How do you optimise business information?

Tags: SSON

Swiss Post

"When it comes to business information, "end-to-end" means taking into account the almost conversational way in which information flows around a business, and optimising it around that information flow – rather than specifically around a particular process."

[Learn about "capture-driven processes"]

Barbara Hodge: Keith and Charles, could I start by asking you to describe Swiss Post Solution’s business?

KH: Swiss Post itself is made up of about seven different business divisions, of which Swiss Post Solutions, which we represent, is one. Others include Post Finance; Post Mail, the retail mail arm of Swiss Post; Post Logistics; Post Auto; Post Bus, Post Offices & Sales; and Swiss Post International, which is an international mail and parcel business.

From a Swiss Post Solutions perspective, we provide a range of information management services, both on the inbound side, as well as the output side, and document processing really forms part of the inbound side of the equation. Within that, we provide anything from the physical mailroom outsourcing services — our traditional legacy business — right through to document processing, records management, business process outsourcing services, and office based services like switchboard, reception, and so on. We also provide e-billing services and a range of loyalty solutions.

CPT: We market those services Keith mentioned independently, but a great number of our customers increasingly integrate them, so we can stitch them together to provide a particular bespoke process solution for an individual customer requirement.

Give me an idea of what kind of customers you are providing these services to.

KH: A large number of our customers are, for example, financial services institutions. One of our largest customers is Zurich Financial Services, for which we provide a range of services including mailroom outsourcing and document processing; capture and imaging services etc. We also offer BPO services such as Loyalty Management, eCommerce, Billing and Payment Solutions. For example, in France, we provide services to Air France, where we do claims management.

CPT: The main market varies by country and territory, since we’re active all the way from the US to the Far East. Financial services is a key market space, and certainly one that we see in most of our territories, and that covers insurance, banking, and investment services; but we also operate within the retail, media, airlines, transport, legal, and other sectors.

So your services proposition, I presume, is based on this digitalisation. How is digitalisation represented within the strategy that you offer a customer?

CPT: The key element of digitisation is really twofold. The first is to ensure that the information that’s contained within physical documents can be extracted and understood, and secondly delivered to the appropriate user. So we use digitisation to extract information from documents, using automated means where possible; but then we also use that information to distribute those documents to the right place within the organisation.

Both of those things, clearly, are done better when we can get at the content of the physical document, turn it into something that can be processed, and then use that more efficiently than we could given a manual, paper-based process.

On the customer side, do you come across any resistance to this digitisation?

CPT: We come across very little resistance from the customer side. The issues are more to do with the implementation of individual projects within organisations. I don’t think anyone these days is particularly worried about working with electronic documents, versus working with paper, although I guess it could be different for certain industries; but fundamentally, people are quite happy to adopt electronic work, since it delivers a number of freedoms for them — in terms of how they process work and where they process work.

What about the security risks? How do you counter customer concerns on that side?

CPT: Yes, security is an interesting one. Clearly when anything becomes electronic, there is a great deal of concern about security and making sure it’s not available to, or seen by, the wrong people. And whilst security is critical to being able to maintain the services commercially, I think it’s important, especially where we’re looking at the digitisation of paper, to put the risks into perspective.

In many instances, we’ve found that there were far greater risks in terms of the physical paper, because there was no audit trail. Nobody could tell who looked at documentation, where the documentation had been, how long that documentation had been sitting in a location and how long it had taken to process.

Clearly, digitisation has a number of benefits when it comes to security and audit-ability; but yes, of course, security is always a primary concern, and it’s something that has to be born in mind with every implementation. To illustrate that point, Swiss Post Solutions has systematically rolled out ISO27001 across its business as part of its approach data security

KH: I also don’t think that it’s so much an inhibitor to people anymore. Particularly if you look at how electronic people’s everyday conversations are becoming through the likes of social media and so on, there is an acceptance of this being the way to go; and when it comes to security, there is a recognition that it needs to be taken into account, but not that it would be a reason not to move forward with the project.

