Digital Transformation: A Key Element in Automation
In a dream business world, each and every task employees undertake runs like clockwork. Front and back-office operations have set protocols workers navigate with efficiency and ease, able to manage straightforward workflows with as little limbo, bottlenecks or ambiguity as possible. What’s more, these cross-department tasks can be accomplished from one place — a single enterprise resource planning (ERP) or content-management system always a few clicks away. Sound too good to be true? For many business-process owners, this scenario remains more fantasy than reality. Yes, they want strategic enterprise workflow automation to free employees’ time and talent. Yes, they want cost-savings without service sacrifices, and they want everyone and everything working smarter, not harder. But how do you ground these goals to see positive, daily process change — across the entire company? Introducing digital transformation.
What Is Digital Transformation? A Brief Overview
Digital transformation is the act of harmonizing business processes with current, automation-based technology to make your entire breadth of cross-enterprise workflows expedient, optimized and less erroneous. In other words, it shifts tasks from being siloed, department-specific and manually done to being streamlined, universally accessible and strategically automated. It does this by introducing new software to your current ERP management systems. This software acts as an extension of those already in place, performing many of the repetitive and monotonous functions that would have previously fallen on multiple employees across multiple departments. Such was the principal cause of business-process lag times and chokepoints as parts of that workflow stalled between departmental queues. However, with digital transformation technologies in place, employees spend less doing things “the old way.” Bolstered by automated technology and streamlined, cross-department software, they can now pivot attention onto higher-level, high-order work. The results? A fine-tuned enterprise workflow process that minimizes waste and maximizes resources, all from a single integrated software synchronizing the work of multiple people in multiple departments.
The Importance of Digital Transformation for Today’s Business Processes
Just consider the landscape of today’s common business inefficiencies that stand to see improvements from this kind of synchronization:
- Employees lose 20 to 40 percent of their workday manually looking for misplaced paperwork and documents or combing through poor filing systems — print and digital.
- It takes 18 minutes for a worker to find a needed document.
- Nearly 40 percent of employee productivity is lost due to unorganized task-switching.
- Less than half of companies surveyed have internal processes set up to catch early payment vendor discounts. Even those that say they do capitalize on less than 10 percent of those qualified discounts.
- Manual invoicing, data entry and data management produce error rates between four and 10 percent.
- Over 60 percent of companies will experience an attempted or successful payment fraud scheme. These schemes specifically manipulate manual-based business processes and systems.
These numbers paint a sobering picture. Business processes that implement cross-department software and tools mitigate these concerns and optimize nearly all angles of operations, not just solve single department’s inefficiencies. With a digital transformation strategy, your business will:
- Reduce waste: Slow data entry, validation bottlenecks, document archiving and retrieving, contingent task assignments and generating reports from disparate documents, spreadsheets and logs — these are the culprits plaguing business processes. What do they all have in common? They’re manual departmental tasks, consuming valuable time and energy and are prone to human error.
- Prioritizes people: The best way to prove how much you value your employees is by letting them perform valuable work. This is both intuitive and in everyone’s best interest.
- Saves money: Simply put, organizations cut operating costs and free cash flows when they implement automated digital tools. Businesses that commit to going paperless slash expenses dramatically. A full suite of enterprise workflow automation software across domains pays for itself in 6 to 18 months.
- Primes you for the future: With reduced steps to complete back-office tasks, unsiloed departments and employees empowered by multifunctional technology, you can accomplish more in less time. You’ve created a new, highly scalable productivity pipeline without any intensive capital investments, system downtimes or overhaul.
What Does Digital Transformation Look Like?
A digitally transformed business is one that looks like this — newly selected software used in multiple applications, by multiple people, in multiple roles and departments, all harmonized to improve the company’s entire enterprise workflows. Such a digital transformation will come modeled on the specific tasks or departments an organization wants to be optimized. While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula to do so, there are critical steps for what digital transformation will look like:
- It starts small: Stakeholders must take a microscope to the daily, routine operations that fuel the delivery of their goods and services — but are not the goods and services themselves. Things like invoice processing, inventory reordering, employee training and much more are all viable candidates. Then, they adopt software to complement these daily tasks as a whole, not just single solutions.
