Are paper processes a thing of the past? Or do manufacturers just need to start thinking smarter about these processes? TM sat down with HP representatives Marie-Amelie Masnou, Worldwide Manufacturing Industry Lead, and Ian Ames-White, UK & Ireland Advanced Document Solution Country Manager to discuss the future of workplace paper processes.
TM: Manufacturing is already going through a period of rapid digitalisation and you believe you have a crucial role to play in this move, particularly in the process of digitising paper processes, how exactly is HP aiming to do this?
Marie-Amelie Masnou (MAM): It’s true that manufacturers rely heavily on paper and HP is at the core, we come from the printing industry. When our manufacturer customers ask us to come in we’re looking at optimising and rationalising their printing and imaging fleet. We’re moving beyond this, meaning we really want to look at business processes and where the paper is in the flow of the information for their operation. We are approaching this with specific advisory services looking at where the pain is in the paper processes and optimising those processes, so we really look at the business processes and we want to improve them. It’s really us considering the environment beyond just printing and imaging and optimising those processes byoffering the right services around it.
TM: What are the most common “points of pain” you find in manufacturing businesses?
Ian Ames-White (IAW): There are certainly areas where we see consistent pain in a lot of businesses and the customer, the manufacturer, has got to identify those areas. An example might be as simple as invoice processing. The invoices might be coming in from multi-channel sources, so you might have a small manufacturer who’s bringing in just a paper invoice, posting it, someone else is emailing it and using an EDI system. All of these multi-channel inputs need to be captured and put into the right place. If they get lost then of course you’re going to get penalties for late invoice payments and so on, so it’s these little areas of pain that I think is the mistake that some customers and some companies make and think “right, we’re going to digitise everything” and this broad brush approach isn’t the right one. You need to specifically look at where there are issues and how we can improve them.
MAM: I would say that the typical mistake is to be reluctant to move, and to adopt, digitisation. So most of the manufacturers would really not look at, or anticipate, the benefit of a potential digitisation or automation of a business processes. Instead they would really like to keep what’s going on and not measure the benefits. They underestimate the benefit they could have from adopting new technologies and transforming their business.
TM: Space is crucial on manufacturing shop floors, so what are we looking at in terms of actual kit when implementing these systems?
MAM: We’re looking at integrating multi-function devices – the device can print, it can scan, it can capture. This is not going to take three different devices. It’s going to take the same device that already has those capabilities enabled. So really we’re not multiplying the number of hardware devices that are needed we’re just making sure that our customers, or manufacturers, make the best and full use of the capabilities they have existing in their environment anyway.
IAW: We need to seamlessly integrate them with mobile devices as well. They’re becoming much more prevalent in the working space. They might be hand-held, they might be barcode scanners, they might be tablet devices, all of which can input from the screen. Or they might be able to photograph a document or an error on a piece of manufacturing process, take a picture, send it straight through to the design office to actually check if it’s right and what needs to be done about it. All of those can be integrated without increasing the space or requirement in the manufacturing office, and work very effectively.
TM: Are you seeing these processes being adopted more so by companies that are adopting lean strategies in their businesses?
IAW: They are the obvious early adopters when they’re looking at their businesses as a whole. But that doesn’t preclude people who have an HR on-boarding issue, which is just as likely to be in a manufacturer as it is to a bank, to a retailer, or there might be an expenses system which might be digitised, so it doesn’t have to be big systems where you go in and make a difference. You can make a difference in a very small way; gain confidence throughout the business that this process works and is giving benefits, and then move to bigger things.
TM: How do you link your services with existing backend software and resources such as ERP systems?
IAW: What is key for a lot of companies is they’ve already made an investment in some sort of backend system. Whether it be a database or a mass production system or an ERP system. We aren’t in the business of replacing those. What we’re trying to do is capture information as early as possible in the process, digitise it, extract information from it, and then pass that into those systems, whatever they may be. We have interfaces or APIs in our products which will link directly in to an ERP system so the information coming into the customer, in whatever format that might be, in that multi-channel input can be posted reliably into the ERP systems.
TM: Can you see receipt in proof of delivery systems going completely paperless to make supply chain systems more efficient?
MAM: Proof of delivery, like invoice note and processing, are all the classic examples but these are never going to go paperless and there will always be a mix, and that’s why we mention it now. We want to help digitise these documents to make the electronic flow a lot more efficient and cost effective but the paper will remain just simply for compliancy or regulation reasons. There is no way we can remove the paper and have a completely paperless office. It’s going to depend one country to the other, but some countries and regulations require that the physical paper is kept and archived in a physical and accessible storage for so many years.
So the answer to paperless? No, it’s not going to be the goal. Eventually, yes, reduce the costs related to printing or dealing with too much paper. But you will need both anyway, and the solutions we want to provide to our customers is to have the best of both worlds.
TM: A lot of other industries, such as the banking and finance sectors, have adopted these processes quite early on with about 50% of processes now paperless. How is manufacturing tracking compared to these other industries?
IAW: We find that, for example, the financial services industry are early adopters, and especially at the moment, they’ve got lots of governance as part of their process so they’re having to audit their processes, digitise their processes. They are adopting early.
Manufacturers tend to be behind that process. They tend to be more cautious and they have processes which have been in place in the workplace and aren’t governed in the same way as perhaps other industries are. But health and safety is becoming bigger, archiving is becoming more important, so we are seeing a lot of growth in that area. What we’re finding is the earlier they digitise and capture information the better for the whole process. The way to start is to get a consultative approach, to start talking with the customer, to start highlighting those pain points so that we can actually follow the process as documents flow through the whole business and pick off some of these simple areas and start that digitisation process as early as possible.