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Thinking outside the box to improve ECM payback

Great minds think alike. But, when it comes to enterprise content management (ECM) solutions, like minds can be a problem. If every organization approaches its ECM deployment the same way, using the same out-of-the-box technologies and the same old workflows, then creating exceptional results is going to be extremely difficult. The problem is compounded by the fact that many organizations don’t have a thorough, in-depth understanding of their own business processes. The more a company thinks that its operations are just like any other, the more difficult it becomes to achieve new efficiencies.

To maximize payback on their ECM investments, organizations need to think outside the box by ignoring the industry groupthink and focusing on their own needs and objectives.

Starting with a clean slate
Long before they agree to their first meeting with an ECM vendor, organizations should get a handle on their operations requirements and business objectives. Additionally, they should understand all of the document types that pass through their operations and their data capture needs. Be warned: this process can be time-consuming. It will also be eye-opening. Upon closer inspection, some of your legacy processes are sure to elicit groans. But, there’s nothing worse for an ECM business case than forcing inefficient manual processes into an automated workflow. Deploying an ECM solution provides an opportunity to re-engineer business processes and eliminate some altogether. For example, take a hard look at every manual step in document preparation or image capture; start by measuring how long it takes for documents to be scanned after they have entered your company. This step will have the added benefit of allowing you to look for ROI/cost savings in your end-to-end document flow. Also, consider soliciting input from the different departments that are associated with a specific process to learn their information needs and any downstream exceptions they are seeing.

When you are researching your ECM needs, resist the temptation to cede control to your company’s IT department. No one knows your business requirements better than you. Work collaboratively with IT to define system workflows to ensure that the deployed solution will meet your needs. For instance, an IT programmer is unlikely to know whether a specific work type should be routed to an individual’s work queue (possibly for security/privacy reasons) or to a common operator queue. Some business users accompany their IT staff for technical training classes provided by vendors just so they know what the software is capable of. Then, they can better communicate their needs.

Think big. By definition, ECM solutions help bring down data silos and bridge information gaps. So, when you are developing your ECM initiatives, think beyond one department’s needs. The combination of new integration tools and emerging technologies allows organizations to make information available to whoever needs it, quickly and securely, regardless of their location. To this end, it may make sense to leverage imaging, data capture and workflow investments to develop a shared services infrastructure where one department manages document processing for others.

Similarly, map out how documents currently enter your organization — and who is touching them — to determine if the information flow can be streamlined. Don’t assume that distributed capture is the most efficient means of scanning documents. Many organizations are surprised by the “hidden costs” of distributed capture. Likewise, a completely centralized scanning operation may miss opportunities to expedite information capture and handling. What’s important is that organizations look for a flexible scanning infrastructure with centrally managed control and reporting capabilities. In some cases, you may be able to integrate electronic forms into your automated workflow. These solutions can significantly reduce manual processing, forwarding only exceptions to operators for review.

Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate
Once you have automated your document processes, evaluate how you are doing. And then evaluate the process again. And again. It’s not uncommon for business requirements (volumes, document design, etc.) to change soon after a new system is implemented. You want to be sure your ECM solution adapts as well. Consider using centralized reporting or analytics tools, real-time operations dashboards or periodic operations audits to ensure your ECM solution is still meeting your needs.

You may also want to adapt your compensation plan to reward employees for productivity and quality in the new automated document environment. Similarly, consider embracing flexible work hours — to save labor costs and attract Blue Chip talent — based on the needs of your operations.

With budget-strapped organizations fearful of making a misstep in new system implementations, it’s easy to see how they become locked into a myopic way of seeing ECM deployments. But, that makes it hard to spot new efficiencies and pounce on opportunities for business process improvements.

The key to maximizing ECM payback is to think outside the box.

Jim Bunn is a Business Development Manager at ibml. He can be reached at [email protected] with comments and for information about the ibml ImageTrac family of high-speed, high-capacity document scanners.