Eliminate the Paper-to-Person API

Guest post by Kerry Sanders, Vice President, Global Marketing, Large Enterprise Operations, Xerox

Sales orders, expense reports, employee onboarding forms, NDAs, constituent records, applications, student enrollment paperwork, claims forms, vendor contracts, purchase orders. Documents like these flow through organizations every day, although “flow” might not be the best word.

Sometimes a document comes flying into an organization like a roller coaster ride, but when it hits the “last mile,” it goes from blazing fast to slow roll, then a bump and a lurch as the document comes off the process rails. If that derailed document involves a customer claim, a constituent’s request or a student’s record, you’ve got a service problem, too, not to mention productivity loss and increased cost.

People as Middleware

That last mile of a document process runs through the offices of admissions clerks, the desks of government agents, the mobile devices of insurance agents, the screens of bank onboarding and HR departments. This is often the point where a person must act as “middleware” to make sure data is in the right place to trigger an appropriate action in the next system.

Borrowing from computing terminology, we call this the “paper to person” API or P2P API. An API (application programming interface) is a gateway between two systems that need to work together or share information. The better the API, the smoother the operation — unless a person is the connector.

Is It a P2P API?

Document-based processes remain a fact of business life. Procurement, sales, legal, HR, government agencies – all are heavy users of printed documents and paper-centric processes, and likely a P2P API as well. Paper can’t do anything by itself, and the P2P API comes into play every time an employee manually captures or prepares information from a paper document for use in a business process or system of record. Often not just one person touches the document, but often several, creating multiple P2P APIs.

You might have a P2P API if someone consistently spends time:

  • Keying information from a printed document into a digital system (what could go wrong?)
  • Scanning a paper document, then printing it. Then scanning it. Then printing it.
  • Collecting multiple pieces of paper needed for a file of documentation
  • Filing paper documents
  • Routing paper documents for review, approval or signature
  • Printing documents for meetings

Collateral Damage

APIs are necessary components of many software systems, providing routines, protocols and tools for building software applications and connecting them to the next step in the process. An API specifies how software components should interact. That’s putting it very simply. The importance of a good API should not be underestimated.

Nor should the impact of a bad one.

In an IDC study, 77% of businesses said gaps in existing systems and a lack of integration negatively impacted the customer experience, while 63% said paper-based process issues negatively affected customer satisfaction. This alone is compelling justification for correcting these problems, but there are other reasons. Gaps in automation affect more than just one step in a process. Depending on the task and information, it could have ramifications for:

  • Business visibility and agility
  • Information governance
  • Compliance and audit trails
  • Information accuracy and security
  • Sustainability
  • Labor and processing costs
  • Customer experience
  • Employee satisfaction

Unreliable Accuracy

Most employees want to get their work done, no matter what the circumstances. When people must manually perform process steps, it slows them down. They have to stop to make sure the data was added correctly to the system of record and that the manual system is interacting with any downstream systems and automation. When manual APIs replicate inaccurate data, it’s harder to retrace steps and find the problem.

On average, 3-5 people take action on document, making it difficult to follow up and track the work that’s performed manually. And 53% of office workers say following up with people to get documents reviewed, approved and signed is time consuming. Often they must cross departments or locations.

P2P APIs are self-documenting at best and undocumented processes at worst. Improvised solutions and tasks are inconsistent and unsecure. The specific process knowledge may be lost when the employee leaves. Depending on your industry, this could create a compliance issue.

Losing Time to Paper

Statistics show that 3% of an organization’s documents are misfiled, leading to poor customer service and internal churn. Keeping document records in a digital process across their lifecycle reduces the problems associated with filing paper copies. An employee spends more than double the time looking for a paper document than they spend reading it once it’s found. Information workers estimate it would free 30% of their time for higher value work if they had more automated systems for documents.

P2P APIs create frustration for employees, who suspect there’s a better way to work.

  • 43% of information workers use several disconnected systems or applications and often copy and paste or rekey information.
  • 46% of business leaders say disconnected document processes impact their ability to place, forecast, budget due to lack of visibility.
  • 80% of information workers time is spent with documents, and workers spend about a quarter of that time dealing with paper-based documents.
  • 56% of info workers have to print a document, then scan it to create PDF.

Document disconnects make it even harder on mobile workers who have to wait on information. Research has found that 3 out of 5 information workers say can’t retrieve, view, edit or send documents from mobile devices.

People Out, Productivity In

Businesses looking for bottom-line improvement in terms of speed and efficiency should consider removing paper from customer service workflows. As part of the paper-to-digital transformation, organizations now have the means to build new processes that replace the people-to-paper API, taking paper out of the loop completely.  And people, too.

Closing the P2P process gap results in:

  • Faster time to revenue
  • Cost reduction
  • Reduced compliance and business risk
  • Greater employee productivity and satisfaction
  • Better end-to-end automation
  • Standardized, documented workflow
  • Tighter document security

Start with Analytics to Solve the P2P Problem

Hybrid document environments of people and paper, and digital automation are realities, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to improve. Analytics highlight those points of friction and disconnect, providing details to help identify the problem and its scope. Next-generation partners like Xerox offer tools and other resources to solve P2P API problems through workflow automation and managed print services. They can coach and guide you to continuing improvements through ECM, digitization and workflow automation.

Begin with the low hanging fruit. Easier, early wins cost less, and when employees start seeing results, they will be more receptive as you scale up and expand transformation.

Where can you eliminate a P2P API?

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