Key Steps to Consider When Implementing a Workflow-Based Technology System

By Sean Cassidy, Vice President – Sales & Marketing, Benchmark Independent Medical Examinations

Toronto, ON (Dec. 23, 2015) – Over the past 10 years, with the advent of enhanced Internet-based application capabilities and a growing awareness of the gains systemized processes can provide an organization, a wealth of resources have been invested in an attempt to determine what constitutes the optimal technology solution/s for a company. As a result, we have decided to weigh-in with a high level overview on workflow analysis – a key strategic component of any new system implementation.

Prior to implementing a new technology solution it is important to consider that the overall workflow must be examined first and, as detailed below, with an eye towards more than just an attempt to gain efficiencies. The real objective of a new workflow is to accomplish a set of goals. The following goals are most commonly cited and can definitely be achieved by re-evaluating workflows and implementing a new solution but it is important to note they are considered the end goals:

  • Standardized Processes – Provide employees with a systemized defined set of processes with the ability to customize the processes in an agile manner to accommodate multiple lines of business, multiple client requirements, and accommodate international legal, currency, and language requirements.
  • Improve Efficiency – Standardized processes are the most efficient way to complete work because all employees are following a common process that has been predefined as the most effective way to complete a particular task.
  • Decreased Learning Curve – By systemizing all processes the learning curve of staff is greatly reduced because they will be guided by the system to follow the same process in the same manner each time and if they deviate from this process it will be escalated and flagged by the system so that remedial measures can be implemented immediately and proactively rather than reactively.
  • Accuracy/Quality – At the end of the day, the best way to service clients in any industry is to provide high quality, timely, accurate service and a workflow based system which addresses the above three points will achieve this goal in a consistent manner on every file.

To achieve the above four end goals the initial goal must be to recognize that any system is only as good as the configuration and data that is put into it and the first step is to create an “as-is-workflow chart” that reflects the current state of the company and its processes (including workflow relationships with external entities such as vendors.) As part of this process, it is crucial to involve multidisciplinary teams and actively engage them in the workflow review process in order to more accurately identify areas for improvement and areas of waste. Their first-hand operational knowledge of the various processes, subtle nuances, and exceptions to the rules are invaluable and this becomes increasingly evident further on in the process, particularly if a step was missed during the initial business analysis review.

After the existing workflows are approved and vetted by all members of the multidisciplinary teams new workflows can be architected based on the advancements and enhanced capabilities promised by the new technological solution. However, when conducting this exercise it is important to be very aware of any “work-around” workflows that will definitely be part of the “as-is” processes because when existing processes/technology solutions do not adequately support the goals of all involved parties, additional workflows and processes are independently created out of necessity in order to service their business requirements. These non-core activities will ultimately become redundant with the new systemized workflow – the important part is to identify and address them at this early stage prior to them being incorporated into the new workflow. As each process is reviewed it is important to always be able to answer the question, “why are we doing this” and if the question cannot be addressed a stakeholder should be pulled in to help determine the relevance of incorporating it in the new system. The axiom, “it has been done that way for the past 20 years,” is often the justification in these scenarios and doesn’t necessarily indicate the process is required or effective – these types of cases must be considered on an individual basis with a careful eye to how they fit into the overall workflow.

After all the processes have been identified an often overlooked step is to isolate and closely evaluate all communication channels that connect the various workflow processes and identify areas of redundant communication. Be aware that in many instances multiple communication channels may be in current use and quite often there are valid reasons for the multiple channels such as customer/vendor requirements.

Redundant communication in many forms is common in large organizations such as insurance companies where adjusters may be communicating with numerous entities to manage a single claim. How the various communications take place, where the information is stored, how it is stored, and how the multiple parties it passes through utilize it enroute to its final destination are all areas to examine. It is important to note that equally considering the operational externally facing processes as well as the internal corporately controlled communication processes are important factors in the successful implementation of a new technology system if maximal value is to be obtained.

One of the best methods to test for redundant processes is to closely examine the workflow areas that begin to show stress under challenging conditions such as high volume and/or short staffing situations. Upon initial examination these processes often appear logical and efficient when in isolation and do achieve the end goal; however, interaction with other processes is where the complexities arise that highlight the duplicate effort and redundant communication that serve to bog down the entire process. The challenge is that this type of communication process is often masked, may even be externally facing, and unless a collaborative multidisciplinary team workflow approach is utilized may go unnoticed and appear as a costly pain-point when the new system is being implemented.

A final step to consider as part of the overall project is to take the resultant workflow flowchart and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each of the participants that are operationally active in the process. The challenge for the project manager/analyst crafting the workflows is being able to proactively engage the multidisciplinary teams concurrently because if done in isolation less than ideal outcomes may result. Particularly in large corporations, subject matter specialists know their workflow intimately but do not always fully comprehend the downstream effects of their processes. By taking the extra time to engage the subject matter specialists at the same time and clearly defining each of the workflow processes and corresponding roles in a collaborative manner upfront it identifies areas of human resource redundancy in addition to pure process redundancy. As a result, this additional intelligence makes the new technology system implementation process more efficient and effective because, through the use of roles based access control on newer technology platforms, this allows the system to automatically control the level of information and access privilege each user has based on their roles and pre-defined workflows. There is no question roles based access control is the route to go with a new system, however, the advantages of roles based access control is a topic for a future discussion.

In summary, the key point to consider when at the workflow stage of evaluating/implementing a new technology solution is that a system can only be as good as the planning, configuration, and data entered into it and to achieve the desired end goals the workflow methodology must incorporate a holistic multidisciplinary approach. If this approach is utilized in conjunction with external/internal communication analysis and clearly defined user role definitions this will provide the additional business intelligence necessary to support and ensure a successful transition to a new technology system with a minimum of issues and delays.

About the Author

Sean has been active in the insurance claims handling space in various capacities since 1997 and was one of the pioneers of Canada’s first online claims management system launched in 1999. Sean has expertise in claims, claims process improvement, vendor programs, claims IT systems, and document management. He enjoys working with insurance companies to tie all of these components together with their various systems and processes in order to arrive at the ideal combination customized to an insurer’s own unique needs. Sean joined Benchmark IME in December of 2013 and is putting his experience, coupled with Benchmark’s advanced technological capabilities, to work to improve the AB claim workflow for insurers in Canada.

Sean can be reached at scassidy@benchmarkime.com.

About Benchmark

Technology-driven, person-centered philosophy, and privately-owned and operated by a Regulated Healthcare Practitioner – we only provide Independent Medical Examinations (IME). Benchmark provides a comprehensive range of IME with national coverage to Property and Casualty Insurers, Group Life and Health Insurers, Government, Employers, and the legal community. Benchmark is CARF accredited and has a management process that is ISO 9001:2008 certified.

Source: Benchmark IME