Can Process Documentation Increase Business Profits and Productivity?
November 11th, 2019 (Updated 03/23/2021) | 15 min. read
By Duncan Hendy
Are you using your Document Management System (DMS) to its full potential? How can you use your DMS to elevate your business and profits? What exactly is process documentation, and do you really need to be doing it? Your organization could be wasting time and money without a well-implemented DMS and document automation system. When did you last assess your business processes and document management systems… is it time for an update?
In this article, I will cover the following:
- The key features and benefits of a well-implemented DMS
- Document automation
- The importance of process documentation
- Process documentation steps and best practices
- How to properly implement a DMS
Key Features of Data Management System (DMS)
A DMS uses a computer system or software to store, manage and track documents electronically. It organizes information using document and content capture, workflows, document repositories, electronic record management, output systems and information retrieval systems. It allows organizations to optimize their business workflows and keep track of all their business processes.
Search, indexing, retrieval
- Files, folders, archives, invoices, images and paper-based documents are sorted, scanned and indexed in the DMS, giving you a complete overview of your documents.
- Storing data in a central, secure repository enables constant access anytime, anywhere. Using features like tags and color coding enables flexible and dynamic search, allowing quick information retrieval.
- A DMS enables collaboration by allowing documents to be retrieved and modified by an authorized user.
- Functions like check-in/check-out and locking enables multiple users to edit a document simultaneously by ensuring that they do not overwrite each other’s changes.
- Document history is monitored by recording the various markups by each user.
- Versioning and stamping enable full traceability of work processes, allowing users to retrieve previous versions and to continue work from a selected point. This is especially useful for documents that require updating over time or for tasks that require history tracking.
- The DMS administrator sets access controls to protect data security, preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data.
- A DMS also enhances security with audit trails which enable the reconstruction of who did what to a document throughout its lifetime.
- Additionally, it helps organizations comply with international security standards such as ISO 9001 and ISO 13485.
Key Features of Document Processing Automation
Automation optimizes documentation by increasing speed and accuracy compared to manual processing. Electronic data exchange (EDI) enables the automation of document capture, classification, sorting, distribution, delivery to other applications, and in some cases, analytics and reports. Most DMSs either have built-in document processing automation capabilities or can integrate with document automation tools.
- Automated Document Capture
- The “capture” function uses optical character recognition software to turn hard copies into digital images and converts that into machine–readable text.
- Having all documentation digitized enables better searchability and overall management.
- It also minimizes storage space, paper waste, and printing costs.
- Automated Document Classification, Sorting, Distribution
- A DMS replaces the manual filing of repetitive documents by using templates or software-driven questions, which could be programmed or rule-based.
- It automatically fills in the correct document variables based on transaction data.
- It may also be able to process complex documents like handwritten notes, different data fields and multiple languages.
- Some also automatically compile related documents into a single folder.
- Automated Delivery to Other Applications
- Robotic process automation (RPA) is a type of automated document processing technology that pushes data from one application to another through automated communication systems.
- This is often used in enterprise resource planning (ERP) and accounting software.
A DMS with document automation enables simultaneous workflows, increases operational efficiency, speeds up response times, accelerates revenue opportunities and enhances profitability. It expedites document processing and distribution by minimizing risks of human error. It also improves working conditions by allowing employees to focus on important work instead of tedious tasks like document sorting.
According to a Gartner and Esker report, document processing automation creates positive results such as:
- 55% lower order processing costs
- a 99.6% order entry accuracy rate
- a 60% reduction of labor overhead in order entry
- a 40% increase in electronic throughput rate
The Importance of Process Documentation
Process documentation is the detailed description of the exact steps necessary to complete a task or process from start to finish. The goal of this is to understand, analyze, improve and automate business processes and outcomes. It also acts as an operational blueprint and key reference guide when executing changes and making business decisions. It provides complete visibility into all an organization’s processes for enhanced compliance and business intelligence. Because of this, this is some of the most critical information stored in the DMS.
As a key aspect of business process management (BPM), process documentation provides a critical overview of all processes, enabling stakeholders to understand and formalize how the entire business value chain works.
“Value chain” refers to the major business processes that deliver a valuable product or service. Value chain analysis helps to identify which activities will maximize profits and gain a competitive advantage. This informs process redesign and optimization. Based on this, processes can be mapped “as-is” (as it is today) and “to be” (after improvements).
This requires ongoing documentation of a task during its execution and is conducted while creating new processes or refining existing ones. It might include documents like policies, checklists, tutorials, forms, screenshots, links to other applications, process maps and more.
A brief note should be made about the difference between “process” and “procedure”.
- Process: A set of interacting activities or tasks (inputs) that lead to the delivery of a specific product or service (output).
- Procedure: A specified way to carry out an activity or process.
An organization might choose to document processes and procedures, depending on the scope and objectives of their documentation.
