5 Ways Automated Order Processing Can Unlock Value For BusinessesNick Scarff
Understanding the Context for Using Automated Order Processing Technologies
Customer expectations have never been higher. We are well used to engaging with online services and receiving impeccable speed and efficiency for personal items we purchase. The growth of services like Amazon has been astounding and to a large extent has been based on convenience, the breadth of products and speed of delivery. We’ve got used to this level of service and its annoying, frustrating and potentially costly when it doesn’t translate in the business world. A bad experience may force a customer to seek redress or to find an alternative supplier.
One area where service can be impacted, and often falls short of what we expect, extends from the receipt of a sales order through processing and ultimately submission into backend systems, (CRM, ERP etc). Often best described as a ‘Black Hole’, where its difficult to know what has been received, where it is in the process, who is dealing with it and whether it will meet internal targets or SLAs.
This isn’t just an internal issue, the customer can also feel they are in the ‘Black Hole’ too; with no insight or updates around the status of their order. By comparison, think about the Amazon experience, you know when you will get an item before your order, you get multiple status updates and can track it all the way through the process to your door.
Undoubtedly EDI has solved this issue for many organisations, where they have many repeat orders from the same customer, an agreed method of exchanging data and the technical skills and time to put this in place. However, this isn’t always practical in every case and often means that there is a long tail of customers where it would be too costly or impractical to use EDI.
For many organisations, these non-EDI orders, have to be processed manually. Typically, they are being received in a shared mailbox and distributed across order processing teams for subsequent input. Often specific individual people in the processing team will know certain customers, and the nuances of their particular orders, so there is often a manual sorting process and ‘divvying’ up.
In some cases, they will be worked on directly from the mailbox, using some form of colour coding or tagging. Although, we still see today that in other cases they will be physically printed and then shared out as stacks of paper!
How Can Technology Help to Automate Order Processing?
An order processing system consisting of Cognitive Capture and Process Automation technologies allows sales orders to be ingested at the point of receipt directly from a mailbox. Instantly and automatically starting the processing clock so that service levels and targets can be measured. From here, data can be automatically extracted using machine learning and artificial intelligence to remove much of the manual effort required to process orders. Additionally, specific business rules and data validation checks can be applied to optimise accuracy and identify potential issues as early as possible. Once the data has been collected and validated it is converted into a format that can be ingested by the internal systems or pushed directly into it.
Where there is an issue with an order or something to be queried with a customer, a workflow process can be triggered to manage this in the system, track responses and ultimately report back for future corrective action.
So What is the Business Case for Sales Order Automation?
1 – Reduced Operational Costs
Automated data extraction will mean less time spent keying and higher productivity, so resources can spend time on more value-add activities. Greater data validation will lead to improvements in accuracy, removing costly mistakes and errors.
Clearly the obvious one. It’s often the one that gets most focus initially, but in reality, for many organisations it becomes a ‘hygiene factor’ for an IT project. Of course, it should save you money, but what else will automated order processing do?
2 – Improved Cashflow
Automating large parts of the process and improving productivity will mean that an order can be processed faster, thereby enabling the fulfilment and ultimately billing of the order to also happen more quickly.
3 – Process Intelligence
You can’t improve what you can’t measure! Too often reporting on a manual process revolves around an excel sheet produced at the end of the week or month that contains manually collated, retrospective stats. An automated order processing platform can tell you real-time what is happening in the process, at any point, identify bottlenecks and provide early warning notifications as things look like they may fail to meet SLAs. Improved access to data will also help the organisation to make better future decisions on the process to further enhance productivity and efficiency.
4 – Order Processing Teams Can Focus on Value Tasks
The value of most order processing teams is not normally how quickly they can input an order, but the heuristic knowledge that they have to make judgements and solve order issues for the customers they are dealing with. Freeing the teams from manual tasks will allow them to focus more on valuable activities and ultimately drive higher job satisfaction and engagement.
5 – Customer Experience
A great way to start thinking about an IT project is to start with the customer experience. Get that right and cost reductions and process improvements will follow. Process and fulfil customers orders faster, more accurately and keep them informed along the way.