Our OutsourceXplores series on Transforming Business Through Technology in association with Océ Business Services begins with an exploration of some of the biggest issues affecting the document services space today – and why no organisation can afford to get this wrong…
Let’s begin by considering two quotations I feel are particularly pertinent to the topic at hand:
“There are times when the greatest change needed is a change of my viewpoint.” – Diderot
“As the pace of change accelerates, there is naturally a greater need for effective leadership.” – John Kotter
There has never been a time of greater, more rapid or more rapidly accelerating change than the era in which we find ourselves – and in few areas of business has this change been more evident, or more consequential, in recent years than in the data and document management spaces. The impact on the way businesses receive, handle, interpret and distribute data of the move from a paper-based to a digital communication paradigm has been and continues to be tremendous; in only a couple of decades organisations have had to comprehend, analyse and operationally encompass the advent of electronic document management systems, scanners, OCR systems, smartphones, software-as-a-service/cloud delivery models and numerous other technological innovations which have each, in their own ways, revolutionised the very idea of data and documentation – and, increasingly, transformed at a profound level the relationships between business, customer and supplier, and between the individual parts of the organisation itself.
One of the main challenges which continues to complicate approaches to effective data management has been that the aforementioned technological advances have not led immediately to the obsolescence and disappearance of extant communication channels – so, for example, for all the talk about (and ecological drive towards) the redundancy of paper as a medium of communication over the last 20 years, and despite a decrease overall in the amount of paper now used both within and between organisations, we are still very far from true paperlessness (as a quick glance at the average consumer’s letterbox will testify); meanwhile, however, organisations also now need to support email, SMS, social media messaging and a number of other formats simultaneously. It is not simply a question of one medium replacing another overnight: multiple capabilities must be maintained, at cost, in order to keep up communication with a population growing significantly more slowly than its number of touchpoints.
Cost has of course itself been a big driver of the move towards greater document and data management efficiency: the initial cost focus which led to the adoption of smarter technologies has slammed into the broader cost agenda brought on by macroeconomic developments and worsening trading environments. Organisations – especially at the larger end of the spectrum – have become relatively au fait with the principles of process improvement and streamlining upon which much document management transformation has been grounded; the danger has emerged though of an excessive focus on cost at the expense of capability – in other words, the challenge rears up increasingly prominently of how to ensure successful communication, analysis and continuous improvement when the impetus has become so overwhelmingly towards reducing the negative impact on the bottom line.
This challenge is frequently exacerbated within outsourcing relationships as buyers demand “more for less” from their providers; as Kate Vitasek wrote in the last issue of Outsource, “companies want solutions to close the gaps, but they do not want to make investments in people, processes and technology where they do not have a core competency… The result is that the industry is at a crossroads, with both buyers and service providers wanting innovation – but neither wanting to make the investment due to the conventional transaction-based commercial structure of how the companies work together.”
Organisations which haven’t invested sufficiently in document services risk suffering a disconnect between their strategic objectives and actual communication (both internal and external). Indeed, if we divide the targets of transformational document services into internal (ie, organisational improvement designed to “make the business better”) and external (ie, improving and innovating communications with the organisation’s customers and to a lesser extent suppliers) it is clear that any strategic objectives for either or both of those divisions can be seriously impeded by an insufficient focus on document and data services, and that risks exist and are exacerbated which could have major ramifications for the smooth and profitable operation of the business.
Those risks fall into a number of categories, some of the most prominent of which are worth examining here. One of the most obvious is legal risk in terms of a breakdown in document processes resulting in a failure to deliver services: so a disconnect somewhere in the documentation throughflow from order to output could result in a service delivery failure ranging from one failed delivery to one consumer through to a large-scale failure impacting upon multiple end-users at a B2C client. The kind of damage – both financial and reputational – this type of error can cause should not be underestimated; “the strength of a chain is its weakest link” and a document process of any importance cannot be allowed any weak links (and, of course, the more links the greater the chance of breakdown).
“For example, one sector in which the efficient gathering, collation and handling of records is operationally critical is healthcare, where in extreme cases it can be a life or death matter,” wrote LDC’s Yann Souillard for Outsource. “The volume of data generated by today’s healthcare providers presents an immense challenge… A patient’s healthcare record has on average an active life of 80 years over which it must be managed and different parts may be held by different organisations, creating a fragmented mosaic of information from which clinicians may struggle to extract vital details. Health services are already overburdened with administrative and logistical tasks so it makes sense for them to outsource the problem, to enhance information storage, management and retrieval capabilities in order that information is always maintained in its most usable form for clinicians.”
Another risk worth considering is the structural cost risk posed by inefficient processes causing excess expenditure at the back end. This is the kind of leakage which organisations have focussed very hard on driving out in other functions – Finance for example has seen an extraordinary amount of process improvement development in recent years – and which in the data management arena can be hideously costly. A real drive towards genuine transformation in this field can pay huge long-term dividends, as long as it is correctly aligned with business strategy and the needs of the organisation.
A third risk of note, and one of extreme import, is the compliance risk inherent in the documents themselves – especially for organisations doing business across international boundaries. Non-compliance with tax and data protection legislation can have catastrophic consequences for the guilty organisation – yet, of course, document processes need to have such compliance bound into them at every stage, along with being flexible enough to react to the imposition of new regulation. Constant adherence to a multiplicity of different regulatory parameters is not merely a nice-to-have.
Technology, of course, is the tool via which these risks are being nullified – but it is not merely the application of technology, but the transformation of the business via technology, which provides for the greatest value gains – and again, these gains can be found in an organisation’s dealings with both internal and external elements. Technology isn’t just transforming how an organisation can do things; it is changing, fundamentally, what it can do at all.
Take customer contact: in the primordial soup before the digital revolution, communication with customers revolved around postal and then telephonic contact. Not only did such communication involve large cost (partly as a result of the significant structural and logistic overheads involved) but the ability of the organisation to extract, and analyse, useful monetisable data from this communication was pretty limited.
Now, however, there are a multitude of different channels available – in the words of Derek Parlour, Head of Commercial for National Rail Enquiries, “what’s really driving us is users’ changing use of technology: we’re seeing people moving away from call centres. The web is now by far our main channel and we’re seeing more and more people using mobile applications” – and these channels don’t just provide replacements to older versions but offer genuinely new capabilities. The combination of an effective document management infrastructure with robust real-time analytics can enable an organisation – to construe a relatively simple example – to receive contact from a customer via email, send out a targeted sales offer to that customer via social media, receive an application for that offer via SMS, and send out a paper confirmation of the invoice as per the customer’s request – and retain an entirely joined-up record of the entire process, ensure compliance with all necessary regulatory frameworks, and add to the organisation’s analysable data set.
The flipside to this, of course, is that an insufficient focus on transformative technology could result in this land of opportunity becoming a slough of despond for the hapless organisation in question. A lack of joined-up thinking with regards to document services can be both costly and damaging. For example, an insurance firm providing a client with more than one product might well have more than one communication route – even utilising the same media (so the customer may receive, say, paper-based communications from different divisions which are not communicating with each other). Optimising these interactions can have great benefits in, for example, customer retention or increasing the value of each individual customer to the business; on the other hand, failure to optimise can lead to disengagement on the part of the customer, or at least leave open doors through which more capable, joined-up organisations can slide to steal the customer.
To see other content in our series OutsourceXplores Transforming Business Through Technology in association with Océ Business Services, go to the series index.
Each OutsourceXplores is a separate content series created in collaboration with a commercial partner. The Outsource editor retains final editorial control of course. For more information write to email@example.com
About the Author
Jamie Liddell is the editor of Outsource.