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Data Management: Harnessing Critical Information to Leverage Investments in Enterprise Software

  Article published in DM Direct Special Report
July 22, 2003 Issue
 
  By David Ellenberger

For years, we have been hearing that computers will cut down on our dependence on paper, but few companies have fully capitalized on the availability of technologies to effect this change. With the advent of improved imaging, document management and workflow capabilities, coupled with best practices in business process management, what was once a myth is now becoming a reality. It is the convergence of these technologies that enables businesses to realize the benefits of a truly paperless office. The ability to manage documents according to your business processes means that a document can be routed as a result of the data it contains, the stage of its life cycle, the role of the user or any number of conditions. Creating these intelligent documents dramatically reduces the amount of time employees spend managing various processes within an organization. Businesses will see vast savings by ridding themselves of manual processes, capturing and managing 100 percent of their information online and creating a self-service environment that can be leveraged by employees and partners.

The First Step: Moving Away from the Comfort Zone

Despite advances in technology, companies today are at a crossroad, hesitant to risk the existing stability of their highly manual processes to put their faith into electronic document management technology and streamlining of their critical business processes. Fear of possible changes to existing internal procedures, often paralyze organizations and delay much-needed improvements.

The great irony, however, is that to completely leverage existing investments in enterprise software, these organizations must take the final step and bring all of their information online. Faced with the reality of stresses on IS staff and budgets, escalating physical storage costs and the need to remain competitive in the global marketplace, companies are realizing they must keep up with the advances in technology to create efficiencies and maximize profits. Today's businesses will realize major savings when they eliminate the tedious manual process of inputting paper documents and the many seemingly necessary repetitive tasks and inefficiencies that so often exist. Being able to abandon these manual processes helps companies to profit from available data, quick turnarounds on authorizations and optimization of personnel.

Capturing and Managing 100 Percent of Your Data Online

Unstructured data is still a reality for most business. Many companies spend upward of 80 percent of their time dealing with the invoices and other business documents they receive in a paper format, which accounts for approximately 20 percent of their overall data. Getting that last 20 percent into an electronic format is the key to maximizing operating efficiency. When all of a company's mission-critical information is online, it can easily be linked and automatically fed into other applications for multiple uses and more widespread accessibility. For instance, when invoices are received via mail or fax they can be immediately scanned into the system and routed to the appropriate manager, allowing the entire approval process to be managed online.

There are a number of functions within a business that greatly benefit from integrating all forms of paper communication into one common format. Suppliers, internal staff and other partners can use the Internet, fax, EDI/XML and e-mail to expedite processes and ensure accuracy. The documents that are created can also be annotated with specialized stamps or notes. This workflow capability facilitates the internal review and approval of the purchase-order document with its associated backup. In addition, complete purchasing related information (purchase requisitions, POs, invoices, etc.) is linked directly to structured data in an e-procurement application, and suppliers can view actual images of order forms and supporting documents, reducing the time and expense involved with locating, copying and mailing forms.

Self-Service Expense Reporting

Integrating document management with self-service applications is a vital link in enhancing business processes and ensuring greater ROI for enterprise application deployment. Automating paper-bound processes, such as expense reporting, and integrating unstructured data within the enterprise can reduce processing costs, slash reimbursement cycle time and improve compliance policies. Creating a self-service environment reduces the number of employees required to complete a task and increases the speed with which it is accomplished.

Expense reporting is one example where a self-service environment can significantly streamline a process. When a company brings a self-service expense reporting and document management application online, employees submit receipts in an integrated fashion with their online expense reports. This eliminates the need to send receipts and other backup documents via internal or external mail. Backup materials enter the system immediately, and lost receipts are no longer an issue. Receipt images are automatically associated with employee expense reports, allowing accounts payable staff to avoid manual checking and filing of paper receipts. Managers view employee expense reports and backup information with their online expense reporting application, such as the Internet Expenses capabilities of the Oracle E-Business Suite, and approve requests directly within the application or request more information by sending them back to employees.

