Generating a data-driven view of document-based business processes

Several managed print and document service (MPDS) providers are making the transition to document workflow services. Why? The reasons are simple and yet continue to go unrecognized by many channel partners. To begin with, document workflow represents a lucrative value-add service that can drive incremental new business, while increasing wallet share and profit per customer.

In addition, workflow services provide a high level of stickiness: once entrenched in your customer’s workflow you become a trusted partner and far more difficult for competitors to displace. The commonalities between service delivery and implementation are also important to note. If you already offer managed print services, you likely have developed a business model and service delivery infrastructure that maps well to document workflow services. You are likely conducting assessments, and you understand how to take customers through a sales process tied to SLAs based on a manage-then-optimize approach.


While the potential benefits to your own business are quite compelling, it is the trends around digital transformation that provide the most compelling reasons for stepping into “workflow as a service”. Businesses of all sizes are struggling with the need to gain control over content and business-critical information. The transition to mobile, cloud and the always-on digital ecosystem has changed the way we work, and many of these changes revolve around the basic need to manage and control access to information.

Document related spend as a percentage of revenue - Small Business versus Large Enterprise. source IDC

IDC research shows that SMB users spend 15% of their revenue on document-related technology, while large businesses spend up to 20%.

Further driving the need to convert workflows to digital is the growing demand by management to implement paper reduction initiatives. A recent study from IDC titled IDC MaturityScape: Digital Transformation of Document Workflows states that 70% of businesses with 100+ employees have deployed paper reduction initiatives with the goal of reducing 30–33% of their annual paper volume.

It is no secret that companies are investing in content management and process optimization as strategic business priorities, and many seek help from outside service providers to better understand how and where to begin. This offers MPDS providers a unique opportunity to position document workflow as an evolution of managed print, shifting the focus away from managing devices and output to managing information and content. Why? Because the network MFP is often the best way for integrating the various software components required.

Meanwhile, the core business model for workflow services is basically identical to that of MPDS: bundling software, solutions, and support into a packaged service to help customers reduce costs and drive productivity. The difference is that the solutions are designed to address issues related to content management, collaboration, storage, retrieval, and distribution. These solutions must be integrated with core capabilities in capture, conversion, and content security. But even with the essential technology assets in place, many providers stumble when it comes to addressing the most critical aspect for deploying workflow services: conducting a proper workflow assessment.

Workflow assessment

A plan for effective management of printing in an organization

A typical workflow assessment differs from that of a traditional print assessment in several key ways, including the need for a more detailed onsite process review. Most assessments of the print environment begin with installing a data collection agent (DCA), which allows the provider to collect data regarding device deployment and utilization. A typical workflow assessment, on the other hand, requires a more detailed, site-level review of existing business processes.

In most cases, workflow analysis should begin with developing a deep understanding of the existing document infrastructure, along with a detailed mapping of individual work processes. This requires significant input and participation from both management and employees—particularly those who have direct interaction with corporate documents and information.

Including employees in the initial phase of the workflow assessment is crucial to gaining program acceptance and achieving long-term success. Knowledge workers are likely the most well informed when it comes to defining existing work processes and identifying specific problem areas. At the same time, gaining employee trust and buy-in during the earlier stages helps to ensure more seamless implementation.

A comprehensive workflow analysis will look closely at a variety of areas related to document infrastructure and information management, including existing document management systems, content management systems, security requirements, document workflow, review and approval processes, and the need to integrate with legacy business systems, only to name a few.

Understanding the flow of information throughout the organization should also be a primary objective. Ultimately, it is necessary to identify the mix of electronic and paper-based processes; document silos and digital repositories; problems associated with document storage and retrieval; what physical constraints might exist; information output and distribution; and, how well the company is addressing corporate security and regulatory compliance.

Process mapping

A high level view

Process mapping is a crucial step in the initial stages of workflow assessment and analysis. Business process mapping involves creating a schematic representation of the sequence of events that occur during any given process or task. This can be done manually using white boarding or other manual process mapping methodologies. Software tools for process modeling are also available, either as standalone solutions or as part of a business automation software package.

The level of detail and complexity for each process map will vary depending upon the scope of the individual task. Once completed, the process map helps to address a variety of questions. Is the process linked to specific individuals or departments? What is the flow of information or documents? What inputs and outputs are required during the process lifecycle? Is input required from a third-party or anyone outside the organization or corporate firewall? What other processes triggered along the way? What is the final desired outcome?

Creating a process map helps the provider to model the current state and create a baseline for comparison to a future state. The process map is also very helpful when it comes to identifying opportunities for optimization and automation.

Identifying process bottlenecks

Creating a process map and walking through each phase of the document workflow is the first step in identifying process bottlenecks. Many different factors can lead to bottlenecks in existing business processes. Some are more short-term in nature, such as employee turnover, vacations, and changes in work assignments. Other causes can be harder to identify and tend to have a more lasting impact. Either way, identifying existing bottlenecks is key to improving workflow and driving process efficiencies.

While bottlenecks in workflow are not always easy to find, work backlog is a typical indicator that a problem exists at some point in the overall chain of events. Other indicators include lengthy wait times, extended allocation of resources, and high employee stress levels. Locating the source behind the bottleneck is the next logical step in working toward an optimized state.

Seamless process improvements

Ultimately, the purpose of the workflow assessment is to identify opportunities for process improvement. In many cases, paper intensive processes are most likely the best place to start. Optimization could involve many parameters, from simply digitizing content to driving workflow automation.

Converting from paper to digital is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. Despite ongoing trends in digital transformation, paper remains entrenched in many business processes. As a result, the transition from paper to digital workflow is not necessarily an easy transition for many companies to make.

This is where a comprehensive workflow assessment could prove very valuable—by helping organizations identify problem areas in the existing environment, setting parameters for measuring the effectiveness of process optimization, and determining the potential return on investment.

If you are a channel partner and currently considering adding document workflow services to your portfolio, it is important to build out your own core competencies in conducting and delivering comprehensive workflow assessments.

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