How has the increased interest in end-to-end process management impacted your business? In other words: How might you take on more of the entire process at the client end?

CPT: "End-to-end" is quite an interesting piece. I try to look at an organisation rather like a set of onionskins, because end-to-end is contextual. It really depends on what part of the process we’re looking at, as to how far we need the end-to-end process to go.

Certainly, for us, end-to-end can mean anything from the simple capture and ingestion of documentation into an organisation, all the way through to a process being carried out, a decision being made, and information passed on to clients and recorded in systems. So end-to-end varies, depending on the scope of the work.

End-to-end at a departmental level can be the same process, but run within a limited number of users. End-to-end also can be from one end of the organisation to the other, and clearly the output services we have allow us to connect those two ends together, to form a bridge between our customer and their end-customers.

KH: The other thing I’d like to add is that, if you consider our business as being all about information management, and then consider how information typically flows through an organisation … the traditional way to look at that is from a very process-orientated standpoint, which is sequential, with one thing flowing to the next thing, and so on.

In reality, information doesn’t flow like that at all. It flows backwards and forwards, and in and out and then sometimes repeats itself, in terms of how it travels through an organisation.

So when we have the conversation about end-to-end, increasingly we’re considering: how do we take account of this almost conversational way in which information flows around the business, and help to make it more optimal — optimise it around that information flow, rather than specifically around a particular process.

At the same time, one can, I think, break down how the cycle occurs, and if one starts at the physical end, and says, well, information flows into a business, either as physical paper or in electronic form, then the first step logically, is to capture that information in some form or fashion — whether it’s electronic or physical — before working out how best to put it into the business so that the business can make maximum use of that information.

The end-to-end conversation, just to support what Charles was saying, is becoming a more interesting one, as businesses evolve, and as the way people communicate and share information evolves as well.

CPT: I think one of the key things, in terms of where do we add value to that part, is, as Keith outlined, that it’s not just about looking at the physical documents that come into an organisation; it’s looking at the business transactions that come into the organisation.

So we see our services, in line with our clients, moving from purely paper-based to a hybrid mixture. Clearly we are all aspiring to a point where there’s limited or no paper left in the business process and we can combine that aspiration with additional services.

Those additional services can be anything from, as I said, distributing that information around the organisation, to taking on additional business tasks — for example taking decisions on that data, or analysing that data to provide trend information to the business process, and then onwards to the end-user.

If I could follow that thought for a moment, Charles, to what extent do you find that your customers’ resistance to new ideas is slowing you down?

CPT: That’s a very good point, and I think to put it into perspective, one of our challenges is to make those innovations and ideas stand out enough to put them on top of our customer’s project list.

Clearly, many of our customers are very keen on innovation, very keen to look for opportunities to improve; but there’s a huge number of competing demands within any business — for capital, for resources, … so, I think it’s our challenge not just to point these things out to customers, but to work with them and help them sell the concept to the business, so it becomes a project that the whole business wants to deliver on, and therefore is seen as something that the company can invest their resources in.

One of the challenges we frequently come up against is that customers are keen to be able to do things, but they’re constrained by resources, or constrained by other commitments that the business has at that point in time. There are very few customers that wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to implement new services, and a lot of our customers are pushing us for that very capability.

One thing I want to ask you about is the notion of "outcome based solutions." I am hearing this more frequently from providers I speak with. How do outcome-based contracts give the client a greater sense of certainty, with regards to your services?

KT: I think the way it changes the way we engage with the client is that we begin by asking: What’s the ultimate outcome that the client is actually looking for? So if you think through the whole process, it’s not actually the digitisation of documents that they’re looking for. Rather, if it’s a claims process, or an invoice process, then it’s a completed claim or a paid invoice that they actually want. They want the money in the bank, at the end of the day.

If we start from that point and work backwards, then we can actually work out more effectively what we can do on our side to provide them with a solution that speeds up the lead time to getting that invoice paid. From a customer’s perspective, that’s enormously helpful in terms of getting them what they’re looking for.

