As companies in a variety of industries are discovering, taming unruly business processes can translate to true competitive advantage.

At a recent industry conference, business and IT pros from academic institutions, financial services firms and engineering companies discussed how business process management (BPM) capabilities have enabled them to manage time, save money and better serve both internal and external customers.

CHANGING WORKFLOW—AND MINDSETS—AT A UNIVERSITY
For the University of Oklahoma, the story began with a flood. A water pipe burst in the third floor of a building, “and the conference room was converted into a reflecting pool,” according to Rhonda Dean Kyncl, assistant dean for academic services at the Norman, Okla.-based school’s College of Arts and Science.

While no student information was lost in that case, university officials worried about future disasters that might destroy critical records, Kyncl said at the Laserfiche Empower 2013 conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Digitizing student records was just the first step. Next, the college tackled streamlining the process students went through to change their majors.

Student record files held anywhere from 10 to 1,000 pages, including documents such as high school transcripts, academic contracts and transcripts from other colleges or OU campuses. When students wanted to switch majors, they filled out yet another paper form to request that change.

The school required that students with grade point averages (GPAs) below a certain level meet with academic advisors before changing majors, so, for each request, administrators had to review the records to find the student’s GPA. Then Kyncl and an assistant notified the affected students about that requirement.

The school simplified the process by arranging for Laserfiche’s Workflow software to pinpoint major-change requests from students with GPAs below the minimum level. The system now flags those applications to notify affected students that they must meet with academic advisors.

Among the biggest challenges: changing people’s attitudes toward electronic workflow, Kyncl said. For instance, some questioned whether the new system provided enough security. But Kyncl pointed out that in the traditional set-up, paper records files often sat on employees’ desk, where they could be easily carried away by someone walking by. In academia, “the new ways of doing things are held to standards [different from] the old ways of doing things,” she said.

ENGINEERING BETTER WORKFLOWS
DCD Heavy Engineering, a South African mining, steel and energy equipment supplier, faced similar workflow challenges in its purchase-requisition system for office supplies and similar items.

The old process required users to fill out paper forms populated with fields, finding the correct code for the needed supplies, Dawie Marais, the company’s general manager for support services. Then employees sent those requisitions to their managers, who sometimes needed to seek higher levels of approval for costs over certain amounts.

With the new automated Workflow process, users can choose an expense code from a drop-down menu, automatically calculate the amount of the purchase requisition and route it to the appropriate manager. “It’s all in a central location, and we have an audit trail of the approval process,” Marais told conference attendees.

BANKING ON BPM TO STREAMLINE LOAN PROCESSING
Being able to process documents not only quickly, but correctly, is also critical in the financial services sector. At D.L. Evans Bank of Twin Falls, Idaho, employees often handled consumer-loan documents of up to 600 pages, routing them to appropriate officials for approval, then photocopying and sending them to the company’s headquarters. That was a time-consuming, inefficient process, recalled Gerardo Muñoz, the bank’s vice president and IT director.

Now the loan officers at the local branch scan the documents, and based on the amount of the loan in question, they are automatically routed for approval using Workflow, he said.

Integrating with legacy apps has been a challenge, Muñoz acknowledged. The company did quickly integrate the system with the bank’s custom relationship management (CRM) and core processing applications. However, documents that are imaged aren’t in the new account software. “Sometime we might be switching our CRM and use our core processing as the CRM,” he said.

All three users intend to introduce more business processes, automating things that would ordinarily require additional paper and people and, in turn, creating new efficiencies and improving interactions with other departments.



About the Author

Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She's based in West Springfield, Mass. Contact her at christine@christineparizo.com.

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