The pressure to do more with less has become a mainstay of business life, for all roles and all industries. Unfortunately, here in the UK we’re still struggling to achieve the optimum. The latest figures from the ONS show the productivity growth of British workers has fallen to a two-year low.
While some of this is being attributed to failures in government policy and, of course, Brexit. I know from first-hand experience that businesses themselves are still missing a lot of simple opportunities to improve productivity and efficiency. A large proportion of which revolve around the continued use of manual paper processes to run back-office and administration tasks. In fact 90% of all invoices worldwide are still managed through manual and paper-based processes. This is a worry given the increasingly digital world in which we operate.
But all is not lost, research from IDC suggests that a third (35%) of SMEs understand the role that technology can play to improve business efficiency. Some are already starting or plan to invest in certain digital ways of working with this in mind; cloud (73%) and mobile apps (38%) to name a few of the most popular. Although they are still nervous about the risk, particularly those with under 10 employees.
To those of you reading who may still be unsure of ditching the paper and investing in digital technologies, I urge you to think of IT as more than just a necessary cost, and instead see it as a driver of competitive advantage. Even seemingly incremental changes or investments will pay dividends in the long term, far outweighing the initial up-front costs and efforts to implement.
For example, consider replacing manual invoicing with an automated solution. Your finance departments say they are overwhelmed by the high number of invoices they are expected to process on a daily basis, which they receive in a variety of formats. It’s a notoriously labour-intensive process; with each individual document needing to be processed, coded and submitted for the budget-holder’s approval before being entered into the businesses ERP system. The average cost of processing an order this way is thought to be between £25-£40. No small sum. SME wholesale food distributor Ivan Wood & Sons was struggling with this problem. It’s since implemented an ERP system that digitises and automates the entire invoicing process; freeing up its managers time. Rather than wading through piles of paper, they now focus on making strategic business decisions and building stronger relationships with customers.
Swapping carbon copy pads for iPads is another way to improve productivity and add value. For the majority of SMEs with staff who spend their time out in the field, carbon copy pads are still very much a part of everyday life. I still see my plumber rooting around in his footwell for his pad and spending 10 minutes filling out all my details every time he comes over to do our annual boiler check. Ten minutes might not seem like much but if you see ten customers a day, that’s just over an hour spent filling in paperwork – not generating value. Replacing carbon copy pads with iPads linked to a digital smart software could cut that time in half; freeing up staff time to upsell or visit more customers. Not to mention save me the hassle of repeating the same information every time the plumber comes to visit.
Making submitting expenses a more mobile friendly exercise can also pay dividends. The end of every month see’s employees empty out their pockets, bags and wallets to try and sift through receipts for business expenses, like taxis, client lunches or ad-hoc printing costs. To the average individual these nominal costs seem insignificant but to the finance team responsible for collating and processing them to calculate business cash-flow, they are vital. But for them to really add value, they need them to be submitted on-time; and even better, in real-time. Highly trained finance professionals shouldn’t have to spend their time chasing consultants or service engineers for their expenses! It’s a waste of years of study and education. Luckily, there are now a wealth of solutions which allow busy customer-facing employees to simply take a photo of an expenses receipt and upload it via an app, to automatically add it to the back-end finance system. No more rooting around. People can just take a quick pic the minute they spend something & know the job is done.
The evidence to show the benefits of embracing digital ways of working is well documented. IDG calculates that all businesses can increase revenues by 23% by relying on digital-first strategies. But for those of you who, understandably, are reluctant to undergo a complete digital transformation I say: at the very least, it’s time to start waving goodbye to paperwork in order to say hello to productivity. In today’s more aggressive, margin squeezed and eventually post-Brexit environment; and with the advance of the digitally-fluent Gen Z workforce, paper and manual processing really must not continue.