CPT: I’ll just add a point to the conversation about innovation and customers limiting the opportunities for innovation. The outcome-based value or pricing is a good point, because one of the key barriers we encounter, when it comes to delivering new ideas and projects, is the customer’s desire to keep a controlling hand in the process.

Now, whilst it is, obviously, very important for the customer to have a sense of ownership, and feel connected to the processes, it makes it very difficult to implement changes if we are being constrained by how the customers perceive a particular job should be done.

Making the business case focus on the outcome of the job — i.e., what’s needed at the end of it — rather than how the job should be done, allows more freedom to focus the services around what the business needs, rather than how that process might have operated in the past.

You are operating in an extremely competitive niche, and to provide the best solutions to your clients, I imagine that you lean heavily on partnerships. How does Kofax support your business?

KH: Kofax provide key elements to our document services platform, which is a platform that we put in place for our customers, as part of our managed services, and that supports us delivering services to our customers. So from the very beginning, the capture side, and increasingly through to processing and then imaging, has been where we traditionally partnered with Kofax.

Moving forward, we’re developing a closer working relationship with them, where we work together to understand the market more effectively, and how we can best provide solutions and services to end-customers, that make sense.

CPT: One of the areas that we’re very interested in, again focussing on that outcome-based approach, is to look at document services as people would look at buying a book on Amazon. That is, looking at a service that’s available, a service in the cloud, if you wish, and a capability, rather than looking at individual products and services. That "joining together" of things, and forming a capability or a service that’s available whenever a customer requires it, is a key part of what we look for, in terms of the relationship moving forward.

How do the teams work together? For example, if you perceive an opportunity to add on to a particular project, how might Kofax’s team work with yours to develop a solution?

CPT: From a working together perspective, the key issue here is early communication, and the ability to share information about the problem, and how it might be solved. We communicate with their development team to explore what’s available today, what will be available tomorrow, and basically, how can we work with that to deliver better solutions to our customers. So that agility, that responsiveness, with a good dose of communication is pretty key to be able to work together effectively to solve problems.

So Swiss Post Solutions, is very much leading the charge in terms of digitisation for your customers; but how has what you’ve done been implemented within Swiss Post Group, itself?

KH: I think that’s a good question. One of the things that we’ve done recently, as a Group, is to establish what we call the eProduct House. The SPS business has the specific task to look at how it can take some of the innovations and some of the solutions that we’ve developed within SPS, into the rest of Swiss Post.

If you look at where Swiss Post is ranked globally against other postal organisations, then it is highly regarded for how it has adapted, and how it has made increasing use of technology such as digitisation to deliver services.

Another example of one of the services is secure email — where individuals can send confidential emails securely by accountable electronic mail. There are also services like Swiss Post Box, which is now on offer within Switzerland and is being taken to postal organisations elsewhere, where you can have your personal mail digitised, and forwarded as an electronic document to your mailbox. Those are just some examples.

We recently posted an interview with the CIO of Procter and Gamble, who describes exactly this: how digitisation is changing P&G’s entire business model. Can you imagine, going forward, five, ten, perhaps 15 years, what the future will look like, given all the changes that are being implemented at the moment?

CPT: I think what we’ll see over the next five to ten years is a significant uptake in the use of technologies that are now available, not just as they are today in terms of process-centric activities, but being able to free up organisations to behave and deploy themselves very differently.

For instance, at the moment, we traditionally all work in nice offices, we share documents, and we share information. Five to ten years from now, the model may be that our office does not exist as a physical building, but we could be working in small clusters that are convenient to us; meaning that we don’t have to travel to an office, but can work freely where we need to, and when we need to.

That vision, I think, has been around for a great deal of time, but we’re probably now getting to the point where consumer use of technology makes this environment, that future, a real possibility. I think the paperless world will become a reality.

And as people are increasingly streaming digital data onto their various mobile devices, this trend is just going to speed up, isn’t it?

KH: I think that’s a critical point. One of the things that we’ve been looking at recently is how social media is linked with the mobile devices that are out there, and how the increasing digitisation of information is having an impact.