The Benefits

There are visible benefits to integrating a document management solution along four dimensions - cost, visibility, speed and control. Companies realize tangible cost savings and increase visibility and accessibility across the enterprise. Managers can issue approvals more quickly and maintain stronger control over their workflow. Whether information is received into a system via scan, fax or electronic transmission, all data is immediately accessible to those who have the authority to view it. The initiator of a document can view status online, eliminating phone calls to the accounting department in another facility, perhaps even in another time zone, to check on the status of a PO. With the data online, companies also avoid another all too common problem - hard copies that can be misfiled or become lost in an employee's inbox. Ready access to data increases productivity.

There are a number of areas in which companies can realize significant savings including:

  • Time spent manually processing documents, including inbound and outbound faxing, as well as capturing and validating approvals and account coding.
  • Time spent filing, retrieving and refiling documents, including customer support and support for internal and external audits.
  • Time spent on problem resolution including locating misplaced, misfiled, lost or on hold documents.
  • Time spent on answering inquires and resolving outstanding issues.
  • Cost savings in storage of paper documents.
  • Cost savings in mailing or transporting documents from site to site.
  • Savings during audits resulting from a smoother, easier process of review.
  • Cost savings from capturing discounts and avoiding late payment fees.

Content and Document Management Case Study: New York City Housing Development Corp.

The New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) works with dozens of banks, real estate developers, managing agents, auditors and attorneys to provide financing for affordable housing projects in New York City. It has issued more than $3.6 billion of bonds and notes to provide construction and/or permanent loans for the acquisition, refinancing, construction, or rehabilitation of more than 74,000 units of housing. HDC administers the granting of loans as well as the billing and collecting operations.

After migrating three previously independent financial sub-systems - investment, mortgage billing and general ledger - to a suite of applications from Oracle Corporation, HDC sought to replace inefficient paper- based processes with ones that would enable them to increase the level of their services. Specifically, they wanted to minimize lost or incorrectly filed documents, reduce the cost of document handling, eliminate inconsistent procedures and capture employee performance data. To achieve these goals, HDC knew they had to bring all their data online, while simultaneously revising their core business processes. By implementing a business process solution, HDC was able to leverage online document management, content management, imaging and workflow in five key functional areas/applications - accounts payable, accounts receivable, purchasing, general ledger and their custom mortgage billing system - thereby gaining significant advantages over a serial implementation.

The Challenge: Creating and Leveraging an Online Community

To reap the full benefits of their initial investment in the Oracle applications, HDC had to address their employees' reliance on the paper- intensive processes that were neither scalable nor efficient. Given the time- sensitive nature of the investment/mortgage industry, HDC needed to have not only peripheral information but also core information online. At the same time, they had to streamline their business processes to support easily accessible, accurate and complete information.

The Result: All the Right Information Online and Streamlined Processes

HDC is now rid of their inefficient paper-based processes, and employees can, at the touch of a keyboard, associate and/or retrieve documents with financial records. This ensures that at any point in the process the right information is captured and available online to employees and to people outside HDC, such as developers and project managers.

With streamlined processes, a more efficient technical environment and advanced content management capabilities, HDC has reduced the time required for each transaction and increased its ability to handle more projects. For example, loans that used to take two days to close now take as little as six hours; information previously distributed via paper among departments is now consolidated; and customers can get the information they need by speaking with just one employee or by accessing the organization's secure extranet.

What's the Solution?

Enterprise software has changed the way many companies do business. The reality is that paper will always be a part of the way organizations interact with employees, customers and suppliers. In order to leverage investments in technology, streamline operations and better serve customers, businesses must implement a technology solution that harnesses all of their critical information and makes that information accessible.

...............................................................................

For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Content Management.

David Ellenberger, CEO of 170 Systems, has more than 20 years of senior management experience building successful organizations in technology companies. Prior to joining 170 Systems, Dave was President and CEO of Vividon, a streaming media technology company, which recently merged with Starbak Communications. Earlier, he was President of DataSage, a software and services company. During his tenure at DataSage, revenues grew by a factor of five, leading to a $500M acquisition by Vignette Corporation in 2000. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of 170 Systems, Ellenberger is a member of the Board of Directors of Ascential Software. You can contact him at (617) 621- 0900.

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