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Leveraging New Technology for Enhanced Business Processes

by | Jul 8, 2010

Adding more workers to increase productivity is no longer an acceptable business model

Successful companies face the challenge of growing demand for their products and services, and happily ours is no different.  However I’d like to focus on one aspect of our business – forms processing.  No matter the forms processed, whether for insurance claims, mortgage applications or patient records, the tools and workflow processes are quite similar.

Let’s take a look at two growth scenarios:

A)     In the short term, unpredictable market and sales fluctuations can force reactive rather than proactive actions, unless you have an easily scalable workflow system.  For example, without a scalable system, if your workflow doubles, you have little choice but to increase your staff’s work hours– necessitating overtime at extra cost and perhaps extra errors.  And this solution does nothing for you next time you capacity is stretched.

However, with a scalable and distributed workflow system, you may be able to “borrow” resources from other parts of your company.  In other words, to get additional “hands on deck”, you may be able to work-share with other divisions or utilize part-time, home-based workers via Web access. (Web-based ECM systems can easily provide secure access to forms and documents across corporate divisions or even around the world – for optimal workforce collaboration).

B)      Now let’s consider our second scenario, sustained long-term market and sales growth of a continuing nature.  No one denies that adding a new workflow system is a challenging task that takes time and planning – perhaps up to 2-3 years.  But the benefits realized from enhanced processing productivity through faster workflow and greater efficiency, accuracy, and security as well as ensuring regulatory compliance can easily make up for the cost and effort.

Some Implementation Guidelines

A) Enhancing Home grown systems – In the right scenarios, enhancing an existing, departmental or even enterprise content system can provide all you need at lower cost and faster implementation.  After all you’re starting with a system that works for you, which is familiar to your staff and whose stored content is already easily retrievable.  There are bolt-on products like universal viewers that can often easily enhance such a system.  There may also be open source or other kinds of free products that are available for easy integration.  Just be sure that you’re making these choices for the right reasons.  Those reasons should include reducing risk, insuring greater likelihood of success and the knowledge that with the bolt-on, your system will satisfy your needs for at least 2-3 years.

Beware making such choices because the IT or engineering staff will find it fun or resume-enhancing.  Also beware going down this road if you’re delaying the inevitable for too short a time.  Other major considerations:  major system maintainability – can your system be maintained if your development staff is promoted or leaves? Can the system comply with current regulatory requirements?  Can it be upgraded easily?  So go ahead and enhance, but make sure what you’re adding is up-to-date and supported.

B) Can you modify your existing commercial system?  Is there a catch?

A very popular approach for the implementation of a departmental content management System is using Sharepoint.  Most companies have it, it is free or cheap per department, it has a large set of capabilities and it is easy to work with, and it can also be very scalable.

This approach has worked for many companies over the past few years.  Its spread within enterprises has been likened to “wildfire”.  The catch is that Sharepoint wasn’t designed for ECM from the ground up.  It has migrated that way because of its ease of use and low expense, and those are admittedly good reasons.   But creeping implementation may result in a large amount of investment – over time- in a product that ultimately can’t support your enterprise.  So take the time to review your migration path every 6-12 months and ask the following questions:  Is your system still maintainable, still complying with the latest regulatory requirements, still supporting your workflow processes as they are modified, and is it scalable when needed? Is the system compatible with available enhancements such as document viewers, low support client interfaces, archival systems or even the latest operating systems?

C) Full-fledged Enterprise Content Management Systems – These systems may be more expensive than you’d like, they may be more complicated than you want, and they may require more resources than you think you need.  But if you pick the right vendor, that system may be robust enough to satisfy your needs for many years.  Just keep in mind for their level of investment, such systems should be very full-featured, offer many security levels, handle all types of documents, offer Web-based access so your users can log-in from anywhere in the world, and be very scalable through increasing server sizes or numbers.  Enabling secure world-wide access to your documents from a diversified work force that may be in other countries or working from home empowers greater colleague communication and collaboration – a very worthwhile benefit.


Summary

Going with the status quo or making only small changes is not a proactive way to make your company more agile, efficient or competitive.  You must actively plan for the future!  Taking the old approach of increasing the number of hands to reduce your workflow bottleneck is not an acceptable solution.  Technology and new designs must be employed to provide performance and scalability benefits as well as to satisfy compliance and security requirements.

More information about ECM Enhancements