- It’s gradual: Goals work when they are actionable. The best business process improvements don’t introduce their digital tools and updated steps all at once, but prorate changes and find ways to integrate, not dispel, in-house technology with the new.
- It’s evolution — not revolution: Too many make the mistake of assuming digital transformation means a complete overhaul — or revolution — of their current ERP or core management software. While the cross-function improvements ushered in will be significant, the steps to get there don’t need to be.
With those tenets in mind, here are two common approaches to implementing a digital transformation strategy:
1. Vertical Automation
Vertical automation says that to improve workflows and systems, an organization needs to start from scratch. Employees are trained on brand-new software, new hardware and new applications while the legacy ERP likely gets scrapped.
- Pros of Vertical Digital Transformation: Ideal for young or start-up companies or those with only a handful of employees all committed to making a complete process pivot for single-use or single-function problems.
- Cons of Vertical Digital Transformation: Higher system acquisition costs, tighter implementation timelines and increased likelihood of system blunders and downtimes during migration.
2. Horizontal Automation
Horizontal automation takes an integrative approach, finding ways to merge the new process-improvement software with the existing ERP. Companies seek out digital tools that are platform and application agnostic, meaning they don’t disrupt current systems, don’t require extensive employee re-training and don’t need to migrate the tremendous amount of data and files stored on legacy systems across individual departments.
- Pros of Horizontal Digital Transformation: Low cost and low risk for the implementing business. Changes are gradual. Finalized business processes and workflows are maintained on familiar platforms and operating systems.
- Cons of Horizontal Digital Transformation: Might be too expansive for businesses looking only for single-function solutions for one part of a workflow.
Vanguard Systems specializes in horizontal digital transformation. We help our partners implement new software technology while retaining their critical existing platforms, meaning they can work smarter — not harder — to see business-processes improvements across every role and in every department.
Key Workflows to Automate That Lead to Digital Business Transformation
With digital business transformation, employees across the organization use cutting-edge software to make their jobs quicker, easier and more in-sync. Important files and documents are accessible and shareable, applications communicate locally, and departments are no longer siloed based on limited access to or awareness of another’s procedures. What’s more, its integrated software will allow for automated horizontal data entry and updates across crucial documents, databases and in logs themselves — something that before would have to be done manually, one by one, by departments in charge of that slice of the workflow. The result deserves the name transformative. Organizations looking to digitally transform are those elevating their workforce from the individualistic, repetitive and mundane into the collaborative, resourceful and meaningful — right where they should be. The most common domains where businesses begin their digital transformation process include:
1. Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable
Accounts payable and accounts receivable departments are distinctly suited for automation-backed digital transformation. As the backbone to business’ back-office financial operations, everything from invoice receipts to proof of delivery requires meticulous document tracking, data entry, vendor-relationship management and compliant, transparent transaction trails. What’s more, manual accounts payable and accounts receivable operations are some of the most expensive and inefficient for a company to maintain. It takes nearly 20 days and 15 phases for an invoice to pass through a complete, validated manual workflow. AP and AR automated technologies bring that timeline down to three days — and saves the organization $16 per invoice.
2. Field Services and Management
Many businesses rely on field teams and personnel to deliver their full scale of goods and services. From subscription grocery boxes brought to customers’ doorsteps to electricians and similar tradespeople, these industries require new forms of task management and operations-aiding software they can use on-site, in-the-moment. Field-service mobile workforce management apps are today’s digital transformation solution. When installed on phones, tablets or any other devices already used, these apps give field reps instant access to work orders, inventory information, data directories, quote management resources, customer contracts and more. Employees back in the office work in that same software to dispatch and monitor field operations and relay any other logistical business processes as needed.
