Automated workflow software and the drive for public sector productivity

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The issue of the UK’s floundering productivity is one that remains front-of-mind for the government, private businesses and public sector organisations. The problem shows no sign of abating any time soon, with the ongoing impact of the financial crisis and the outcome of the Brexit vote contributing towards a climate of continued uncertainty.

While many of the news stories on productivity tend to give centre stage to the private sector, the public sector is feeling the squeeze just as much. Economic pressures, combined with tight budgets and the eternal need to make the most of limited resources, mean that public sector organisations have some significant challenges to overcome as far as increasing the output of workers is concerned.

In order to lift itself out of the productivity rut, it is crucial that the public sector take matters into its own hands as much as possible, rather than simply wait for more favourable economic conditions to take hold. To this end, technology has a major part to play. While there are myriad ways in which technology can make a difference, automated workflow software is one solution that can have a dramatic effect on worker efficiency and productivity.

Despite its potential, a recent freedom of information (FOI) request conducted by Y Soft has revealed that local authorities still have some way to go before they can reap the full benefits of this particular technology, and see a much-needed boost to output as a result.

Productivity problems

Although the depression in productivity growth can be attributed to the exceptional current economic circumstances, the UK continues to lag behind its contemporaries in western Europe and the USA. In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility has recently had to lower its growth forecast for UK workers, such is the severity of the problem. If our main trading partners are outdoing us on the productivity front in the face of similar economic challenges, there is clearly more that UK organisations need to be doing themselves.

For the public sector, finding ways to be agile and efficient, in a way that does not break the bank, is more important than ever before. This is where automated workflow software can make a difference.

Turning the tide with technology

It goes without saying that technology, in its various guises, is a great enabler of increased productivity. However, when it comes to managing content – such as the efficient scanning, printing and archiving of documents – the power of technology to automate cumbersome manual processes and have an impact here is often overlooked.

According to the FOI request, which surveyed 72 local authorities in London and throughout the rest of England, 85 per cent have no specific future plans to implement automated scan workflow solutions as part of a bid to make general IT and administrative processes more efficient. At the same time, only 36 per cent of boroughs polled plan to increase their IT spending over the course of the next year, which indicates a general lack of impetus in the bid to raise productivity.

Despite these figures, there are some areas where scan workflow tools are being used by local authorities to automate processes. The FOI request found that 71 per cent of councils currently use workflow tools to digitise scanned documents in some capacity. While this may seem to bode well for automated workflow software on the surface, these tools are deployed largely in specific departments, such as benefits and housing. With this in mind, it is clear that councils are not securing the maximum productivity gains from the technology.

The power of automated workflows

In order to reap the full rewards of automated workflow software, it is vital that local authorities become more aware of the numerous advantages they can bring. A good place to start is by examining why organisations choose to embrace technologies such as automated scanning and data capture. According to a recent report from AIIM (the Association of Information and Image Management), the three biggest drivers for the adoption of these solutions are improved searchability and shareability of business documents, improved process productivity and reduced physical storage space.

From this evidence alone, it is clear that automated workflow tools can go a long way towards streamlining processes and making each employee more productive. Benefits such as searchability and shareability are particularly compelling for the public sector, where budget constraints mean resources often have to be shared by several different departments, authorities and councils.

Traditional scanning and document capture processes are time-consuming and open to human error, which adversely affects productivity. For example, when scanning a document to email, the user has to navigate a number of menus before finally receiving their scanned copy: will it be a colour scan or will it be black and white? Should it be saved as a JPEG or PDF? What name format should it be given? Following this, the user then has a series of delivery steps to complete, including returning to their desk to find the email containing the scan, opening it to ensure it came out correctly and possibly rescanning it if it is blurred or tilted. The scan then has to be renamed, saved in the appropriate place, and colleagues then need to be told where it is. With such an extensive list of tasks to complete, this process can be a significant drain on employee time.

Automated scan workflow software can cut through this complexity, by enabling public sector organisations to create workflows for individuals or groups of people. Each workflow can be created for a process – such as invoices or order forms – where the scan parameters and delivery destination are different. The workflows are preset, so the user does not have to make decisions on how to scan, and the digital scan is automatically delivered to a pre-defined destination, such as a network folder, cloud-based repository or industry-specific application. Additionally, the digital file contains a text layer so that it can be easily found using a keyword search, and is fully editable.

Crucially, adding automated scan workflow software is highly cost-effective, as it can be added as a module to existing general print management software that is likely already in use. The resulting solution is tightly integrated, making it flexible, adaptable, easy to manage and easy to use.

A brighter future for public sector productivity

Raising public sector productivity is not something that can be achieved overnight, and there is no silver bullet for the problem. However, a comprehensive, unified approach to increasing worker output, which embraces innovative technologies as a matter of course, can go some way towards turning things around. Automated scan workflow software should be an essential cog in this technology machine, due to its ability to strip out inefficiencies in common office tasks.

For the public sector, limited time and budgets mean that driving efficiency is especially crucial. It is time that organisations stepped up their efforts to make this happen, by leveraging the power of automation and all of the benefits it offers.

Nick Parkes, Regional Sales Manager, Y Soft
Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee