The march of business into the technology age continues at a heightened pace each year. But what many businesses don’t understand is that technology is only half of any effort to get things done, better, easier and faster. Technology offers the ability to change your internal business process in order to gain efficiency and improve quality. Without improvements in business process, you are only achieving half of the benefits which technology has to offer.
Businesses readily see the benefit of technology, for instance being able to communicate instantly with clients and customers by email or scanning documents into pdf files. But there is so much more to technology than speed. Take for example the process of routing mail internally. Every company has to do process mail, and has developed an internal process to sort and route mail. Scanners allow us to convert that mail into PDF files. PDF files can be stored in a particular incoming mail folder, summarized and routed by email or reviewed before scanning occurs. In many instances, the mail in PDF form will then have to be routed to other team members and in many instances people outside the company including clients and customers. Calendar dates and to-do items have to be pulled from the incoming mail and entered into calendaring and task systems. All of these things need to be done whether or not the piece of mail is paper or PDF. The ability to scan and convert documents to PDF creates a unique opportunity to rework the internal business process of incoming mail in ways that would have not have made sense in a purely paper world.
In a paper world, the business process of mail goes something like this. The receptionist routes the mail into piles, those piles end up getting distributed to secretaries who then open the mail and perform calendaring functions. That mail is then routed from the secretary to the inbox of the businessperson who then reads the mail and places a yellow sticky on the top sheet, indicating something like "please handle." The secretary then gets the piece of paper back and either files it or follows an undocumented process of routing.
Now let’s take a look at that same piece of mail in a digital world under an improved proces. The mail comes in to the receptionist who puts a document routing coversheet on the top page. The document routing coversheet includes check boxes and instruction boxes for every possible thing that can happen to that piece of paper. This not only includes lines for calendar dates and task lists, but a spot where document routing to all other persons is determined. The decision maker on that document can select routing by fax, email, encrypted file internet–based transfer, mail, fed ex or other means. The file path is identified which controls exactly where this piece of mail is going to be stored on the file server. The decision maker on the document receives the hard copy and the routing sheet and fills in all the boxes that the secretary has not already identified. Every single thing that is going to happen with that piece of paper is controlled by this first step. The decision maker on the document also has the ability to dictate all of the tasks that need to be done as a result of the issues raised in the particular document for entry into the task system. Cover letters or cover emails are dictated at the same time. The document is then sent to the scanning room where all of the tasks and functions that need to occur and have already been documented take place.
The technology allowed for the scanning of the document into PDF format. This also created an opportunity to improve the internal process of incoming mail. Instead of spending a relatively short period of time with an incoming piece of correspondence, scanning technology encourages a new process based on standards and documentation. The document routing coversheet provides structure and uniformity to the handling of all incoming mail. Instead of spending a few seconds with the document, the person in charge of that document spends time up front with that document making sure that all the bases are covered. Instead of reading a piece of paper and thinking about all the things that will now need to occur, the person in charge of that document dictates each and every task arising out of that document review for transcription into the company’s to-do system. The chance that to-do items will be forgotten or otherwise fall through the cracks has been eliminated. The ability to prioritize that document so that important tasks are handled immediately is now part of the process. The overall quality of the document review is improved significantly. Chance for error is virtually eliminated.
Yes, technology allowed for the scanning to occur. But a shrewd businessperson understands that the technology allowed for drastic improvements in the internal processes in order to improve quality and reduce the risk of inadvertent error. Virtually all technology, which is implemented in the office, creates new opportunities to improve your business process and therefore increase your competitive position in the market. Challenge yourself to think about whether or not the process that is surrounding your technology is really the one that makes sense. We are no longer in the industrial age. Industrial age processes will soon be obsolete. The most competitive businesses will be the ones that merge technology and process, creating new forms of business altogether.