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Letter To The Editor: Don't Overlook Benefit Of Workflow, ECM

The July 31 issue of The Credit Union Journal featured an article entitled, "How to give paper, microfiche the COLD shoulder." This article overlooked the benefits of workflow as part of an enterprise content management (ECM) system. Once known simply as document imaging and COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk), ECM is a term that has evolved to include a wide variety of applications common to most credit unions such as document imaging, workflow, electronic document management, COLD/ECM and records management-all important applications for a credit union of any size.

As ECM adoption increases among credit unions, many are depending on workflow to automate and standardize key business processes. For example, accounts payable and human resources processes are traditionally manual and paper-intensive processes. Another priority is easing the increasingly paper-centric processes of mortgage and consumer loan processing by reviewing, approving and managing documents. Workflow is arguably the most VALUABLE component of an ECM system; one that eliminates highly manual tasks, minimizes human error, standardizes, and, in many cases, improves business processes across the credit union.

Workflow has emerged as one of the most critical components of a successful ECM strategy, often forcing credit unions to re-evaluate their traditional business practices to increase efficiencies and reduce human error. Workflow eliminates documents from being caught in bottlenecks and silos, as well as the routine of "floating documents" lingering on desks, all which significantly impact member service and business process efficiency.

After reading the article, I spoke with John Layton, vice president central operations at $333-million Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union (DAFCU). He told me ECM technologies force credit unions to reexamine their traditional business processes. It's similar to when credit unions began to turn away from batch processing and embraced online, real-time processing. As a result, credit unions were one of the first institutions to realize the powerful impact of automated document retrieval and workflow systems, and we are well ahead of the curve.

Layton also pointed out how workflow improves business processes through standardization and automation. Workflow prevents such mistakes as slipping up on an Office of Foreign Assets Control check, which could cost a credit union significantly, or HR losing an I-9. People can lose or bury invoices or incorrectly index a file which can trigger a chain of events that leads to fines, credit bureau claims and reviews from audit boards-all of which can eventually impact the interest rates on products that a credit union can offer its members.

DAFCU's commitment to increasing efficiency to improve service for its 49,152 members has made workflow a mission critical system within their infrastructure. Layton said his credit union has included workflow in its strategic plan and has created a new position, workflow business analyst, whose sole function is to work with operations, the OnBase solution, and other employees at the credit union to identify and build workflows and process improvement solutions.

Initially viewed as a best practice, DAFCU now relies heavily on workflow to initiate document capture at point of entry, creating e-forms and electronic documents, while going so far as to eliminate the labor-intensive process of scanning thousands of paper documents.

For instance, AP processing is inherently bureaucratic, taking time to identify and deliver documents, which naturally slows down the approval process and, possibly, can lead to late fees or other penalties. With a centralized AP system, relevant documents are automatically stored and routed to the people who need to approve or reject them. Another example of the benefits of utilizing workflow is from a member service perspective. Tellers on the front line are also able to view and process member-related documents and requests with the click of a mouse. Having instant access to member records and documents can typically save staff five to six minutes per transaction and provides an opportunity to instantly offer new products or up-sell these products to members at competitive rates.

As the industry matures, cost-effective ECM solutions are increasingly available. Integration with existing core processing, loan origination and other line-of-business systems is a key factor when reviewing top-tier ECM solutions. Using a solution with a scalable architecture allows for an incremental, modular approach that eases the implementation process, and helps ensure that the technology will grow with the credit union.

User groups and outside references are popular trends that offer new and existing users resources to maximize their technology investments. More programs are being developed in response to users sharing ideas in open forums that address emerging needs while also suggesting product enhancements that directly affect technology vendors' development efforts.

Return on investment (ROI) from an ECM solution is typically realized in a year or less by way of reduced paper and copying costs, space savings, rapid access to documents and higher level of member service. This ROI can be further accelerated with workflow to standardize and automate business processes allowing credit unions-and their member-to benefit quickly and significantly.

Jason King, Director of Financial Services Solutions, Hyland Software, Inc., Westlake, Ohio.

Send Letters To The Editor To Lisa Freeman at lfreeman<at>cujournal.com.

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