Someone recently highlighted an ‘article’ presented by PNMsoft (BPM, workflow automation). The opening premise is, “A common myth is that technology has not yet advanced enough to create a paperless office. Nothing could be further from the truth. The main obstacle is not technology, but people.”
Nice try, but not quite. Technology is not the issue, nor is it people, it’s a business issue. ‘Greening your office’ is a struggle for many senior managers. You face the same two core issues facing the green movement in general. While you want to do right by the world (e.g. Go Green!), you also need to do so cost-effectively (you know, profitably). The correlations to your needs are over-arching effectiveness (scope) and economy of scale.
Let’s deal with economy of scale. The reality is that many business process management (BPM) firms need sheer volume in order to be profitable. Their margins are tight: costs are calculated on things like the number of keystrokes to capture form data; the resolution at which a form is scanned; the cost per KB to store the data; and, so on. If you’re even a decent-size independent business, the odds are you do not represent enough pieces of paper, or enough transactions (e.g. expense report approvals) monthly, to capture their interest.
Yes, there are effective solutions available to do it yourself. What might ‘it’ be? Think data storage, image capture (scanning), databases, staff, and an automation solution coordinating it all-not to forget customization no matter how minimal. Now you’re facing cost justifications (e.g. sunk cost), increased staffing, and a change to your processes. Is it worth it? The answer in some cases is Yes, but again, it is an issue of scale that can only be assessed through due diligence.
You need to be able to accurately assign a cost per-transaction (or business activity) as a baseline, before you can begin to evaluate whether taking your processes to (the next level of) automation makes sense.
The second struggle is scope. Solutions such as workflow automation (e.g. PNMsoft’s offering) are structured and have a specific focus. Expense report submission, approval, and disbursement is a classic process to automate. Other examples include accounts payable, accounts receivable, loan processing, and the like. These are all standardized processes readily lending themselves to automation.
Here’s the problem… How many of your business processes are so regimented? I discuss some of this in a prior article (Dealing With Information Overload in a Down Economy). How do you constructively manage email, office documents (electronic or paper), engineering documents, and all manner of ad hoc or unstructured content (PowerPoint anyone)?
Again, there are technical solutions that can be brought to bear for most-if not all-of these issues. Solutions like Microsoft’s SharePoint, Exchange for email, wikis, and a range of others exist each with their particular focus. For each of these pain points, individually and collectively, as with the economy of scale discussion above, when (or if) you elect to deploy a solution demands that you can do so profitably or at a near-zero effective cost. There are arguments against the need to do this profitably, that you simply need to. That’s nice if you live in Wonderland, but I suspect you don’t.
The challenge with going green is not technology: a solution exists for just about every problem. It isn’t people: effective change management can lead people down the path. It is business. If you cannot go green profitably, you have to either subsidize it using other profits, or it won’t be sustainable.
That, is the issue with green: Can you sustain it?
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