Enterprise Content Management -- Going paperless can save more than trees
- April 15, 2010
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But there are limits to maximizing operational efficiencies and reducing non-essential expenses. And once you've reached that point, where can you institute labor-saving measures that won't jeopardize service?
Managing costs by managing content
Many utilities are streamlining accounting and financial processes, as well as engineering and customer services, by implementing enterprise content management (ECM) technology. ECM technology captures documents (in paper or electronic form) as they're received, extracts the data and stores both data and images in a secure data repository. Images and data are then linked to the appropriate application, and routed for processing or review.
In addition to the "green" benefits of using less paper, utilities can significantly improve customer service and business processes. Questions about bills or service orders can be answered quickly because electronic documents can be accessed instantly without putting a customer on hold or making callbacks. ECM technology also can be used to scan, import and index engineering documents, such as staking sheets, to enhance collaboration among field offices and crews.
ECM technology makes it easier to ensure records are maintained, stored and disposed of, in keeping with state and federal regulations. Finally, ECM can be a crucial component of a business continuity strategy, eliminating the risk of losing customer and vendor records, and, in the case of natural disasters, allowing recovery efforts to begin sooner because key information is readily available.
ECM and ROI
ECM offers obvious benefits in terms of customer service, business continuity and compliance. But with budgets tighter than ever, utilities must be able to estimate a return on investment -- and start seeing that return in a reasonable amount of time.
Here are some factors to consider in calculating ROI:
- Increased productivity -- because documents are available in digital form, employees can focus on their key responsibilities, instead of spending time filing, transferring or searching for documents;
- Savings on supplies, printing and photocopying -- digital documents can be distributed instantly, significantly reducing costs for paper, toner, printers and photocopiers, as well as filing cabinets and supplies;
- Reduced need for storage space -- file cabinets take up an enormous amount of square footage that can be reclaimed for meeting rooms and additional offices;
- Enhanced collaboration and communication -- digital documents can be viewed simultaneously, promoting better communication among employees, resulting in better decision making.
The ECM technology you choose will have a significant impact on how quickly you realize the savings outlined above. Here are some key factors to consider as you evaluate solutions:
- Flexibility -- the solution should function across multiple business applications, so you can easily add more work processes as you roll out ECM;
- Integration -- it should integrate with virtually any business application with no coding;
- Ease of use -- it should be easy to use, offering immediate, measureable improvements to business processes.
Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative, Inc. (MCEC) is a not-for-profit electric distribution utility headquartered in Lexington, S.C. MCEC selected ImageNow® document management, imaging and workflow suite from Perceptive Software for use in the customer service, accounting and finance departments.
ImageNow was easily integrated with existing financial software and several homegrown applications that run on an Oracle platform. With the connection between host system records and documents stored in ImageNow established, users could retrieve information from their host system screens with a single click.
MCEC converted 300,000 existing document images from a proprietary format into TIFF files that were imported into ImageNow. WebNowTM, the full featured, browser-based complement to ImageNow, extended instant document access to employees at another MCEC location.
"The simplicity of the WebNow interface is one of the best things about it," said Aleshia Bailey, application systems analyst. "It's easy to operate and install and training new users takes minutes."
ECM can mean significant benefits and savings for municipal and cooperative utilities. But, as with any technology deployment, the key to realizing those benefits is to assess your current processes and determine where ECM is likely to help you gain the most efficiencies. Then evaluate technology for ease of integration, fast deployment and usability by non-technical personnel. This process will help ensure your company -- and your customers or members -- will see the benefits of ECM as quickly as possible.