by Lance Elicker
Have you ever seen a great sales presentation about a software or technology and thought, “My business needs to have this”? You make the purchase, and then three years later the software you had to have to help run your business better isn’t being utilized the way you had hoped it would, or even worse, it’s not being used at all? Unfortunately, that is an all-too-common theme that I have seen over my years in this industry.
There are lots of “cool” technologies/software that we are inundated with daily, but how many of them have really provided you measurable value? In my world of office technology, most often I hear about “going paperless” or “document management.”
What does “going paperless” even mean? Well, quite frankly it’s different for everyone. Regardless of what it means to you or me, what really matters is why. Why would you want to “go paperless?” If you no longer have those big file cabinets or your desk is clear of paper, what have you accomplished? I would argue that this newly found space is just a cleaner office or a place where you can put more stuff. Without a good process and good planning, your paper mess of file cabinets and paper repositories become an electronic mess. Your frustration will be even greater because at least you know that somewhere on that crazy desk of yours, that document is there. If you put it on your company Z drive, some sort of software package, or in the almighty cloud, I can promise you it’ll be much harder to find than sorting through the paper on your desk. Regardless of what you spend on software, without a process, and plan to facilitate that process, you would be better off taking your family on a nice vacation, or at least taking them out to dinner. I can assure you it will be a lot less frustration. Now, I am in no way attempting to devalue technology. Technology is what I do – without it I don’t have a job. The technology isn’t first, though, it’s last.
So what now? It is important to identify the processes that are either costing or making you money — and often they are one and the same. I would suggest bringing in a consultant (I happen to know a really good one) who is an expert on business processes. It is hard to be hard on yourself, and I hear from a lot of companies, “Our processes are solid.” They may be, but there is always the possibility to make a good process better, just as much as making a bad process good. After the process(es) are identified, map them out somewhere; whiteboard, paper or PowerPoint all will do (pictures are worth 1,000 words).
Now you have something to fix, identify the weaknesses/gaps/bottlenecks in the processes. Once you have vetted the issues, ask yourself what would a perfect scenario look like? Still to this point, no mention of any sort of software or solution. Now we have some ideas for improvement, how would these benefit your business? I am talking about real benefits, like additional dollars to the bottom line, higher profit margins, and better customer retention. Real measurable results, not arbitrary benefits like efficiency, fewer steps or less paper.
Now as we come up with a plan, including key stakeholders becomes very, very important. Providing them with the reason the process is improving (not changing) and seeking their thoughts and input is key to gaining their buy-in. That buy-in will make implementation infinitely better, and make realizing the identified benefits much quicker.
Now we can talk about the technology. The technology used to facilitate the process (not the other way around) has to support all of the work that has already been done. Don’t get caught up in features that are cool. Who cares if there is a mobile app if you don’t need access from a mobile device? Any features or benefits have to support your why. Your why is making your business better. If it doesn’t then that is a fringe benefit and something not worth paying money for.
If a technology provider comes into your office and pulls up a PowerPoint presentation about the software they want to sell you, kindly ask them to leave, because they want to sell you software, not process improvement. What do they know about your business if they don’t ask you anything about it?
Lance Elicker is national customer success manager for Ephesoft, a best in class advanced document classification and data extraction solution and document level analytics platform.
is a professional services manager for Van Ausdall & Farrar. Contact him at LElicker@vanausdall.com