The pandemic has accelerated technology trends, with customer behaviours and preferred interactions having changed significantly.

Companies have been required to accelerate their shift to modern workstyles and technology-based operations where digital services, automation and adaptability are key.

Kyocera Management team photographs in July 2014 by Jeremy Glyn

Werner Engelbrecht, GM of Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa (KDZA), says that many companies have kicked around the idea of establishing defined working from home (WFH) policies for years.

But these have more usually stalled for any number of reasons: inadequate technology; a lack of remote working culture; an absence of metrics to measure performance.

“But the Covid-19 pandemic hit us and, in the blink of an eye, we had to become 100% remote overnight with little time for preparation,” Engelbrecht says.

“And it turns out that, by diving into the deep end, we were able to realise that we were in fact fully able to work from home.”

KDZA itself was well prepared for the move to WFH, being well down the road on an automation journey that began five years back.

“For us, the transition was very smooth as we already have 109 digital forms and 115 automated processes running in the business,” Engelbrecht says. “This highlighted the benefit of digital transformation and we were happy to see our five-year journey proved even more valuable than ever.

“Actually, our biggest obstacle for business continuity was ensuring that all staff had connectivity at home for access to the centrally-stored repositories. So we didn’t really miss a beat when the lockdown started.”

KDZA is predominantly a printing company, so the fact that it made going paperless a goal is significant.

The company hasn’t moved to a completely paperless environment, Engelbrecht says, but it has substantially cut its requirements on physical documents.

The journey began a little over five years ago when Engelbrecht set in motion a project to automate invoicing. Since then, a massive 200 000 invoices have been digitised. “If you conservatively estimate that a physical invoice costs R10 to produce and maintain, we can attribute a R2-million saving just to the automation of that one process.”

Every company is under pressure to streamline its processes, and to save money, Engelbrecht points out. “To manage a process, though, you need to be able to measure it – and it’s hard to do that for manual processes.

“It was only when we really started to use enterprise content management that our eyes were opened to the full possibilities.

“ECM has allowed us to properly understand our processes.”

Engelbrecht explains that, in the world of physical forms, documents are printed and then have to be passed along a physical process chain. In the electronic world, someone starts an electronic process and it automatically proceeds along the workflow.

This means the company can also analyse bottlenecks or problems with the process and focus on streamlining them.

“The ECM project was a real eye-opener for us. Because we had real statistics, we could arrow in on issues to improve the whole process.”

Since it was well down the road on it digital transformation journey, with 90% of its processes digitised, when the hard lockdown started in March, KDZA didn’t feel much impact on its operations.

“Employees simply use an app on their phone or PC to kickstart a form or workflow,” Engelbrecht explains. “This has benefits in normal times as well by giving us complete mobility and ensuring that there is never an interruption to the process.

“In the old days – and this still happens in a lot of businesses – if a manager wasn’t at his desk the paperwork simply piled up and created a backlog.

“Now, regardless of where I am or what time it is, I can review documents, approve or decline them, or request more information. It gives me flexibility and mobility – and the work always gets done.”

Streamlining processes is an obvious advantage to ECM, but there are many others, Engelbrecht says.

For instance, by back-scanning documents KDZA was able to get rid of 5 tonnes of paper from physical archives. And going forward, it will never have to create those mounds of paper again.

“We have also been able to let staff members reskill and move up the value chain to do more interesting and fulfilling jobs by automating many of the mundane processes they looked after.”

A lot of companies still have employees performing what Engelbrecht calls “swivel chair actions” – reading information off one screen and capturing it on to another.

“We can eliminate that by using digital information.”

The examples of time and cost savings are almost endless, Engelbrecht says. But they all come down to saving time and money, increasing accuracy and efficiency, and making the business a more streamlined place where employees can work from anywhere.

“It has changed our business,” Engelbrecht says confidently.

Because lockdown has seen no interruption to work, remote working is here to stay at KDZA. In fact, Engelbrecht believes it will translate into significant competitive advantage for the company.

Of course, a 100% remote working scenario is neither possible nor desirable over the long term, he adds.

“Some employees are geared for WFH; however connectivity issues, privacy at home and load shedding are a few obstacles to the successful implementation of a 100% WFH environment.

Looking ahead, it seems unlikely that a 100% office or home working model will work. It is, therefore, very important to find the right balance between the two.

“On the one hand, we should give our employees the flexibility to embrace and enjoy the positive side of working from home, but we also need to value the sense of community and team spirit that comes with working together in the office and through face to face casual interactions.

“We foresee less office space being needed in future with a hot-swop workspace environment.”

For customers moving to WFH, KDZA has a number of solutions to help them.

On the hardware side, the company recently starting offering home office equipment through retail outlets; and also partnered with Vox to offer home printer rental.

“Kyocera’s move into retail had long been on the cards and the timing couldn’t have been better,” Engelbrecht says. “Consumers can now order Kyocera printers, which are known for their robust and innovative technology, from online store Takealot; and they can rent these reliable office grade printers from Vox instead of having to buy them outright.”

Although KDZA has predominantly played in the business to business (B2B) market, these moves are part of its expansion into the business to consumer (B2C) space as well. “So now all sectors of the market can be served – and we’ve opened up new opportunities for Kyocera and our partners.”

On the software side, there has been heightened interest in ECM, giving companies the strategies, methods, technologies, and tools for centrally storing, managing, and sharing all content in an organisation, including paper documents, digital documents, images and audio files.

KDZA is able to use itself as a case study in ECM implementation and is therefore in a good position to advise and help its customers.

“We have been encouraging companies to talk to us and to partner with us in their digital transformation,” Engelbrecht says. “Why? Because when the lockdown came, there was absolutely no transition for us. We continued working as per usual, except we weren’t at the office.”

Although many people are still working from home, there’s a lot of paperwork left behind in their offices.

“So what is happening to the forms that people used to work with?” Engelbrecht asks. “Are those processes simply being neglected?

“The fact that people are not recording time, overtime, leave and more could result in losses to the business. But if people don’t have the tools to manage it, they can’t comply with the processes.

“For WFH, companies really need to have proper ECM in place.”

When starting the digital transformation journey, Engelbrecht advises customers to start with one process.

“You can’t do everything in one go, but start with something – look at one process, one form.”

KDZA can help customers to analyse their needs and assess their processes. These can then be automated and matched to one another where necessary.

“The first think we do is look at the pain points – even though companies often don’t even realise they have the pain. Ask why you do a particular process. And the fact that it’s always been done that way isn’t a good reason to carry on like that.”

Engelbrecht also urges all stakeholders to get involved in process optimisation. “The chief financial officer, the chief information officer and the chief technology officer should all be involved in an automation project.”

The bottom line, however, is that all companies should be looking to ECM, he stresses.

“Because if you don’t, some of your competitors will do it.”

 

For more information on Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa, please visit www.kyoceradocumentsolutions.co.za