How automated document workflows can help tackle the productivity conundrum

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The UK’s flailing productivity is a topic that has been reported on ever since it began its steady decline following the financial crisis in 2008/2009: in 2007, British productivity was 9 per cent below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average and by 2015, the gap had widened to 18 per cent. The fall in productivity was the result of total hours worked growing faster than output.   

The problem has shown few signs of abating in recent months. The most recent official figures show that the UK’s productivity level fell for the second quarter in a row, marking a 0.6 per cent drop since the beginning of the year. This means that labour productivity remains at around the same level as its peak before the downturn following the global financial crisis. This decline comes despite the fact that unemployment in the UK fell by 57,000 in June, bringing the jobless rate down to its lowest since 1975. Clearly, productivity is a pressing issue for UK businesses, but the solution doesn’t lie purely in recruiting people. 

So, where does the solution lie? One area where a real difference can be made is by looking at how technology can make the management of documents and information easier. Managing content is a time-consuming and complex task and often overlooked as an area where substantial productivity gains can occur. But automating processes through workflow software applications can reduce frustrating steps to improve the user experience, eliminate human error and, ultimately, improve productivity.   

Information is instrumental     

The reality is that documents and information drive business. However, the processes used to work with documents are often slow and heavily reliant on paper, and hinder productivity in an office. To put it bluntly, there’s a “workflow disconnect” which means workers are constantly faced with the challenge of working out how to manage documents in an efficient manner – this disconnect isn’t just a technical issue, it hampers productivity which, in turn, causes frustration amongst employees and can contribute to decreasing morale. One of the most common examples of “workflow disconnect” can be found in the fact that there is a need to physically scan documents in order to email them, a tedious task at best. 

Lingering inefficiencies     

A time-consuming element when scanning a document to email is the number of menus the user has to navigate on a multifunction device (MFD) and decisions the user has to make about how the scan will be made. For example, will it be a colour scan or black and white? Will it be a JPG or a PDF? Does the resolution of the scan need to be the highest possible or can it be lower? And what name format should it be given? Then, after making the scan, the user has a number of delivery steps to complete; usually such as 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. They then have to rename and save it in the appropriate place and finally, let someone else know where it is. All of these steps take time, and errors in any step or forgetting a step can be costly for the company and definitely frustrating for the user. Over the course of a year, hours of work are lost to such a menial task. 

Making way for workflow     

The need to implement technology solutions which enable organisations to manage their content more effectively is encapsulated by recent research by Gartner into managed content services (MCS). They predict that up to 40 per cent of managed print service (MPS) contracts will have a significant MCS element by 2020. This means that more customers will seek solutions that are capable of handling not only their printing needs, but also all of their information and communication requirements. The good news is that automated scan workflows can be implemented on a company’s existing MFD fleet, making user adoption easy because they are familiar with these devices already.     

This is where suitable workflow automation processes can make a positive mark on productivity. For example, automated document workflows accurately and securely scan, process and deliver documents to pre-defined destinations, and alert others that the document has arrived, which reduces waiting times for files to be transferred and printed automatically. Having these office solutions available allows for staff to dedicate their time to other areas of work, increasing productivity and innovation in day-to-day office environments.      

Another perk of automated workflow is that control is easy to maintain. Not only can administrators define the workflow and who can use it, but if the workflow changes, it can be updated by the administrator and is immediately delivered to all users via the multifunction device menu.       

Such solutions also offer organisations the ability to create automated workflows for individuals or groups of individuals. In these platforms, 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 predefined 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 found easily using keyword search and is fully editable whereas traditional scan only creates an image file. 

A more productive future     

As offices welcome more technology into their daily functions, worker input should increase as effective technology should automate the mundane, time-consuming processes of old, and reduce the productivity issues caused by human error. Scanning is a particularly relevant place to start: by automating scan workflows and managing the end-to-end process, workplace activities are simplified and sped up, and therefore the chances of mistakes are significantly reduced and accuracy is improved. As an example, automated workflows help to eliminate the problem of different staff filing documents in different ways, which can often make finding a document a time-consuming endeavour. In particular, large, highly regulated companies will see benefits here, as the automation of scanning significantly reduces the organisation’s administrative burden, which is an area businesses of all sizes should be looking at.     

Whilst the technical argument for investing in a workflow automation solution is strong, organisations need to realise that internal working culture also needs to evolve if the potential of the technology is to be maximised. Operationally, workers will need to wrap their heads around this new level of automation, but with a comprehensive, holistic approach to implementation which incorporates adequate training and gives staff time to adjust, investing in this technology can pay dividends. 

Nick Parkes, Regional Sales Manager, Y Soft 

Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock