Every organization faces constant pressure to become more efficient and do more with less. That need for efficiency often translates into exchanging documents at ever-increasing speed, thanks to everything from airmail to fax machines to email.
Now, the challenge is to maintain efficient workflows while accommodating a profusion of new information formats, such as email, electronic documents, spreadsheets and databases.
Today, digital workflows and enterprise content management (ECM) tools are essential to manage all of these new document types. Digital workflows help companies improve productivity and do more with less, while also supporting good decision making.
What is a digital workflow?
First, let’s start with talking about workflows in their simplest form.
In essence, a workflow is a means for routing a work effort (often, a document) to various people or departments in order for them to review it or make decisions about it and then pass on to the next person.
In the past, organizations would use manila envelopes to circulate inter-office memos. You’d put a document in the envelope and then list the recipients in order on the envelope. A staff member would periodically come by and pick up the envelope and deliver it to the next person on the list. That person would review the document, cross off their name on the envelope and route it to the next person on the list.
A digital workflow allows you to route many types of electronic information and documents to other people in a similar fashion, but with significant advantages in efficiency and transparency.
Managing complex processes
One of the main advantages of using digital workflows is that they are able to handle more complex processes. You could use a digital workflow to bring multiple people together to review a piece of content and agree to a particular action. These workflows could be serial (one step after another) or parallel, or change based on various decisions made along the way.
Let’s say your organization receives a large invoice totaling $1 million. Before the accounting department issues the payment, each of the project managers on that account must review the invoice and agree to their cost center absorbing a certain percentage of that total.
When you use a digital workflow in a serialized manner, each of those project managers would be able to see what the others have already accepted as their cost. Once everybody has seen the invoice and accepted their share of the cost, it goes back to the accounting department, where the staff would enter those amounts under each cost center and carry the process forward.
Today, this entire workflow could happen in a matter of minutes. It’s far faster and more efficient than having people running around trying to chase down all of these different approvals.
With paper-based workflows, you’re only able to take action when you and the document are in the same place at the same time. With a digital workflow, however, you could be practically anywhere and still be part of the workflow, using a computer, tablet or smartphone.
If an invoice comes in while you’re out of the office, for example, you could receive an alert via email or a notification. When you’re using an ECM system with mobile capabilities, it’s easy to quickly pull up the relevant documents, review them and approve or flag them, all from a smartphone or other mobile device.
These are just a few of the ways that digital workflows could help your accounting department streamline a variety of activities. By integrating your ECM solution with automated digital workflows, your organization is able to do more in less time, and with fewer people. It helps you deliver information to people faster and easier, giving them everything they need to make informed decisions.