I think businesses are really starting to work out how this impacts them, so what you’re seeing is that the public at large is using these things and they’re bringing that into work, as well. And they are increasingly, I think, going to expect their businesses to operate in the same way.

I forget the exact numbers, but I recently read a case study of a legal firm that decided to adopt this way of working — a more conversational way of doing business internally — and achieved significant efficiencies as a result. And when I earlier alluded to not viewing an organisation in terms of its processes, but in terms of how it uses and shares information, this is exactly what I was talking about.

CPT: Many processes used to be constrained to an office, or a PC. But now we’re in a position where we can get access to things through a telephone, a simple tablet, or some other mobile device. Suddenly, the need to be connected to a corporate network is less important.

So now processes don’t require those underlying documents anymore, but are going to rely more on electronic transactions. This really opens up opportunities, rather than focusing on the "old" processes.

A final question I’d like to ask you both deals with verticalisation, which is something we hear a lot about, at the moment. Many providers are now specialising in vertical industry processes. To what extent are you finding that you are streamlining your services to match specific industry’s needs?

CPT: I guess what we’re seeing is not the need to have different products, in terms of individual components within that space, but really going back to a point we discussed earlier: how do we actually take a number of disparate services and pull them together into a portfolio that solves the business problem?

Increasingly, as you move up the process chain, that business problem is more and more focused on the industry, and less and less on a horizontal service. So certainly, that lays the groundwork to specialise in processes that are more focussed around a given vertical, as you described.

Keith and Charles, thank you so much for your time. It’s been great to speak with you.

To learn more about "capture-driven processes" check out our Kofax-sponsored series.

About Keith Holdt
Keith is Head of Global Sales at Swiss Post Solutions (SPS), a Swiss Post company. He has over 20 years’ experience working in a variety of management consultancy and business development roles, including a very successful 8-year stint in IBM. He is known as a creative visionary and for his expertise in developing and executing business models and ensuring that business growth and delivery strategies support corporate objectives.

He established and is currently globally responsible for strategic business development & sales at SPS, and with his international team works with global organisations to transform the way they access and use corporate information. Keith previously led SPS to their largest ever contract – a highly complex, pan-European, multi-year DTO (document transformation outsourcing) project for a global insurance organisation. He has also been instrumental in establishing a number of highly successful sales & marketing teams, both at a country and global level.

Keith is a regular speaker and media commentator on the impact of developments in information management, analytics and document processing towards improved corporate decision-making. He speaks on trends in these areas, and how global organisations can exploit the value of corporate information/business intelligence to deliver success. He has an excellent knowledge of the document and information management market, and has written and spoken on the changing role of document processing and data management in business, including the growing impact of social media on the workplace.

Keith has lived in the United Kingdom having grown up in South Africa. He is a graduate of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where he received both a B Eng and M Eng in Industrial Engineering. He is also an alumnus of the London Business School where he has completed a programme in Corporate Finance.

Outside of work Keith has a passion for adventure, travel and outdoor activities such as skiing and hiking and in 2011 climbed Mt Kilimanjaro as part of a fund-raising effort for a number of UK charities.

About Charles Parrington-Tyler
Charles Parrington-Tyler is Head of Digital Transformation at Swiss Post Solutions. Since starting his career with Unisys back in the early 1980s, Charles has worked in a variety of roles in technology solutions, sales, and client management disciplines. His 17 years of experience in document management covers everything from defining problems, developing solutions, selling the concept, setting up new projects, managing delivery programmes as well as driving several internal and customer change programmes.

Focused on delivering business outcomes, Charles understands the importance of building teams with a clear focus, understanding the different drivers and needs of all stakeholders, and has the passion and drive to deliver successful commercial engagements. It is these skills and experience that Charles uses in his role as Head of Digital Transformation, working with customers and internal business units to drive and exploit the opportunities that today’s digital technologies bring to business.

As Zurich Client Director, he is working with SPS business units and Zurich to develop and integrate input and output services and drive the delivery of cross border solutions in digital mailrooms, document processing and related services across Europe.