How to Realize the Unrealized Green Benefits of Process Automation

By Laura Mooney  |  Posted 2008-12-22

How to Realize the Unrealized Green Benefits of Process Automation

I was recently out to dinner with some friends, and the majority of us chose to indulge in sharing a large plate of nachos with the works and several quesadillas (and okay, maybe a few folks also ordered margaritas-why not blow an entire day's calorie count at once). But one friend ordered a salad and nothing else. While I am usually a very healthy eater, somehow the salad, in the midst of a place called Nacho Mama's where everyone was digging into nachos with zest, seemed less flavorful and fun. But, clearly, it was ordered with a healthy intent.

Were the rest of us indulging at the risk of our health? Or perhaps there were hidden benefits in our less-than-stellar nutrition choices that evening? Many studies have found that a key factor in longevity and happiness is having a healthy, active social network. And while achieving that does not necessarily require food, an occasional indulgence with friends might be just as healthy as always ordering the salad.

You may wonder how a dialogue about food and social circles relates to IT (aside from the fact that you go out for team lunches). The point is, that similar to personal situations, it is quite common for IT and business individuals across all industries to overlook the advantages associated with decisions they make.

The hidden benefits of going green

Let's examine the increased focus on green IT as one example. While most organizations initially viewed the challenge as a cost and resource drain, or as an over-hyped fad, some are starting to uncover the hidden benefits of going green. In light of the economic pressures many organizations face today, IT managers are beginning to take notice of the slew of inefficiencies and high costs they incur by manually transmitting information via paper and continuing to run mission-critical operations through manual processes across their organizations.

From the number of hours spent organizing and processing information, to the environmental damage caused by paper and fuel consumption, it is now essential for companies to reevaluate the effectiveness of their process models-not only for environmental sustainability but also for their own competitive sustainability.

Case Study: Tetra Goes Green

Case study: Tetra goes green

Tetra, a global manufacturer of aquarium products, implemented a Business Process Management (BPM) solution to move its Engineering Change Request (ECR) process online for product development. Initially, Tetra used a complicated procedure that involved up to six departments and 40 staff members-a process that significantly delayed their time to market. Using a BPM solution eliminated the delays and errors, and refocused the design and manufacturing units on product development.

The time and cost savings Tetra experienced thereafter paid back immensely in driving the efficiency and success of their organization. But perhaps just as important, it allowed engineers, scientists and other knowledge workers in a variety of geographical locations to collaborate on the product changes online. Multiple, often geographically dispersed users could simultaneously review the product folders and subfolders on the system. The end result was reduced travel across the organization, less paper consumption, and the realization of significant environmental benefits for the company and its workers.

Tetra has publicly stated in past interviews that software solutions typically used by manufacturers did not have the change-management flexibility they required in this process. They needed to incorporate multiple users, data sources and applications into the process. BPM turned out to be a perfect technology fit for the company, as it enables all of these capabilities. The collaboration features, coupled with the inherent change management aspects of BPM, allows Tetra engineers to work remotely and with less paper, while at the same time, reaping the bottom line benefit of increased efficiency.

Back to the Green IT Basics

Back to the green IT basics

While one definition of greener IT may be to reduce the amount of power consumed by systems, there are other ways, as the Tetra example illustrates, that IT organizations can creatively drive change to support the environment-and still generate significant cost savings for the business. To do this, IT and other corporate stakeholders need to re-examine the fundamental processes and practices that drive the business on a daily basis. Think about these three basics:

1. Paper: How much paper do you consume as an organization?

2. Fuel: How much fuel is wasted on inter-office location mailings and paper mailings to customers and suppliers?

3. Materials: How much raw material is wasted because of inefficient manufacturing processes?

As an IT organization, you have the power today to leverage technology to significantly reduce consumption across all three of these areas. With a common BPM solution and Enterprise Architecture (EA) and Modeling technology platform throughout your organization, you can have an immediate impact on both cost-saving and environmental improvements, and deliver a platform for ongoing improvements and long-term sustainability.

What is business process management (BPM)?

BPM is an approach to business process improvement that focuses on modeling and understanding how you do business, looking at ways to improve the efficiency of key business processes, automating processes and measuring, monitoring and fine-tuning processes for ongoing improvement across your operations. A BPM suite is a set of technology that allows you to achieve effective BPM and support continuous improvement. The best BPM suites are designed to provide a platform for deploying an unlimited number of processes of all types on a single technology platform. This reduces the need for multiple applications to support various business needs.

What is enterprise architecture (EA) and modeling?

