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From Paper To Process

Many business procedures are closely linked to paper documents; improving a process often requires getting control of the documents

But change in the workplace never comes easily, especially when it touches a linchpin of bureaucratic process like the paper form. Initially, it was a challenge to get users to accept a new way of doing things, Beckman says. So the team focused on making life easier for form users. "You had to get them something a lot better than what they were used to," he says.

Groups now ask Beckman's team to build forms for their business processes, even for simple activities. "A lot of people want to route things around the company and have them electronically signed," he says. "And they never know who to send [them] to." Now, he says, "they use our electronic form, electronically sign it, put in their information, and then hit send and it goes to the next person."

Paper proved to be a problem for Prince William County, Va., as well-- specifically, personnel action forms. In recent years, the county went from 3,000 to 3,600 employees without adding administrative staff. For the beleaguered human-resources department, the processing, filing, and retrieval of personnel action forms--required to hire or fire a person, or change their benefits--was slow and inefficient, with errors in one in five forms.

Prince William County automated its forms processing using the Ultimus business-process-management suite. As a result, it experienced a decrease in processing time and a reduction in error rates, says Maneesh Gupta, head of the county's information systems division. A return-on-investment analysis from Nucleus Research found the county recouped its investment in 18 months.

Intriguing though such examples may be, much of the adoption of forms-related business-process management probably will be driven by the increasingly difficult challenge of complying with international, federal, state, and local regulations. While BPM may fall short of delivering the fabled paperless office, it could--by controlling the flow of data, improving auditing capabilities, and ensuring corporate transparency--play a part in keeping managers from having to visit a windowless office, and talk to investigators about the shortcomings of their oversight systems. Among the laws that Gartner says most concern IT managers are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's financial-control reforms and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as well as Food and Drug Administration regulations that govern electronic records.

But for toymaker Hasbro Inc., the problem centered on its supply chain and improving how the company communicated with business partners such as suppliers and freight forwarders. It depended on those perennial favorites of phone, fax, and E-mail.

David Adams, business-integration manager at Hasbro

Hasbro improved supply-chain communication, says business-integration manager Adams
To standardize and improve its procurement operations, the company turned to Lombardi Software's TeamWorks. David Adams, business-integration manager at Hasbro, writes via E-mail that many suppliers and logistics providers now manage all their interactions through the Internet, which has improved fulfillment cycles, cut costs, and improved service.

Through automation, integration, and content management, the company has realized greater efficiency and standardization of partner-facing processes, such as competitive bidding. Adams describes how vendors bidding to produce a particular toy, for example, now do so through a standard Web form generated by TeamWorks. As a result, predetermined business rules, such as requiring delivery on a certain date, can be clearly communicated and enforced. In terms of ROI, Adams says transactional volume in the company's Hong Kong office, for instance, has increased some 200%, thanks in large part to the efficiency of working entirely online.

Illustration by John Ueland

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