Process documentation can help an organization…
Evaluate their current processes
- Assess if objectives are being achieved and define/redefine key performance indicators.
- Learn from successes and mistakes and figure out strategies to improve collaboration and performance.
Increase productivity and efficiency
- Reduces the time spent on tasks by improving workflows and automating processes when possible.
- Ensures all tasks are performed to their full potential and prevents procedures from going unused due to ignorance.
- Since process documentation makes it easier to transfer knowledge, it also makes it easier to outsource work.
- Reduces costs and resources associated with tasks and processes.
- Brings about improved working conditions and higher employee satisfaction.
- By enforcing standardization across all documents, it becomes easier to maintain standards of consistency, follow external regulations, and perform due diligence.
- It also ensures documented processes can be replicated in new or other processes so that no one is ever required to rely on their memory or guesswork.
- Having a detailed overview of entire processes makes it possible to locate and eliminate flaws that might have previously been overlooked.
- Having clear instructions removes confusion and ambiguity, preventing errors from occurring.
Improve employee training
- Serves as training material for new and existing employees.
- Enables them to understand the context of their role in the organization and learn more efficiently.
Increase transparency and security
- Internally, it provides a line of sight to employees and provides context for processes and projects so that everyone can see how a project fits into the big picture.
- Externally, it gives customers an insight into your business processes, increasing customer trust and satisfaction as a result.
- Audit trails help your organization comply with legislation and increase data security.
- Immediate access to status reports and audit trails gives stakeholders better insight and control over business-critical information flow.
Preserve important knowledge
- Acts as a central repository for information within the organization.
- Preserves knowledge so that when a key employee leaves, information is not lost.
- Reduces ambiguity of operations, roles and responsibilities. All members of an organization will know exactly who to contact if they encounter any issues.
Process Documentation Steps
Who should be involved?
An in-house project team, stakeholders and everyone involved in the project. Some organizations also bring in an external team as outsiders can provide fresh and unbiased perspectives.
How to do it?
Identify the process
- Determine which process you’re going to document and why.
- Name the process and include a brief description.
Define the scope of the process
- Define exactly what’s included (and not included) in the process.
- Establish boundaries by clearly identifying the start and end points of the process.
Establish process inputs and outputs
- Identify all the resources required to carry out the process and where they will come from.
- This includes information sources like paper documents, Excel spreadsheets and websites. This also includes budgeting, choosing a vendor, assigning roles and responsibilities, etc.
- Identify the outcome of the completed process. What will the process produce?
- Brainstorm with team members, stakeholders, subject experts and everyone who is directly responsible for the process tasks.
- Collect precise data on all the activities required to complete the process.
- Data collection methods include interviews, group discussions, user observations, field diaries, existing records, etc.
Organize process steps
- After gathering and understanding all the steps required, create a process flow by organizing these steps sequentially.
- Make it clear and concise, showing the main steps and the various tasks grouped within it. Avoid creating too many separate steps.
- Consider formatting in bullet points, tables and charts. Use lists, headings and subheadings.
- You may summarize knowledge in articles, case studies, video clips, etc.
Visualize the process
- Use a flowchart to make it clear and easy to understand.
- Depending on the project, you might use a process flowchart, a swimlane flowchart, a process map, or some other type of flowchart.
- A process map provides a graphic overview of the relationship between the steps, inputs, and outputs of your project. Process modeling takes it a step further by proposing new process flows – first, model the processes as they are now (“as-is”), and then model how they should be improved (“to be”).
- You may create your own symbols or use existing symbology for your flowcharts. For instance, BPMN is a standardized language of symbols for process development, which has a defined vocabulary and organizing principle.
Define roles and responsibilities
- Identify the individual (by job title, not name) responsible for each task.
- Clearly specify their responsibilities.
Address exceptions and potential risks
- Explain how to deal with any potential exceptions to the normal process flow.
- Flag areas that could be susceptible to error and add control points to guide the monitoring of the process.
Review and testing
- Get those involved in the process to perform the process based on your initial documentation.
- Their testing and feedback will help to identify potential loopholes, errors or missing information.
Fix and improve
- Fix any errors identified in the previous stage.
- Incorporate any suggestions for optimization. This should actually be a continuous activity – keep updating the documentation with new strategies or tactics to improve the process.
Final review and publish
- Get stakeholders together for a final review and approval.
- Once approved, publish in the DMS and distribute to all relevant employees and stakeholders. This could be through email, newspapers, internal newsletters, etc.
Process Documentation Best Practices
- Pre-define information gathering techniques as a basis for documentation.
- Ensure that everyone involved in the process attends the meetings as they can directly contribute their relevant experience and opinions.
- Store process documentation in a central location like your DMS so it can be easily accessible by anyone in the organization.
- It should be public and visible to everyone in the organization.
- Keep it clear and concise – only include necessary information.