EA are also functions designed to understand the current assets (such as systems, information, people and products) in an organization and their interdependencies, and to plan new models and asset acquisitions to support future growth. EA and modeling technology allows for the graphical modeling of the enterprise, collaboration on models and enterprise strategy, and the management of enterprise asset portfolios.

Together, EA and BPM technology provides a common framework of understanding that helps organizations align strategy with execution, and foster collaboration between the business and IT functions in an organization.

BPM and EA as Green IT Initiatives

BPM and EA as three green IT initiatives

Green initiative #1: To reduce paper

In the quest to eliminate paper, BPM software proves to be a highly effective solution because it not only allows both commercial and government organizations to create online forms and documents, but it also allows organizations to incorporate those online documents into automated processes that remove the need to manually route and track paper. As a result, BPM eliminates the cost and environmental burden of paper, while at the same time, allowing for more effective governance and control.

United States timber industry statistics estimate that more than 16 million trees are harvested each year for paper production. More specifically, according to the book Natural Capitalism, the average American office worker is estimated to use a sheet of paper every 12 minutes, and to dispose of 100 to 200 pounds of paper every year. BPM software can serve as the common platform for eliminating paper and automating processes throughout organizations. Depending on the number of organizations that reduce paper use through process automation, the environmental savings based on those estimates can be significant-as can the cost savings.

BPM and the city of New Orleans

Take the example of the city of New Orleans. In 2008, the city used BPM software to take its contracts management process online. By doing so, the city's IT leaders were able to automatically process between $1 billion and $2 billion worth of contracts. In the absence of process automation, each contract would have moved by manila folder through approximately eight offices. It had typically gone from one stakeholder's desk to another's through both inter and intra-office mailings-often with inefficient tracking and delivery methods.

Green initiative #2: To reduce fuel and transport

Reducing or eliminating paper also cuts down on the amount of physical transport that is required to share information. The ability to complete and submit forms online eliminates the need to mail documents such as applications, purchase orders and expense reports. In addition, because BPM solutions also allows for the automation of human-intense processes and the movement of mission-critical paperwork (such as case files and product design diagrams) online, knowledge workers are now able to review, annotate and collaborate online. This reduces the frequency of business travel needed to accomplish group activities. Think of the savings from an environmental perspective-lower transportation emissions, less fuel usage, and less wear and tear on the physical infrastructure that supports these activities.

According to a recent Barclaycard study, a typical business person will travel approximately 7,200 miles per year by airplane or automobile, not including their daily commute. That's the equivalent of 3.1 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person, per year. With a total of more than 200 million trips per year attributed to business travel in the United States alone, according to the National Business Travel Association, the total environmental savings from reducing travel by a modest 20 percent through online collaboration and process automation can be staggering.

More Efficient Manufacturing, Supply Chain Processes

Green initiative #3: more efficient manufacturing, supply chain processes

Think about the production and distribution process at a major manufacturer, and consider the redundancies that exist in the absence of optimized business performance. Duplication of work and manufacturing processes can lead to excessive cost runs and, perhaps just as important, inefficient resource usage. The idea of lean manufacturing as a protocol was originated by Toyota in the early 20th century, but new technologies are allowing manufacturers to identify process interdependencies and take a broad view of manufacturing process optimization across the enterprise.

Once the product leaves the manufacturing floor, process automation solutions-such as BPM-enable companies to increase control over both internal and external processes, such as purchase order/invoicing, logistics and transportation, and trading partner integration. Shortening transportation routes by limiting movement and resources use and converting manual, paper-based procurement and payment processes into automated electronic transactions between manufacturers, partners, retailers and customers leads to significantly reduced environmental impact.

Supply chain benchmarking and sustainability efforts, when combined with process automation, can yield sustainable carbon footprint reductions through more optimized paper and fuel consumption, reduced physical overhead, and less raw material and resource usage.


There is no question that the need for environmentally sustainable business practices exists, and most likely, governments worldwide are going to force the issue through new regulations and requirements in the near future. You can either wait for the mandates-a risky option both financially and ethically-or you can take the initiative to proactively improve your business operations in a variety of ways that will not only have a positive impact on the environment, but will also likely deliver measurable cost savings and a long-term platform for ongoing sustainability and strategic advantage.

Implementing a common technology platform for BPM and enterprise modeling will allow you to go green, and be healthier as a business in more ways than one.

 Laura Mooney is Vice President of Corporate Communications for Metastorm. Laura has over 17 years of experience in various technology marketing leadership positions with companies such as IBM and Manugistics, in addition to starting and running her own consulting firm. She is a frequent speaker at industry events and has published several articles. Laura holds a BBA degree in Information Systems from James Madison University and an MBA degree from the University of Maryland, Smith School of Business. She can be reached at

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