Adapting to System Requires Major Adjustments
Tany bankers are planning to install imaging systems. But few are aware of the changes this technology engenders in the workplace.
Imaging can provide dramatic benefits in product differentiation, customer service, and cost reduction. But installing such systems often leads to changes in everything from the physical layout of a department to training and managerial responsibilities.
As a result, bank managers may need to address the following workplace issues.
Perhaps most important, imaging enables managers to reorganize the process by which tasks, functions, and services are performed. This can lead to productivity gains of up to 50%.
* Paper savings.
Don't automate for automation's sake. But do focus on how the work could be simplified if paper and paper pushing were reduced or eliminated. In changing procedures in line with an imaging application, follow the guiding principles of manufacturing integration: Simplify, automate, and integrate.
* Workflow reevaluation.
A workflow reevaluation will identify ways to simplify procedures, reduce the number of transactions or forms needed, eliminate nonvalue-added activities, provide a fresh look at policies, and cut information processing costs.
These are all key sources of return on the image investment. Often, significant cost savings can be realized from the evaluation process alone.
As reengineering progresses to the examination of individual activities, logistics, and schedules, banks must determine how employees will be affected by the image environment.
* Motivate and educate.
People issues can generate the greatest unforeseen costs in an image installation. But no imaging system can achieve its full potential unless its users are educated, motivated, and confident.
Consequently, up to 25% of an imaging project budget may need to be allocated to dealing with the human factors.
* Redefine responsibilities.
When an imaging system is installed, job descriptions may need to be rewritten. In turn, this process may generate compensation issues.
In some cases, a proposed job description may have to be approved by several people in more than one division. To avoid such a tangle, it may be helpful to enlist the human resources department and to develop specific procedures for the approval process.
* Manage change.
Managers unfamiliar with a personal computer may now find their jobs centered around the machine. A clerk whose work has involved moving piles of paper may find the switch to a paperless environment daunting.
A solid communications program can help to allay these fears. Meetings and newsletters can provide valuable information about new technology and about changes in positions and procedures.
Such initiatives can also explain the benefits of imaging technology to an employee.
Always look ahead. Something as simple as installing terminals a month ahead of schedule may give people more time to adapt to a new environment.
* Help less adaptable employees.
Not all workers can easily shift from manual processes to imaging.
For example, one bank adopted a system that could balance, track, and route 14 tasks through a department. But initially, the department's staffers could handle only four tasks apiece.
In the early stages of an imaging project, a bank must take care to strike a balance between system and worker capabilities.
Employee work habits should also be considred when designing an image system. Though the idea of imaging complex mortgage loan files for review by credit officers may sound good, such an approach may ignore that these officers usually take care of loan approval review at home after business hours.
* Consider cross-training.
No longer just a protection against staff illness and turnover, cross-training can boost departmental productivity. When it comes to imaging, an idle employee often can pitch in to help a colleague who may be bogged down.
Also, a steady stream of repetitive activity can cause physical and mental stress and decrease individual productivity. Cross-trained employees can switch tasks to alleviate stress and make work more interesting.
* Examine the supervisor's role.
In manual operations, supervisors often spend a great deal of time playing "departmental cop."
But imaging systems may automatically evaluate an employee's output and provide access to productivity and quality information. As a result, some supervisors can manage up to five times as many employees as in a manual environment.
Within an imaging environment, employee comfort is directly linked to employee productivity.
* Lower the fatigue threshold.
Though a workstation may link the employee with all he or she needs to perform a job, there is a limit to how long the employee can maintain optimum performance.
Physical and mental stress are very real and important factors to consider. Though this issue can begin to be addressed in the system design, tasks must be reevaluated when the system goes on line, and continually monitored and adjusted.
* Maximize user comfort.
The comfort of the computer user must also be considered. A windowed interface must tie together information sources and applications, including on-time paper folders, mainframe application systems, and word processing.
Take the time to package this information so that it makes sense to a user who may be working with windows for the first time. Consider what is missing in an image environment. For example, in one image application, workers found it hard to work without paper, for the stacks of paper that told them how much work they had to do were missing.
The solution? A thermometer icon built into the system showed employees the amount of work that had to be processed that week.
* Rework office design.
Work space likely will have to be redesigned to allow for new functions.
More desktop space may be required for the larger imaging monitors. Even fine details, such as the position of arms, hands, and fingers relative to the keyboard -- which has a dramatic impact on productivity and accuracy -- may need to be carefully evaluated.
Orthopedically designed chairs may be needed for workers who are sitting for longer stretches. Though imaging may eliminate the space required for paper files, new space may have to be made to house new equipment.
More extensive changes that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars are sometimes necessary. For example, a bank's existing lighting may have to be redesigned so that workers can read the black-on-white imaging monitors.
An imaging installation may also dictate upgrades in power, climate control, and wiring. Generally, the older the existing facilities, the more changes may have to made.
ASSESSING THE PAYBACK:
The upfront costs for imaging may be large. But despite the costs and challenges, imaging can provide banks with such dramatic operational benefits as:
* A 50% to 90% reduction in processing time.
* A 10% to 35% decrease in clerical staff.
* A 20% to 40% reduction in unit processing costs.
* A 30% to 50% reduction in office space.
* A 25% to 75% decrease in the number of transactions or documents.
PHOTO : DAVID W. COYLE (top) and James S. Marpe spell out the implications of installing imaging.
James S. Marpe and David W. Coyle are banking partners at Andersen Consulting. Mr. Marpe, who is based in New York, heads the firm's practice in bank file folder image consulting. Mr. Coyle heads item imaging activities and is based in Dallas.