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Friday, February 4, 2022

Is It Workflow? Or Is It Just a Tool?


“something (as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” – Merriam-Webster. 

Back in the good ol’ days, before MpS, a few smart folks started referring to scanning as the on-ramp to document management. Not a bad way to look at it, and not a bad way to turn an ancillary tool into more than what it is – that's called marketing. It’s akin to selling copiers as “document management engines,” when all they really do is put marks on paper. It’s selling an idea, not the machine. 

Today the new dimension in managed print services – workflow – is undergoing the same marketing treatment. As the rush toward this niche intensifies, intrepid voyagers be aware: 

There is a difference between workflow tools and workflow. I'm not belittling the attempt to get involved in this business or suggesting some sort of “workflow” purity. I bring this up because, unlike managed print services, your prospects and clients have an understanding of workflow and what to expect. They may not formally label it as workflow, but they will recognize the benefits of making a change in the way things have always been done.

If you present scanning software as a workflow solution, you'll end up disappointing everybody, and two years from now, we'll be reading articles about the “false promises of workflow.” It is important to know the difference between a tool and a philosophy, between a pitch and an idea. 

To illustrate further, let’s take a look at some examples: 

Example One: 

I’ve seen this, and so have you: A scanning software provider offers up a package embedded into an MFP (at the user panel). The software allows end-users to easily scan documents, such as incoming invoices, from the device into a common file on a network server. The scanned images are available to all knowledge workers. Is this workflow? 

Example Two:

 A medium-size company receives many orders via fax on three separate fax machines. (Yes, I said fax machines, not MFPs.) The orders physically fall out of the fax machine into mail crates; we call it a “gravity-fed collection process.” Each knowledge worker is assigned a static set of clients. 

Once in a while, one of 50 order-entry clerks would gather and sort all incoming orders – and by “sort,” I mean separate his or her orders out and leave the rest in a pile – returning back to his or her desk with the assigned orders. 

I recommend that the client install a fax server, which emails a digitized copy of each fax to the appropriate knowledge worker. Is this workflow? 

Example Three: 

Twelve knowledge workers at a technology provider process hundreds of orders a day. The provider has built portals for all its suppliers and provides its largest clients with personalized online ordering, yet many customers still send POs via email, fax, and USPS. The company, therefore, has a fully implemented fax-server solution. 

For the hard-copy POs, reception opens each envelope, scans the contents, then emails the images to the appropriate knowledge worker. Each knowledge worker's workstation consists of a keyboard, one large monitor, a mouse, and a personal printer. The order-entry process includes retrieving the hard copy, faxed PO, or printing the emailed attachment, then clipping the hard copy to the side of a monitor and entering the necessary data. This process, or variations of this process, are repeated hour after hour, day after day, by all 12 workers. 

I recommend and implement dual monitors for each worker – no software; no EDM; no scan-to-file, indexing, or metadata. Just $200 monitors presenting images of POs on one screen while data entry is completed on the other. Is this workflow? In all three instances, the answer is yes. Why? Each solution examined the current situation, made a recommendation that would remove bottlenecks and improved departmental productivity. 

At the time, the word “workflow” wasn’t used to describe the flow of orders through the process. There wasn't any digital workflow software or formalized optimization process. On the provider side, quotas and commissions drove the cycle. 

On the client-side, an increased number of orders processed kept the project moving through the funnel. It was a classic selling engagement with a win-win result, and these enhanced solutions solidified a company’s position as the primary device provider. And although in the strictest sense, the improved workflow was not the goal, it certainly was the result of the above endeavors. The tools of each recommendation (fax servers, dual monitors, and scan-to-file solutions) were just that: tools – a means to an end, nothing more. 

The ultimate step: monetizing all this stuff This historical mumbo jumbo is academic. The only difference is, that was then, and this is now. Today hardware and services margins are falling victim to gravity. We’re looking for new streams and new opportunities. As opposed to our monthly revenue model, each of the above solutions generated a project-based transaction and one-time revenue opportunity. 

Is there a way to derive revenue streams from workflow? Possibly. 

There are two choices (there are always two choices): - Commoditize workflow into a box or - Modify existing models into a leaner, less product-centric, and more consultative entity. 

Man in the box 

 The easiest way to secure run-rate revenue is to sell the same item over and over at a consistent price and known margin. Duplicating a process or product infers reducing the machine or service to its base components, thus simplifying the entire selling formula. In other words, in an effort to easily repeat processes, we dumb down the offering, selling to the lowest common denominator. 

This is not a judgment. Indeed, commoditizing a product is a sound business practice that generates predictable results; demand can be anticipated, sales forecast. It’s more difficult to commoditize a process than a product. 

Watch out for companies describing their solution as “workflow in a box.” Yes, the pitch is simplicity-based, but the offering is a shallow and unsustainable argument. Everything sold in a box leads back to the run rate and is a transactional value proposition. The sky is not the limit If we want to make a sustainable revenue stream with workflow, look to the cloud – workflow as a service (WFaaS), for example. 

This is a radical redirection for even those of us who have made the transformation into managed services, and yet it is the more sustainable approach. 

There's more. 

Workflow in the cloud does not simply refer to a filing cabinet in the sky. Consider an entire CRM in the cloud. Also, think about the accounting software-as-a-service solutions, such as SAP Business One. If you're looking for repeatable revenue streams, look up.  

Remember, at its base: 

- Workflow is more than a piece of software or a chunk of hardware. 
- Workflow is a business process transformation.
- Workflow is documented, assessed, then optimized. 
- Workflow is a plan – both strategic and tactical.
- Workflow is not billed per click. It is a long way from marks on paper to accounts receivables in the cloud. 

Let's be clear: Tools are “used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” They are not the solution, but they do make it easier to reach an objective. 

We control the tools; the tools do not rule us. 

Good selling. 

Posted on 02/21/2013

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Wednesday, February 2, 2022

New to Copier Sales – Use Local Events to Share Your Expertise

We used to call them “networking groups.” Local Chambers of Commerce and small business groups would put together an after-hours event, inviting local businesses to connect with each other and prospects. They met once a month and ended up being full of real estate agents and insurance salespeople handing out business cards and trading stories over drinks. It seems almost old school, but I think these types of get-togethers are more important now than pre-COVID. 

But there is a difference and I’m suggesting you take advantage of the subtle shift in connecting with prospects. Hosting a small group in a casual, off-site meeting over coffee or adult beverages is a great venue for high-quality meetings.

This is not a huge production, so there’s no need for big planning meetings or marketing pieces. You’re just Jane/John getting together for an informal chat with peers.

You can host these small gatherings.  It’s easy when you consider the following:

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Greg Walters, Incorporated