Business process re-engineering is a big subject, and those that undertake it know that it is usually a big undertaking.
But they also know that every business process consists of a host of smaller ones, and that small improvements made along the way to each can total quite significantly. At times, one small improvement can even stop a log-jam building up and slowing down the whole process.
That was the case at insurance giant Royal Sun Alliance (RSA)where productivity in customer service was being held up at one small, but significant point - transforming the 1.7 million items of mail received annually into computer-storable images to feed into the company's workflow systems. Such was the volume of paper arriving at the RSA's central post location in Birmingham that staff were having to pull out all the stops, constantly, just to maintain throughput.
"The pressure was on and they were struggling to keep up," says Phil Surley, system team manager at RSA. "We were running at something close to full capacity. It was definitely a problem."
The critical rate limiting factor was the speed at which the 30 existing scanners could operate. Each incoming piece of paper had to be fed in, scanned, turned over and scanned again, one at a time.
"Now we've streamlined the process," says Surley, "productivity has doubled."
Installing two high-speed duplex Kodak K3500 scanners controlled by ActionPoint's Input Accel software, RSA can now scan incoming mail in batches, both sides simultaneously, imaging 100 pages a minute.
Staff at workstations check the document image that appears on their screen for an index criterion, such as policy number, and key it in as part of the image file. The software checks against other systems, such as claims processing, to ensure the number is valid, and then sends it by high speed communications links to RSA's datacentre in Horsham where it joins the several hundred gigabytes of stored document images in IBM's mainframe-based ImagePlus that feeds the workflow system.
The result is that for each customer there is an electronic file with all correspondence, status and actions. But every improvement leaves room for further improvement.
Surley, a keen hill walker, has a personal campaign to keep trees where nature put them, and not let them creep into RSA as waste paper.
"The new system allows us to make significant improvements to processing and productivity easily and quickly," he says.
The insurance giant is also working on an electronic format for outgoing letters, working off the PC that generates it, and incoming faxes that are transfered directly into the imaging system.
This was first published in September 2000