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Paperless Workplace Automation and Collaboration

Paperless workplace automation and collaboration are not just words that sound good, they are very real and quite simple to achieve. Most companies have stepped into this by using standard products like file storage, email, reporting, and website/portals. These technologies have found their way into the workplace and have introduced the paperless office to your staff. The results: The users are processing and reporting information electronically, eliminating the need for the paper.

However, this seems to be somewhat generational because the older folks still want the paper. This roadblock stems from their fear that electronic information is not as "legal", fear of using the technology required to search and review, or entrenched SOP's that require the actual paper. (There is more, but these are the most common ones that I see). Until we reach a point where ALL employees are utilizing paperless workplace automation and new SOP's are written to void the paper requirement, the true paperless workplace and all its efficiencies will not be achieved.

So what do we do? I will take an actual business case and breakdown the steps that were required to achieve the paperless process. Also, I will discuss technology features that are important to the process, and finally, I will discuss the benefits that came from automating that work process. Before I begin, make note that in most companies there are many work processes that can be automated, so the process of going paperless needs to be addressed one process at a time.

The Problem:

Story Construction was a growing construction firm that found that their business opportunities took them outside of their local city. Each new job required an on-site manager to handle the operations of the project. Most of the purchasing was done locally to the job, either with a credit card, or open account. Time sheets were generated in the field by the superintendents and sent to the job trailer to be entered into an Excel Spreadsheet that was sent to the home office every Friday. Subcontracts where negotiated on site, but had to be approved before execution. Subs and vendors would send their invoices to the job site trailer, where they would be coded and approved. Then they were sent to home office for processing and payments. Sub payments where sent back to the job site in order to control the lien waivers necessary to release payment. Each project manager was managed by an executive in the main office.

In this scenario there were several problems:

  1. The processing and approving of accounts payable invoices from subs and vendors

  2. Creating and executing sub contracts

  3. Collecting and processing credit card charges and getting them to cost reports

  4. Collecting and sending paperwork received at the job site back to main office

  5. Double entry of information, like time capture and submission

  6. Status reporting and collaboration with executive management

Let's tackle purchasing and paying bills first! There are many opportunities in this work process where paperless automation and collaboration can improve efficiency, add controls, and reduce the cost of processing. Starting with the purchasing of material or the generation of a sub contract with a vendor, we needed a way to execute a purchase order or negotiate a sub contract agreement on demand at the job site, while still providing home office with the controls to manage the process. To achieve this we implemented Omnidek which gave us the ability to create the necessary forms required in the process. By implementing Omnidek, the forms could be created from any device or desktop, and with its Entry Point Validation, we would be able to flow the information from the forms to the ERP system without double entry. Also, the field utilized structure lookups to increase the accuracy of the information on the form.

Omnidek's routing and reporting features gave us the necessary approval and collaboration functionality to insure main office was queued in on all purchasing activity at the job site. All said, the process of creating purchase orders and subcontracts, getting them approved, executed, and sent to accounting for booking, was completely automated, while creating and maintaining the image files electronically.

With credit card purchases, the foreman would snap an image copy of the receipt, code the purchase, then submit to main office for approval and posting to the job. These receipts would later be matched with the transactions from the credit card company and reconciled with Omnidek. Also, invoices that were received by vendors at the jobsite could be entered into Omnidek, coded, approved, and sent to main office for automated updating of the ERP accounts payable module.

Using the Omnidek Portal feature, vendors could submit invoices or pay applications. Routing rules were established so that the invoice went to the correct person(s) for approval (desktop or phone), collaboration on invoice issues with the vendor or internal management, matching of supporting documentation, then automatic uploads to the ERP accounts payable module.

To conclude, Omnidek was able to capture the receiving documentation electronically and send that paperwork into accounting for matching and verification of receipt. This allowed accounting to implement a 3-way matching process for better control on purchasing and posting to accounts payable.

The final step in the process was handled by the ERP solution which was the vendor payments. Using the EFT feature of the software, we were able to select invoices for payment, get approval, then pay the vendors with electronic checks. Once the checks were cut, we uploaded the check file and updated the invoice record with the check reference number(s). If the check required extra support documentation, we could use the Omnidek portal to notify the vendor that a waiver was required and they could attach the documentation to the notification form so that once received, the check would be electronically funded.

So, let's look at what we accomplished. We were able to:

  1. Implement a paperless purchase requisition process that established controls on every purchase or contract created in the field, as well as giving us real-time approval and reporting of commitments.

  2. Eliminated the double entry of these transactions to the ERP system.

  3. Improved our ability to capture and match documents to invoices and pay applications which improved the accuracy of our payments, provided virtual processing (AP clerks could work from home), and external/internal reporting of invoice status through the vendor portal.

  4. Streamline credit card and expense receipt capture, coding, approval, posting, and reconciliation that achieved a 70% reduction in FET's (full time equivalents) for that process.

  5. Eliminated all paper from the process which reclaimed over 75% of FET's, while maintaining electronic images of all documents for reporting, supporting, or reviewing.

  6. Enabled more accurate job cost reporting by posting cost daily.

  7. Improved vendor relations by including them into the process and allowing for collaboration and status reporting.

  8. Mobilized and virtualized the process so that processing, reviewing, and reporting was logistically benign (all functions could be done from anywhere).

  9. Streamlined the contract/change order process which reduced over 70% of the production time and improved the collaborative recording of each transaction.

Time Capture was next! With Omnidek, we created several types of timesheets that were required for the job. We needed a crew-based time sheet and an individual time sheet for the office folks. The timesheets could be entered on a phone, pad, or desktop, routed for approval, then posted to the ERP payroll module. This eliminated all the double entry and improving time reporting by moving to daily processing. We added per diem, production, and equipment time to the crew time sheet forms so that we could get a snapshot of the day's progress, any per diem that needed to be captured and paid, and equipment time that needed to be posted and accrued. Omnidek's form flexibility allowed us to add additional daily report questions to the crew time sheets which eliminated the need for two forms. The office could monitor the daily posting of information which eliminated the crisis management at the end of the week for payroll processors. Finally, several of the jobs were time and material, so the timesheet could be accumulated and reporting could be done to prepare the T & M reports with backup.

In conclusion, paperless work place automation and collaboration, when deployed for this work process, returned a substantial return on investment, improved accuracy and control, virtualized the process, and provided better access and reporting to needed job cost information. Story Construction was able to:

  1. Eliminate the postal charges (Fed-x)

  2. Take advantage of early payment discounts

  3. Improve AP clerical production by 300%

  4. Improve the cost accuracy by going to daily collection and reporting

  5. Incorporate community collaboration with vendor and customer partners to insure quick and accurate resolution of issues related to these transactions

  6. Provide a more transparent paperless work process for all involved

The Omnidek Platform was also able to provide workflow automation functionality to other processes within human resources, work order processing, equipment, project management, and accounts receivable (billing). I will address those in future blogs.

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