. You understand your business and your processes better than an outsider can. However an outside vendor brings process automation expertise to the table. Combined, you and your vendor can have a major impact on your organization’s productivity.
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