One of the biggest productivity detractors in the office is bloated and unrefined data flow. The way documents move through your business can greatly impact your employees, your customers, and your bottom line. Finding solutions that help streamline the process can make life in your company better for everyone.
Examine How Information Moves In Your Company
The first step to streamlining data flow in your business is to take a step back and examine how information moves currently.
- Is your business still handling paper documents? How many hands touch a document (physical or electronic) between the time it comes into the company’s possession to when it reaches its destination. Talk to the employee’s that interact with the document along the way.
- Find out what they do while they have the document. Do they add information, or do they take information to use elsewhere? Ask them why they perform those actions, and it’s possible their answer could be, “that’s how I’ve always done it” or “that is how I was trained”.
Those types of answers are indications that maybe you should delve a little deeper into this stage of the process.
Bottlenecks, Protocols, and Gatekeepers
The overall goal with that exercise is to identify bottlenecks so steps can be taken to remedy the issues. One type of bottleneck may be duplication of work. If a document is present in two separate systems, is it possible to integrate the systems so data does not need to be entered twice?
Another bottleneck can take the form of a gatekeeper to information, meaning if an employee needs information for a task, do they need to submit a formal request before the information is eventually provided? This adds time and delays, where if the information is stored and accessible digitally from anywhere with an internet connection, the information can be retrieved faster. Protocols and gatekeepers certainly exist for a reason in some processes. The goal is not to eliminate such steps entirely, but merely to identify if any are extraneous and can be removed to make data flow faster and easier.
Along the same vein as gatekeepers, ask how much of an employee’s workday is spent hunting down information they need to perform their core job function. In some situations this is unavoidable. Perhaps you just haven’t received the invoices you need from the vendor yet. In other cases, maybe it’s Sally’s job to distribute the invoices once she receives them, and they are just sitting on her desk waiting for her to make her rounds. In the first case, there isn’t much that can be done. You just have to contact the vendor to track down the invoice. In the second case, if the invoices have been entered into your system, the information can be accessed without having to find Sally and ask about the invoice.
The transition to and from paper documents can also delay the flow of data in its process. How many times is a document printed and scanned while moving through your process? This is often seen when dealing with documents that require signatures. The process may start with the document in digital form, printed and moved through the office as paper to accrue signatures, then scanned again and sent to its final destination. Some systems can eliminate the need to print the document by adding digital signatures to the document and having it pass from signatory to signatory either through email, or a simple email notification to log into a system where the document is stored to add the signature.
You’ve Identified Impediments in Data Flow – Now What?
Now that you’ve identified what steps in your data flow may be impeding productivity, you need to devise solutions.
- Could data flow be increased through system integration and automation?
- Could multiple systems be replaced by a single system to avoid repeated work?
- Could your process be improved by accessibility to information without being tied to a work computer?
- Would being able to request signatures, and sign a document with the click of a button make work life easier?
It may be that you can streamline your processes by simply eliminating unneeded steps or restructuring the processes. However, if you answered yes to any of the questions posed in this article, then there is likely a process management system that can help you.