CAN FIRMS RUN EFFECTIVELY WITHOUT DIGITAL WORKFLOW?
Dry erase boards, sticky notes, note pads and Excel spread sheets. These are not the tools of the modern firm. I recently consulted with a firm in Canada and was quite surprised when the longtime owner handed the reigns over to staff to implement our workflow application. Not only did he embrace the digital age, but also empowered his staff to own it.
So often I hear that an older partner won’t implement new technology or they will say, “Our old methods work so why should we change?” That’s like asking football players to go back to the day of leather helmets. Let’s be real here. PC Systems have been used in accounting offices since the early 80’s. So these excuses have no merit. If you haven’t learned how to use a computer or technology in the last 30 years then it’s not a matter of can’t, but won’t. Not using technology to its fullest is a bad decision. If your firm isn’t already suffering due to poor workflow tools, look out because you are about to go out of business if you don’t change. Your competition is implementing digital workflow as we speak. So no matter what size firm, even if it’s just you, put down the pencil and let’s join the 21st century.
Workflow; what does it mean and how can you take advantage of correct implementation? Is it just tax processing or more? Do I have to get rid of those tax logs and route sheets? Have you let digital workflow out of the cage a little or has it completely transformed your business?
Digital workflow means paperless to the extreme. It means workflow on steroids in the best of ways. I am talking about abandoning dry erase boards, sticky notes, note pads and all use of Excel spreadsheets for non-financial reasons. Let’s integrate all of our administration needs into one system of pure workflow, eliminating time consuming logging and retrieval of information. Let’s connect our many systems of workflow into one seamless system, that allows tasks to be done uninterrupted by clunky workflow and software. Let the digital workflow animal all the way out. Half way won’t do. You will only frustrate staff with duplication of work, see reduced revenues and risk losing clients to well-oiled competitors.
When I think about our processes, I try to incorporate the most common day to day tasks. Incorporate things that we do repetitively and build processes for them. If necessary, you might have to give up some periodic needs, specialized analysis and even management reporting. Find systems that will take you digital. Do it for the health of the entire firm and the future of the firm. If we don’t get the basics right and get digital, we hinder the firm and its potential to attract future employees. Younger candidates who see paper everywhere in a firm, will quickly exit and look elsewhere for employment.
Digital workflow also allows great mobility which younger workers seek when considering employment. Let’s face it, we all see ourselves and some staff working on the road, at clients or at home. This too is inevitable.
What’s a realistic cost for technology? How much should we spend on software and hardware, on developing workflow processes and training staff? The answer might surprise you. I think when considering budgeting technology costs, the real questions that must be answered are about the cost to the firm if technology is not embraced. How will it affect our clients? Will we remain competitive? What internal staff costs am I incurring because of antiquated systems?
So what’s the real cost of technology? I believe firms should evaluate the costs every 1-2 years and calculate effective increases in productivity, client retention and competitiveness vs. the actual outlay of funds. Somewhere in this equation is each firm’s answer. However, doing nothing is unacceptable.
We at Office Tools Professional evaluate the same dilemma when developing software to improve firm’s efficiency. As a developer, I have to admit I was jealous when I first saw the iPhone commercials. I drooled over the smooth effortless approach to phone and personal information use. How inventive, how clever. I wanted to be like Apple and wow my customers. I thought, “why can’t software in the accounting industry be like that?”. I began drawing up ideas for a smoother interface, a more feature filled application without the clutter. I consulted programmers and designers and without diminishing Office Tools Professional and its premise, we developed Practice Management 2013. A full featured single screen application, designed to take all of the day-to- day “workflow” and digitize it.