- Use proper and simple formatting.
- Create separate documents for different processes to make it easy to understand and digest, rather than one massive document which could be confusing.
Graphics and Visualization
- Use visual aids like screenshots, graphs, charts, tables and color coding to make it as easy to understand as possible.
- Some common flowchart types include process flowcharts, swimlane flowcharts, process maps, workflow diagrams, data flow diagrams and flowsheets.
- Choose a standard notation like the BPMN 2.0.
- Create a style guide that will act as a template to help standardize documentation.
Feedback and Updates
- Be flexible and willing to adjust a process as required.
- Encourage and incorporate feedback as this is crucial for improvement.
- Make documents easy to search, edit and update as processes undergo continual change.
- Review documents at least once a year.
- Document when the process was most recently updated.
- Only make the latest document available to the public.
- Keep a local secure backup of the files on your desktop or in a private cloud-based system.
Tip: ISO 10244:2010 is the international standard for documenting work or business processes. It provides detailed information on the activities involved, the depth of information required, documentation methods and evaluation procedures.
Surprisingly, the main challenge with implementing a DMS is often not its technical aspect, but about getting everyone to change their existing procedures and habits. That’s why before choosing a solution, preparation is key!
Get everyone on board
- Identify the decision makers and end-users.
- All relevant parties need to be educated about the new DMS and support its implementation.
- Dispel concerns and reluctance by educating staff about the benefits of the new DMS. For instance, motivate them by letting them know the DMS will reduce everyone’s workload and promote a less stressful environment.
Fully understand the current situation
- Examine your organization’s current document management situation, information flows and business processes.
- Identify problem areas such as duplicate files and unnecessary use of space.
- Ask employees and end-users about what problems they need solved. This will also encourage them to adopt the solution after its implementation.
- Determine how the DMS can be utilized to improve the organization as a whole.
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of current processes.
- Work out the “needs” and “wants” as a team.
- Identify exactly which functions are best suited to your needs and how you will use them – e.g., storage, search, workflows, automation, security, scalability, usability, collaboration, integrations, plug-ins, etc.
- Document workflow: How many files will be in the initial import and how many will be created regularly?
- Identify the processes you plan to automate.
- Storage: Learn how much cloud storage you’ll require.
- Security: Establish who will have access rights and administrative controls.
- Plan a timeline and set milestones for the implementation project. Note that this is an ongoing process which will be in constant development.
Standardize language and terminology
- Having a standardized language is key to categorizing documents and locating files.
- Existing documents created by separate users may utilize different formats, keywords, phrases and naming systems. All of these need to be standardized in the new DMS in order to fit workflows across the organization.
Installation and Integration
- Install the DMS and set up all the required templates, profiles and workflows as established during the goal-setting stage.
- A customizable DMS will help employees feel comfortable working with the new system and speed up user adoption.
- As best as possible, integrate your DMS with current systems, software, applications and hardware to create seamless access to information. This will help your organization leverage the technology business-wide.
- The DMS may directly offer other applications its document management functionality so that users may retrieve and modify documents and save it back into the repository without leaving the application. This is often done through an application programming interface (API) in content management systems (CMS) and workflow management software.
Permissions and access controls
- Determine who is authorized to view what information and configure user access rights accordingly.
- Some DMS solutions automate role-based permissions based on standardized language used in metadata, thus granting users access based on their job duties. Whether your organization chooses to use such a function depends on your structure and goals.
Training and adoption
- Stop growing the current document management system.
- Train all the end-users of the new system.
- Train the IT support staff who will be troubleshooting and maintaining the system.
- Organize workshops offering expert tips and feature demos to ensure that everyone is educated on how to maximize the potential of the new DMS.
- Get feedback from end-users and pass it onto your vendor to help optimize the system.
So, how strong is your existing DMS and are you constantly optimizing its performance? Are you actively creating process documentation and using document automation to enhance business profitability? If your organization is not practicing process documentation, you’re missing out on opportunities to improve your business processes and outcomes. Process documentation not only acts as a key point of reference during decision-making, it also increases productivity and security. Could it be time to update your DMS solution and vendor?
Here are some concluding tips on how to choose the most suitable solution and vendor:
- Most issues during implementation stem from misunderstandings between end-users and the vendor. It is important to communicate key expectations like time frame, costs and challenges. Ensure your vendor clearly understands your organization’s situation and goals.
- Different solutions have different user interfaces and range of functions, so choose the vendor that best fulfils your organization’s needs and objectives.
- Choose a flexible and transparent solution that can seamlessly integrate with your existing systems.
- If you’re purchasing a DMS, choose one with a built-in automation function or can integrate with an automated document processing software.
- If you already have a DMS, install a document processing software that will help you automate tasks and continually optimize your processes and workflows.
- Managing a DMS and process documentation is a continuous activity, so ensure your vendor is reliable and readily available.