By Jim Molis — Kansas City Business Journal
If your business uses a lengthy manual process to execute its core functions, you are likely behind your competitors.
Almost eight in 10 chief information officers say that digitizing business processes has improved efficiencies in 10 main business functions outside of IT, including finance, legal, HR and customer service.
"Workflow digitization takes out the manual process, which cuts the time that an employee spends on that particular work by half or more. Also, your margin for error is much less because you don't have the human aspect like hitting the wrong key or placing information in the wrong areas:• said Andrew Gilstrap, managing director for GFI Digital.
One company was able to re-deploy six employees by digitizing a benefits administration process, Gilstrap said. The upgrade also cut the time required from several hours to a single hour by using software to automatically scan documents for health care, eye care and dental coverage for the company's 2,000 employees and their dependents - 10,000 beneficiaries in all. The six employees had originally been scanning coverage documents manually.
"If you implement a process like this, it allows your team to focus on growing the business rather than the minutiae of busywork. You also increase margin because you're decreasing your expenses," Gilstrap said.
Andrew Gilstrap is a managing director for GFI Digital.
Companies have benefited from digitized workflows for years. But the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption as businesses sought new efficiencies. Almost 40% of the IT decision-makers that responded to a digital transformation survey by Keypoint Intelligence in late 2020 said the pandemic had forced digitized workflows within their companies and that many of these workflow changes would last over the long term.
Businesses digitize workflows with different technologies and processes tailored to their mission and specific set of circumstances. But there are common software solutions and best practices that all business owners may want to consider.
Document management software
Many companies use document management systems to store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic Images of paper documents that have been scanned. Key features of document management software include coordinating simultaneous editing of a document to prevent one person's changes from overwriting another's, recording and restoring different versions of a document and compiling an audit trail that shows who made what changes and when.
Document imaging speeds approval workflows like those for paying invoices, Gilstrap said. For example, software automatically places an invoice in the appropriate folder based on the information that the system retrieves from the document, like the vendor's name or the amount due.
The software then routes the invoice to the appropriate users based on the rules you set. lf, for example, an accounts payable clerk can pay any invoice for $1,000 or less, the software will complete authorization with their approval. But if the invoice is for more than $1,000, for example, the software will forward it to your controller for additional approval if that's what you require.
Optical character recognition software
Optical character recognition (OCR) systems improve efficiencies by using software and hardware, like scanners, to convert physical documents into machine-readable text that is easier for users to find, edit and share. Businesses commonly use OCR to automate data entry and archive information in searchable formats, for example.
OCR is particularly helpful for extracting information from standardized forms, Gilstrap said, noting how one organization has used it to save many hours manually entering and searching for information from the paper documents that it uses most.
He also noted that OCR increases efficiency by letting users convert documents to different file formats, like saving the graphs in a PDF as Microsoft Excel files so that they can make changes. Some general contractors save time and improve their bids for projects with OCR software, he said. They have the ability to redact information or edit documents from the field or at the multi-function printer.
Best practices in digitizing workflows
If you want to improve efficiencies at your business by digitizing workflows, Gilstrap suggests determining where you spend the most time and designing a digitized process around that pain point.
Efficiencies often can be found in IT, for example. For instance, some software simplifies the processes of setting up computers for new employees or updating programs for all users, Gilstrap said.
You also can manage IT functions by user-level with software. You could limit the number of documents that an administrative employee could retrieve to fewer than an executive could, for example. Or, if you have multiple offices, you could configure software to let corporate users view information across locations while users at individual offices could only access local data.
Whether it's IT, HR, or another function, digitizing workflows can improve efficiency within your business. Knowing where to look is the start.
GFI Digital is your outsourced CIO and trusted resource for all things IT. Learn more.
Jim Molis is a writer for The Business Journals Content Studio.