In these undecided economic times, countless companies are faced with the challenge of how to maximize returns on stretched budgets. It's a do-more-with-less strategy that requires business operations be optimized now to meet existing economic realities.
One area to consider for improving the bottom line is to look at how information is managed throughout the organization, particularly document management. This involves all the content, things like documents, invoices, etc.; all the actions, things like reviews, and approvals; and all the processes, these are the repeatable steps that drive the flow of information. Improving how information is managed, the content, actions, and processes, will improve efficiency, reduce risk, and lead to cost savings.
There is another benefit to consider with this as well, and it's a silver lining. With any change comes opportunity, and the right kind of change now can position an organization for even greater success long term.
There are least seven ways that improvements in how information is managed can influence the bottom line in terms of efficiency, risk and cost savings, and here they are:
- Make information findable so people can find information, instantly, every day.
Studies have shown that among those who are involved with the flow of information, about one-half spend two hours per day looking for what they need to do their jobs. This can translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in unproductive cost per year. The aim is to cut down on the time it takes for people to find information, making them more efficient and able to complete their tasks much faster.
- Automate business processes
Manual processes, especially those that involve paper, have a real propensity to breakdown. As information is routed in steps, for example in review or approval cycles, it's often delayed, there are interruptions, and any number of user-influenced errors can occur. These practices are a real challenge to manage for accountability. At any point in the process, it's difficult to identify at which step the process is currently in. And looking back at completed processes, it's very difficult to identify who did what and when. Consequently, business processes tend to be slow, taking days or weeks to run their course. And it's this lack of speed, not mention the errors, that are the real burdens on efficiency. Automating processes using workflow eliminates the need for people to manage processes and allows people to focus their expertise on making decisions and adding knowledge. The flow of information is handled automatically, which not only establishes consistent processing of information, but also shortens cycle times, increases accountability, and leads to greater quality and accuracy of repeatable business process.
- Improve collaboration
A large number of companies still use shared file servers to store information, email to share it, and sometimes FTP to exchange files back and forth. But here's the problem: these methods are unstructured and disconnected. Managing information in this way lacks the necessary controls and collaborative tools to make the most efficient use of corporate knowledge. Files are easily duplicated or lost, information has to be re-created, and versioning is ad-hoc at best. Even worse, in some instances files are silo'd into line-of-business applications, for example a project management application that is only accessible to a few in the company. The answer to improving collaboration is creating a unified, enterprise, work environment where people and knowledge are connected company-wide. This allows all employees, no matter what area of the business they are in, to leverage the collective intelligence of an organization.
- Capture a record of every change.
Without a system to manage files as they change, it is virtually certain that information will be lost, it will be difficult to reassemble later on, and there will be confusion surrounding which are the correct versions of files. Documents are not static. They change over time. Automated version control offers a standardized way to capture and organize information in what would otherwise be a chaotic and uncontrolled process. People are more productive and the risk of information loss is greatly reduced. Plus, with version control, everyone immediately knows which is the current version, while previous versions are always retrievable. Another plus of version control is that it can reduce risk. Version control eliminates the potential for losing content in prior versions and importantly, it allows for visibility over content history, for example who approved a document and what did the content look like at that time.
- Reduce the risk of email.
Email may be fast, cheap, and convenient, but it's a mistake to believe that it's an informal mode of communication. Email is more and more falling under the scope of regulations such as eDiscovery. For this reason alone, it's important to view email as business records. But even beyond regulation, there are other aspects of how we use email today that make it more and more essential to consider when reducing risk factors. In many cases emails are used as a principle means of communication among employees, as well as with people outside the company, like customers or vendors. The content within emails, and files attached to them, are often times the most complete and thorough record of history over time. Your ability to quickly research and retrieve information from an email archive not only improves your chances of successfully complying with regulations and legal requirements, but it also helps with matters like researching and exchanging knowledge in hand-offs between people, say for example in times of employee transition.
- Maintain compliance with regulations
As with email records, some companies also face regulatory requirements that affect all types of information. Information itself can be a liability if it is incorrectly managed. Studies vary widely, but some have indicated that as much as 80% of documents reside on user's desktops, beyond the control and management of a structured document management system. Government regulations, quality standards, and legal requirements are an increasing challenge, and programs that manage for compliance by documenting policies and procedures, applying consistent business processes, and securing information are necessary to reduce exposure to risk. Where quality standards and compliance exist, such as ISO, FDA, and Sarbanes-Oxley, regulated content and processes must be managed using records management.
- Eliminate paper storage costs and go Paperless.
Long established storage of paper documents in filing cabinets, archive boxes, and off-site warehouses is a no-value solution. The expenditures of all that paper storage - the space and money spent on it - offers no return in value to the company. It's an unnecessary operational cost. Filing cabinets eat up valuable office space that could otherwise be used for meaningful and productive work areas; and money spent on off-site storage in warehouses could be invested in areas of business that actually have a positive return on the bottom line. When documents are stored electronically, however, there's an added value because information can be filed, searched and retrieved instantly. This is a big factor in terms of process efficiency. And there are other areas to consider as well: electronic document storage makes information more accessible, including even outside the office for employees who might be traveling, working at home, at satellite offices, or perhaps even vendors and customers. When documents are accessed, changed, or approved, everything is recorded in an audit log. Electronic document storage also makes it easier to plan for business continuity, so records can be restored quickly and the business can get immediately back up and running. And finally, electronic document storage is a greener, paperless approach that not only reduces storage and its associated costs, but also cuts down on the need for paper and printing.