When you look at industries that have thrived on process improvement to drive greater efficiency and profitability, manufacturing companies rank at the top of the list. In a global market where competition is fierce, margins can be tight and customer expectations are high, predictable results, produced as a result of efficient processes with minimal waste is the lifeblood of success.
Within the world of manufacturing, it’s no surprise that process efficiency isn’t static, and there is no one recipe that guarantees the best results. Minimizing waste and boosting efficiency is a dynamic, ongoing process.
Ongoing process improvement, achieved through ongoing refinement of practices and a continual quest to eliminate waste often results in new and innovative forms of automation to augment or replace manual processes.
Today, those principles and that same approach is applicable beyond the manufacturing floor to other parts of the organization, where wasteful manual processes are leading to a gap in the knowledge and insights manufacturers have about their customers, along with significant lag time in customer order fulfillment (measured in days sales outstanding, or DSO).
In the world of manufacturing, “lean” is a methodology applied to the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system. It addresses bottlenecks and sources of waste or potential error/defects that get introduced where there is an overburden or stress point, or when there is a lack of uniformity in workloads. Lean exposes these risks and stress points, and magnifies where value is added. Anything that doesn’t add value, anything that detracts or delays the process, is eliminated. At least that’s the idea.
That same idea can be applied to the repetitive processes in the back office operations of any organization
Accounts Payable, employee onboarding and sales order processing are all perfect candidates for a lean approach, where there’s tons of repetition and likely LOTS of wasteful effort that have real dollar and opportunity costs. Eliminate the waste and it’s possible to tap into some new value, particularly when it comes to sales orders, where there is a huge potential to improve cash flow, boost customer satisfaction and gain new insights into customer buying behavior.
The elements of a sales order process include the data, documents and actions required to transform an order placed by a customer into the goods or services they requested and the revenue companies expect in return. On the surface, it’s as simple as that — although the underlying complexity of manual processes can hide that simple reality.
Documents and data that are part of the sales order process include sales proposals, quotes, collateral and correspondence. It also includes purchasing documents: purchase orders, credit applications, tax certificates, invoices, shipping documents and proof of delivery. Each of those documents reflect specific decisions and actions that have to be monitored and managed, along with unstructured data that has to be captured and maintained in systems that are critical to maintaining visibility and control over the enterprise as a whole.
From a systems standpoint, most companies have the tools they need to eliminate waste from their sales order process. They likely have an ERP or accounting system. They may have a system for digitizing and managing documents. Often, the problem is that the connection between these systems and the source data (in the form of digital or paper documents) is a person sitting behind a keyboard.
Creating connective tissues among the systems and process owners is what Intelligent Process Automation systems like Artsyl’s transformation platform and ActionSuite applications help to achieve. When it comes to back office processes that are data and document-intensive, their biggest contribution of value is to transform unstructured data trapped in business documents into structured data that can be used to automate workflow processes for approval and processing. Eliminating manual data entry and document handling represents a huge opportunity to eliminate waste from a back-office process. Where waste is eliminated, value is added in the form of more timely access to reliable business data — leading to deeper insights into customer buying trends and better forecasting. The big benefit for customers is that they can get their products/services delivered more efficiently, with all sorts of ancillary benefits.
Neither lean processes nor business process automation is anything new. What IS new, and is creating so much excitement in an otherwise less-than-sexy part of any business, is that advanced in machine learning, AI and robotic process automation, has led to intelligent process automation solutions for vendor invoice, sales order and other transactional processes, that are flexible enough to function in the real world without tons of coding or wasteful IT/development overhead to make them practical for companies of any size, and for a wider range of business processes.
To explore how IPA can help automate and accelerate operations for your organization, contact your Artsyl Technologies representative.