Helping the SMB Connect Remote Employees With Central Office Workflows

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed business and created a more distributed workforce for organizations of all sizes. While some larger enterprises were already set up to handle a mobile, remote workforce – or had the IT staff to get them set up quickly – small to midsized businesses (SMBs) don’t always have that luxury. Key to successful business continuity for them will be the continued management of core business processes like accounts receivable, procurement, accounts payable, and content approval. For resellers of products like scanning and workflow solutions, challenges like these present opportunities.

A trend that has accelerated during the pandemic alongside the increase in work from home (WFH) employees is the digital transformation of business process workflows within SMBs. Achieving the benefits of digital workflows depends upon the access employees have to the information and files that drive the workflow. The WFH model (or at least, a hybrid version where employees split time between the office and home) may become permanent for many businesses. It’s not surprising that SMBs find it challenging to continue their digital workflow transformations and make sure employees, no matter where they may be working, have access to needed files and data.

Keep selling the benefits of digitizing paper-based data and digital workflows

Many SMBs’ core business processes and their resulting workflows are still paper-based, with the documents containing the data and information usually arriving at the central office. A paper-based workflow always carries risks for data entry errors, slow approvals, lost files, and loss of information security. The WFH trend amplifies these risks, as many of the employees who normally process the workflow are not in the office to work through stacks of paper regularly, if at all. Having a document scanning strategy is the first step in transforming a manual, slow, and error-prone workflow to a more efficient digital workflow that better supports the WFH model.

Scanning the documents at the point of receipt digitizes the information and data, making it easier for employees in any location to store and access securely. Whether scanned in a production mailroom environment, by a networked workgroup scanner, or on a desktop scanner, once the document is digitized it can be put into a digital workflow. The key benefits of a digital workflow, even when relying on a WFH model, include:

Increased data entry accuracy. Eliminating manual data entry errors means more accuracy throughout the workflow, reducing embarrassing customer account errors, costly re-billings, and missed payments.

Faster turnaround and approvals. It’s quicker to distribute digitized information for review and approval, which is especially beneficial when working with a workforce in multiple remote locations.

Improved customer satisfaction. Digital customer transactions that are speedy and accurate are the expectation of today’s customers.

Reduced costs/increased profitability. Reducing paper filing reduces the need for filing cabinets and the real estate they take up, while faster search and retrieval of information stored digitally improves productivity costs. These reduced costs lead to increased profitability for the SMB.

Improved competitiveness. Responding speedily and more accurately to customer requests makes an SMB a more agile competitor.

Easier regulatory compliance. Digitizing documents makes them easier to secure, speeds up search and retrieval, and allows for an audit trail for compliance review.

Creating a good digital workflow

As always, solution providers need to work with the SMB to identify the paperwork that can be digitized and the processes that can be converted to digital workflows. First, it’s important to identify the entry point for the paper documents containing the data. This will enable the proper selection and use of hardware. Mapping out the workflow steps and who is involved in each step will help determine the type of workflow software to use, as well as the rules for review, approval, and signatures. This workflow mapping will identify those employees who are WFH, office-based, or hybrid to make decisions on access control. Then a determination can be made regarding whether to use corporate servers, cloud, or a hybrid cloud as the best way to provide access to the employees.

Creating a good digital workflow for the WFH workforce model follows these basic steps:

Intelligently capture and extract the data needed for the process.

Use the built-in image recognition of the scanner or couple the scanner with image recognition software that can use OCR, bar codes, QR codes, or pattern recognition to automatically extract the data required to power the workflow. Integration with a workflow software solution allows the workflow steps to kick off automatically, saving the time needed to manually enter data into the system. The digital document can be automatically indexed, tagged, and sent to a secure digital repository for faster search and retrieval later.

For production and networked scanners in the office, this is straightforward, but it gets more complex with WFH employees who are part of the capture process. This provides an opportunity for a solution provider to add value to their customer relationship by developing a simple, integrated solution using a small home office scanner, MFP, or mobile scan application for the employee to accomplish this intelligent capture.

Verify the information extracted is accurate.

A digital workflow solution will verify that the information extracted is accurate through the double or triple matching of identifying characteristics. This automatic verification greatly increases the data accuracy of the process, reducing wasted time and costs from manual data entry. A human will need to cross-check and verify only when the information cannot be verified based on the rules established for the process.

Route the information through the steps of the process to obtain necessary approvals or signatures and complete the process.

Once information is verified, a workflow solution can digitally route it based on rules established for who is authorized to review, approve, and sign a document to complete the process. Automating these steps helps speed the turnaround of workflows, and creates benefits like better cash flow and cost savings in accounts payable by taking advantage of early payment discounts.

Digitally store the document and information for later retrieval or use.

When a paper document is scanned and digitally captured, the resulting image file can be sent to a any number of digital storage repositories, such as corporate network servers, cloud file storage services, or specific laptops or computers.  Once the file is stored digitally, the search process can be carried out by any employee in any location as long as they have access to the storage. This makes it a painless process for WFH employees to access information needed to carry out their jobs.

Throughout, ensure security protocols are enabled and followed to secure the information.

Securing corporate and customer information has never been more critical than it is in today’s business environment. Digital workflows call for enabling secure authentication methods for users of scan hardware and software, as well as enabling encryption and other security features. These security precautions, along with secure storage and backup, protect networks from malicious threats and help SMBs comply with increasing privacy regulations.

Implications for SMBs and solution resellers

The WFH and hybrid workforce is most likely here to stay. For that workforce, it’s critical to maintain an unbroken connection to the office and the documents they need to conduct business processes. The good news is that, in a recent survey, 71% of IT decision-makers said the technology they’ve put in place has allowed for effective collaboration, and they’re working to support the remote workforce “for the long haul.” Understanding the challenges the new WFH model presents and the efforts businesses are putting forth to adapt to that new model demonstrates an openness to conversations. This provides ample opportunity for solutions providers to help SMBs in their quest to adapt to this new workplace model.

Who can best provide proven solutions in keeping office-based, WFH, and hybrid model employees connected to the files, information, and data they need for their jobs? Solution providers who can continue to present the benefits of digitizing paper-based processes and automating workflows.

By the way, in the same survey cited previously, 44% of IT decision-makers said they are looking at public cloud services to support their distributed workforce, and 70% expressed concern about information security as a result of WFH employees. Both points illustrate other opportunities that solution providers can address.

No one knows for sure if or when business will be back to normal, or whether we will simply evolve to a new normal. What is clear is that WFH is here to stay in some form or other. Fortunately, a digital workflow knows no physical boundaries, and the digital transformation of business processes is perfect to meet the new challenges of the WFH workforce model.  By scanning and digitizing paper documents that remain a major part of business processes, employees continue to have seamless access to information and workflows regardless of whether they are working at a desk in the office or from home.

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Joseph Odore
is product manager for Panasonic’s document & imaging business unit.
Joseph Odore

Joseph Odore

is product manager for Panasonic’s document & imaging business unit.