3. Human Resources
Human resource departments sit at the heart of a high-functioning, healthy organization. Their own departmental procedures are diverse and multi-faceted, with work that touches nearly every other domain and employee in a company. It’s all the more critical for human resources to be equipped with complementary digital transformation technology that not only makes their own document management tasks easier — but those of all enterprise employees. Cross-department workflow automation beginning with human resources organizes and alleviates silos in everything from employee training modules and certificates to filing contracts, non-disclosures, tax and government forms and much more. Plus, it keeps HR workflows compliant and protected, with most digital-transformation documentation software containing key encryption features and protections for personally identifying information.
How Vanguard Can Help Automate a Process
Vanguard Systems provides horizontal digital transformation for your existing software and applications. That means our core products unlock what digital resources you already have, beginning with one target department or domain but driving process improvement ripples across the entire organization. We integrate workflow-enhancing software with your existing ERP. This translates into tailored, individualized business-process solutions with automated technology that, piece by piece, lead to your digital transformation.
1. Vanguard Workflow
Vanguard Workflow is the central enterprise content management software powering horizontal integration capabilities. With it, you get workflow creation software that harmonizes the data files, document logs and inventories across departments that were previously — and frustratingly — siloed. Vanguard Workflow is designed to be as user-friendly and intuitive as possible, along with platform-agnostic integration. Once installed, it works as a series of built-in screen templates that help you search, find, input and format data within the applications employees use daily. Many template tasks are even designed to mirror familiar keying customs, with functions like MACROS, calculations and more. How Vanguard Workflow Provides Digital Transformation We help merge workflw into your devices and operating system, opening the doors to task and multi-step process management:
- Build custom rules and workflows into the software, meaning transactions, documents and validation pipelines can be effortlessly routed.
- Cross-department data comes stored in a SQL database rather than static, department-specific spreadsheets. This means easier and collaborative access to the critical information many departments need to get their jobs done.
- The SQL database reads and writes all data in an application-agnostic format. You can use and input its data across any of your current modern ERP application software.
- Uses a three-part digital framework to exchange data between the SQL and ERP applications in-use — electronic data interchange (EDI) technology, web services and offline data entry.
- No extensive employee training, legacy system recycling or programming required.
2. AP and AR Software
Control, transparency and efficiency are vital to high-functioning accounts payable and accounts receivable departments. Automated AP and AR software from Vanguard present a distinct solution to one of the essential operations behind your business, with benefits you’ll see beyond improved invoice processing times. Vanguard’s AP software works to address the proverbial pain points in accounting. Issues like manual data entry and their subsequent error rates, re-keying data from one document into another, missing invoices, manual invoice routing and slow decision and approval times become issues of the past under a tailored digital workflow software which merges with your current accounting ledgers. The result is a streamlined, simplified financial-transaction process that works using two contemporary, automated technologies:
- Optical character recognition (OCR): OCR technology takes pictures — most commonly PDFs or scans — and converts them into computer text. That text can then be automatically “read” by your new software, pulling key invoice information like purchase order data, due dates, invoice number, vendor account number and more.
- Form recognition: The software recognizes and classifies forms based on business and routing rules you input. You program these workflow funnels to ensure the right people get the correct invoice notifications and can pass them along to the next relevant employee without undue lag times.
How AP and AR Software Provides Digital Transformation In its complete three-step process, clients find the essential data traditionally managed by AP and AR soon becomes easier to access, share and use across all departments:
- Filing and routing: The software automatically reads and recognizes first-phase AR documents with its OCR function. Important documents like purchase orders and their invoices get automatically filed into appropriate ledgers, plus the software notifies relevant personnel of these received documents.
- Audit trails: The system starts creating an immediate, transparent transaction audit trail. Every activity and every validation gets automatically logged for a complete, compliant accounting workflow employees no longer log themselves.
- Complete cross-department ERP updates: Finally, the software automatically extracts vital invoice and vendor data to update your entire ERP. All essential data from purchase orders, ongoing and approved invoices get entered into accounts payable ledgers — along with their proofs of transaction — as well as entered into general order ledgers and company inventory logs — no manual data entry required anywhere, by anyone.
