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How Business Process Automation is "Humanizing" the Workforce

By Greg Ryan, Vice President, Corporate Planning Division, Canon Information and Imaging Solutions


Greg Ryan, Vice President, Corporate Planning Division, Canon Information and Imaging Solutions

The road to efficiency may seem long and winding, but businesses are realizing they can no longer afford to operate with complicated, disjointed systems. Like any improvement project, business process automation (BPA) projects can seem overwhelming (probably because they are!), but the payoff is worth it. Once a firm decides to tackle a BPA project, they’re likely to quickly realize how this decision not only streamlines workflow within an organization, leading to lower costs, but can also create better conditions for the company’s employees, allowing an environment that fosters employee satisfaction and ultimately more innovation.

“The success of an organization is dependent on the success of its workforce”

The majority of companies claim that business process improvement is a top priority for their organization. Still, many companies procrastinate jumping aboard the BPA bandwagon. Let’s discuss why these businesses should take that first step and initiate this worthwhile project.

Plugging Holes in a Leaky Dam

Processes are dynamic. Companies constantly make changes to meet evolving requirements. Naturally, when we determine a flaw exists within our organization, we quickly seek to patch the issue. We plug these holes with readily available, powerful technology in the form of products, services and solutions, but we often forget to take into account the business’s other moving parts, and in doing so, we create systems that are more complicated and cumbersome than intended, consisting of software, services and products that don’t integrate as smoothly as we’d like. Technology is a wonderful thing—until it stops assisting our business processes and actually begins to inhibit them. Our quick fixes may function perfectly well on their own, but if we fail to synchronize them with pre-existing products, services and solutions, the result is a complicated, inefficient system.

Rather than bandaging business’s flaws and assuming a piecemeal system is operating satisfactorily, corporations can incorporate a holistic approach and consider all aspects of the business process, particularly the business users and outcomes. This approach will lead to the right technology solution. Too often companies start with the latest BPA software without giving proper consideration to the information flow as it exists today and tomorrow.

We’re Only Human

Human error is bound to occur in any department of a company, especially in the day’s repetitive tasks and processes. However, daily tasks tend to form the foundation of a company and even minor slip-ups can disrupt the success of an organization, resulting in short term lost profits. Despite how temporary these hiccups may seem, it’s critical to remember that they are imprinted upon the company’s history, potentially damaging its reputation for years.

The average benchmark for data entry error rate is generally believed to be one percent, meaning one out of every 100 keystrokes is likely to be erroneous. But when that one percent of error is transferred from one database to another, the error permeates into other systems, magnifying its effect by corrupting multiple data bases. Correcting these mistakes can be costly in both time and money in terms of employee time spent on rectifying the issue.

How Many People does it Take to Replace a Light Bulb?

We’ve all heard the expressions, “How many people does it take to replace a light bulb?”, and of course the other commonly used phrase, “Time is money.” But if we’re familiar with these ideas, then why do businesses continue to poorly allocate human resources?

Not too long ago, routine operations, such as procurement processes, required groups of employees to manually review data and ensure the accuracy of various accounts. While this system of checks and balances had the best of intentions, employees had to surrender valuable time to complete tasks that another employee had already performed. In other words, more layers of management and more time needed to complete a single task.

It goes without saying that an organization with employees that feel valued and appreciated not only experiences fewer turnovers but can also unlock the door to innovation. A well-trained, appreciated workforce is more likely to contribute their excitement and ideas to advance the company if their skills are applied towards the job they were hired to perform. In the digital age, companies should not be forced to tap into their talent pool of highly trained, intelligent employees to complete repetitive maintenance tasks. The bottom line is skilled workers are more likely to remain at organizations that allow them to demonstrate their know-how—not companies that require them to complete mundane tasks.

Practicing What We Preach

No matter how technologically advanced a company is, there is always room for improvement. In 2014, Canon U.S.A. decided to take a look at how the business could increase cash flow by automating the order to cash process, a goal held by many organizations. As a large company, Canon U.S.A. generates tens of thousands of invoices every day, and uses multiple enterprise applications in connection with the accounting processes.

Employees were spending a significant amount of time performing manual data entry and less time applying their expertise to analyzing financial performance. The Company decided to leverage Canon-developed technology to integrate its Oracle-based Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with other key enterprise applications and paper based information flows.

The Company now enjoys the benefits. Daily invoice processing takes a mere 20 minutes per day, as compared to two hours per day prior to automation. The improvement also provided a stable system that does not require daily memory refresh, allowing IT resources to now focus on mission critical projects. If an error exists on one invoice, employees no longer have to re-do an entire batch of invoices to correct for this mistake, thanks to smart error recovery, a feature that automatically detects and re-creates only the incorrect pages. Overall, employing BPA not only dramatically improved the performance and reliability for the accounting process, but also promoted more flexibility and provided easy connection to existing applications and scalability for future expansion.

If Not Now, When?

Although many businesses agree that business process improvement is necessary, they do not see BPA as an immediate solution because other short-term goals take precedence. The truth is improving the business’s efficiency shouldn’t be a wish list item. After all, internal procedures affect the ins and outs of an organization on a daily basis, determining the way employees spend their time and focus their attention.

The success of an organization is dependent on the success of its workforce. When we strive to holistically correct for business shortcomings, rather than bandaging and turning a blind eye, we place less of a burden on our employees, creating a more cost-effective business model and greater employee satisfaction, two of the building blocks for a strong business foundation.

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