7 Areas to Optimize Workflow Efficiency in Your Office
When we think of automation, often our minds turn to the manufacturing production floor. After all, there is lots of efficiency to be gained on the assembly line or in the production process. However, it seems that we often overlook the opportunity to automate office work. There is great technology available for automating the flow of information in the office. Often the knowledge-workers in accounting/finance, human resources, customer service, quality, engineering, and other administrative areas get overlooked, when it comes to automation.
You might be thinking, that worker behind the keyboard has their line-of-business or departmental software, that is a big part of their daily work. This is true, but what is often missed is the gray space that is not covered by this software. The knowledge-worker deals with myriads of emails, some with attachments, some with threads that go on for days. They send emails asking for approvals. They set monthly, weekly, and even daily reminders to do certain tasks. They key information from a PDF into their software. They often spend time hunting down that next piece of information they need, or reminding people that they need it, and waiting for it, and reminding people, yet again. Sometimes they give up, and just do the best they can without it, because that piece of information they need is not being found in the timeframe it is needed.
The amount of time and mind-space spent in these 3M tasks (manual, mundane and often maddening), or those parts of the job for which the worker maintains and powers their own system, represents no small amount of time and effort. You know that feeling when you get home at the end of the day with your mind spinning, and you are struggling to shift gears. Then, as you are dozing off at 11:00pm, you remember the one thing you forgot. You email yourself a note, so you don’t forget to take care of it in the morning.
The good news is that the technology exists to automate these self-maintained, self-powered, 3M systems that often keep our heads spinning even after the workday has ended. This category of solutions is called Business Process Automation. CTaccess builds solutions like this for all types of organizations using the world class Laserfiche software platform.
Let’s Look at 7 Areas BPA Has an Impact:
1. Approvals. The de facto standard for getting something approved is to send an email, then follow up, then follow up again, and then follow up some more. With Laserfiche, we can automate that approval process. If it is a regular process, that is consistent like a contract that needs manager approval, this can be electronically sent for approval, and the established workflow can remind the approver (repeatedly if needed), and escalate to someone else, if nothing happens. Even things that don’t follow a standard process, can be routed to an assigned person and manage the response time and follow up for you.
2. Recognition. We read documents, pick off the data we want, and key it into our software and then we do it all again on the next document. Using Laserfiche and some other great tools like IrisXtract with built-in Artificial Intelligence, we can read and classify documents, extracting the data to be automatically sent to the software system it needs to go to. Recognition of data, both on consistent forms and on more dynamic documents like vendor invoices is easily accomplished. The amount of time this saves just in data entry is huge.
3. Mail Delivery. Whether paper mail or email, we spend lots of time sorting, categorizing, and responding. Using the recognition technology above, and a cool plug-in that reads email boxes, we can create a solution that does much of the heavy lifting. If you have functional email boxes like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, we can capture emails and attachments, and then teach the system how to handle the necessary next steps. Maybe orders for non-inventory products go to Sally. The system can file the order, alert Sally that it has arrived, recognize the pertinent information, start order entry (to be confirmed by Sally), and continue down the workflow path.
4. Signatures. I’m sure many of you have gone through the process of getting a signature on a contractual agreement. There is a back and forth as to language, often a final agreement, then you send a PDF, fax, or paper document for signature. With Laserfiche, we can track each document revision, send for internal approval, and get that electronically, then have the final document automatically sent for signing and automatically file the final copy, and update everyone when completed.
5. Reminders. We are used to having to track our own reminders. You may keep a task list or set an alarm. If your job involves regular expiration dates or deadlines, technology can remind you automatically. For instance, if you regularly work with contracts that expire, the system can simply remind you 30-days before expiration.
6. Bridging the Gap. You might be thinking that this is all great, but that you already have software, and it is unlikely that it will all blend and work together. The answer is quite the opposite. Our solution, built around Laserfiche, is considered middleware. One of its strengths is the ability to stand between different systems and hand data back and forth. There are lots of ways to create this interoperability, but one of the newer technologies we use is called RPA or Robotic Process Automation. With this technology, we can programmatically do data entry to most applications, saving lots of human interaction.
7. Collecting Information. Many work processes start from a request of some sort. For instance, you may have a purchase request form built into your purchase management system, or you might do this by email. There are many processes like this. Some already have built-in automated systems and some do not. With the Laserfiche system, we can quickly build web-based forms to collect information from internal users or customers, and then walk the information through a work process. These types of forms can be anything from an expense/travel request form, to a laptop checkout form, to a work from home request form. They could also be something more related to your work process like a jobsite update, contract request, PTO request, or just about anything.
Creating better office worker efficiency is always a good idea. In today’s environment of worker shortages and remote working, establishing an automated approach to office workflow has more benefit than ever. If you would like to discuss opportunities for automation in more detail, please get in touch.
Scott Hirschfeld is the President of CTaccess, a Brookfield IT support company that has been helping businesses stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business since 1990. Under his leadership CTaccess provides the business minded approach of larger IT companies with the personalized touch of the smaller ones. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.