What’s more, there are multiple means to receive and archive vendor invoices and relevant documents, allowing employees to check off their role in the workflow as any of the following:
- Email attachments
- Drag and drop functions
- Scans using any Twain compliant scanner
- Scanning using a multi-function device
3. Vanguard eMobile
Vanguard eMobile is software that allows you to build and manage business forms and mobile “apps” for use with tablets and smartphones. Regardless of employee location — at their desk, in the office, out in the field or working from home that day — you have a single repository for all external-facing operations. Employees do not require a WiFi or cellular connection to use these mobile apps and digital forms in the field. Once cell service or WiFi becomes available, all completed and dispatched forms are automatically replicated. eMobile replaces legacy paper-based systems with a mobile document database used on iOS or Android phones and tablets. All work orders and customer receipts go digital, as well as other key business-process field documents:
- Maintenance work orders
- Service and warranty contracts
- Customer-order processing, including a warehouse environment’s inventory management, pick lists and shipping
- PDF documents of every form automatically archived and cross-referenced for future purposes
How eMobile Provides Digital Transformation Field-document operations are multi-faceted and multi-stepped, traditionally involving many employees, departments and coordinated sign-offs to complete a workflow. Paperwork was liable to be lost during transport, and errors on forms produced in the field took days to correct as files were printed, scanned and re-sent to all constituents, then received, re-check and re-filed. With eMobile, these steps are all accomplished from one ERP-compatible system:
- Audit data and forms collected in the field from anywhere. Validation can be done in one system.
- Route field-level transactions and operations. You program rule-based routes for field employees to initiate, allowing them to do their tasks quickly, then funnel them along to the next checkpoint.
- Assign and approve work from the mobile application, allowing you to better monitor and manage field productivity.
- Conditionally dispatch additional forms or tasks as needed, based on transactions noted from field employees.
- Archive all field forms as PDFs that automatically get saved into relevant ERP logs for future reference.
- Proof of delivery documentation and audit trails, with signature capture, GPS and photos saved in the ERP.
- Manage all this from a single dashboard and employee-assigned work baskets.
4. Vanguard eSign
Vanguard eSign provides a digital business-process solution to create, capture and log signatures and signed forms. It’s an electronic signature documentation resource allowing customers, clients and your own employees to digitally sign paperwork in a convenient, paperless system. Those signed documents automatically merge and get saved into relevant ERP files, using cloud-based data entry and signature capture technology primed for the following:
- Contracts or proposals
- License agreements
- Non-disclosures and other employment agreements
- State and local forms
- W-4 or I-9 government forms
There’s no additional programming required on your part. eSign integrates with other software and document archives and is particularly useful for HR departments and their filing processes. Employees and clients no longer have to manually send, receive and scan multiple copies of signed and completed paperwork, validate signatures or save it into proper logs and the ERP manually.
How Vanguard eSign Provides Digital Transformation eSign not only files and saves signed documents. Across your business operations, its system allows all departments to more easily:
- Send and receive notifications of incoming documents
- Set up document queues and notify appropriate persons on late or unreturned files
- Validates the data on signed documents
- Routes documents to the appropriate user or group
- A complete document workflow history, with the original source and cross-phase documents automatically logged for review and legal audit trails
- Eliminate relevant dates and data entry into the ERP
Let Vanguard Be Your Partner in Complete Digital Business Transformation
A business bettering itself today is a business poised for success tomorrow. Vanguard Solutions partners with companies looking to transform how business gets done. We work with you to provide the software and technology necessary to unlock strategic, automated enterprise workflows and realize your holistic digital transformation. Request a custom product demonstration today, or reach out directly with questions on how to achieve company-wide digital transformation.
See How Vanguard Systems Software Works Today
The best way to see how Vanguard Systems software works to protect and maximize the efficiency of your business is to see it in action for yourself. We want every business to be able to benefit from our services, so we’re happy to offer a free, no-risk, no-obligation demonstration of what we can do. To schedule your demo or discuss any of our software applications, call 800-445-1418 or contact us online now.