3 min read

What do I need to know about Document Automation?

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This blog was updated on Thursday, March 25th, 2021.

Does your organization rely on collaboration surrounding a specific workflow? Most likely, yes. Many businesses’s daily operations revolve around processing physical or digital documents for customer orders, accounts payable, and HR documentation, to name just a few.

If you answered “yes,” there is another question you need to ask: “Is that workflow automated?”

WHAT IS DOCUMENT AUTOMATION?

Document automation has many forms of implementation, ranging from simple, free solutions to robust and intricate content management systems. At its core, document automation refers to automating a particular document’s workflow, from the moment that document enters your office, until it is fully processed.

A document automation solution will vary depending on the needs of your organization (and the workflow being automated), but most document automation systems offer the following benefits:

  1. Integration with third party software and services
  2. Re-usable, process-based templates
  3. Automated workflows
  4. Compliance with industry regulations

Document automation solutions are designed to work with the software your employees use throughout the day. Rather than replacing the tools your employees use to get work done, document automation solutions act as what is best described as an accountability system.

For example, imagine a workflow involving three employees, who each work in different departments. At the beginning of this workflow, employee A intakes the document, processes it, and sends it to employee B. Employee B then interacts with the document, and the workflow continues as such until it is completed.

This workflow relies on each employee completing their portion of the workflow accurately and in a timely manner, with no system for accountability or accuracy in place. Even when analyzed by a manager or by someone in a position like quality assurance, mistakes can slip through the cracks.

A document automation solution won’t change the process of this workflow — it automates the aspects of the workflow that are tedious and prone to error, and automates the transport of the document to each person in the workflow. Document automation solutions do this through the following:

  • - Once a workflow has been established, a document template is created, highlighting the sections that need to be completed by each employee in the workflow.
  • - Once an employee has finished their task in the workflow, the document is automatically sent to the next person in the workflow.
  • - As soon as the document is sent to the next employee, that employee is sent a notification alerting them to the document.
  • - The document is then reviewed by the system, and can also be reviewed by a manager or QA who can see how, where, and when each step in the workflow was completed.

DISCOVERY IS THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECT OF DOCUMENT AUTOMATION

This may come as no surprise, but the most difficult task of automation is implementing the automation system itself. This is often for two distinct reasons: the party responsible for the implementation of the system does not understand your organization’s workflow, or the system is being implemented too late.

Often, an organization will realize the necessity of automating a workflow when the volume of work reaches a breaking point, or is slowing their business down, or is taking up too much of their employees’ time throughout the day.

By this point, however, the organization will need to experience even more interruptions to their daily workflow in order to implement the automation solution. This is because implementing a document automation solution is not as simple as downloading a program, or flipping a switch.

This leads us to the other hurdle organizations can face when implementing a document automation solution: a cookie-cutter solution. Some managed service providers are not interested in providing your business with a system that works within your organization — they are simply there to make money.

A good managed service provider, when working with your organization to implement a document automation solution, will go through an in-depth discovery process, investigating the totality of the workflow that will be automated.

In order to navigate a workflow from top to bottom, there are questions your managed service provider should ask:

  • - Who interacts with the document?
  • - Why do they interact with the document?
  • - What actions are they performing with the document?
  • - What would happen if they didn’t perform that action?
  • - Who receives it?
  • - Is it received digitally, or physically?
  • - Is it emailed or scanned?
  • - If printed, is someone walking it to another place?
  • - How long does it take for the document to make it to its intended destination?
  • - How long does each step take?

As you can see, the discovery process is granular. This process can range in time from days to weeks, and for intricate workflows, can last for a month or more. As a rule, the more steps, devices, programs, and people involved in the workflow, the longer the discovery phase will take.

It’s also important to involve the employees who work with the document in the discovery process, as they will be able to provide invaluable insight into exactly what goes into completing the workflow. Because both your employees and your managed services provider must work together to create a document automation system, the discovery process can be exceedingly difficult for an organization that is already bogged down by a slow process.

BENEFITS OF DOCUMENT AUTOMATION

There are three main benefits to automating your document workflows: efficiency, security, and profitability. Document automation platforms give you the ability to not only automate workflows, but track workflows — and you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

When you can answer questions such as “where is the document currently?”, your process will be much more secure. When you can measure the length of time a single document takes to reach point A to point B, you’ll be much more efficient. And when your business is efficient and secure, your chances of profitability are increased exponentially.

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