Tips for identifying pain points in workflows

Efficient and strategic management of documents is critical to virtually all business operations, and SMBs need to streamline their processes and functions if they are to remain competitive.

While many businesses recognise the need to make changes, they often lack the resources or tools to pinpoint where they can make improvements. Often, inefficiencies in areas such as document workflows consume significant organisational resources, yet take a low priority for management simply because their costs are not fully realised.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face a particular quandary when approaching inefficiencies within their processes and workflows. On the one hand, improving operational performance while reducing cost structures is a constant imperative; on the other, they often lack the time and money to analyse their organisations and use that analysis to build targeted, lasting solutions.

Simple fixes can help small businesses almost immediately improve their efficiency and cut down on cost structures. Business owners also need to remember also that emerging technologies may impact their organisational culture if they want to streamline their processes over the longer term.

In 2011, Fuji Xerox Australia in conjunction with IDC surveyed more than 500 SMBs and found that while 89 percent of small businesses say their present document workflows meet desired outcomes, 52 percent also say their processes are frustrating, inefficient or costly. Despite this widespread frustration with document workflows, only 16 percent of businesses surveyed have taken steps to implement solutions. That suggests that SMBs face difficulties on two fronts: pinpointing the exact problem areas within their document workflows, and developing solutions which they believe will thoroughly resolve these problems.

But why should small businesses concern themselves with document workflow inefficiencies? On the surface, document-related issues may seem like trivialities which business owners and employees can learn to tolerate. As a result, many SMBs pay little attention to the real costs of inefficient workflows, not just in monetary terms but across a whole range of areas:

  • Only 29 percent of SMBs have measured how document workflows impact on customer satisfaction; 29 percent  on employee satisfaction; and 26 percent on financial costs; and
  • Three quarters of organisations have done no measurement of how document workflows impact on their business.

The Fuji Xerox Australia Document Workflow Survey found that for a business with 70 employees, the average cost of pain points related to searching and retrieving documents per annum is more than $500,000. This staggering cost of document-associated processes suggests that SMBs have much to gain by assessing current document workflows in their organisations and developing formal strategies to streamline these.

The best approach for SMBs to take is to look at the greater trends which are causing document workflow inefficiencies. Many of the major pain points within the document workflow process are related to organisational communication. Fuji Xerox Australia’s study found that document collaboration (including reviewing, editing and tracking changes for documents) and authorisation procedures are two of the main day-to-day bottlenecks for SMBs. A lack of strong procedural routines is at the heart of many of these bottlenecks (for example, only five percent of businesses have formal document approval processes). Outdated organisational cultures which apply old working habits to new technologies are another. Overall, too few SMB members understand exactly how their document workflows should or do work: understanding this is key to reducing the costs associated with document inefficiencies.

The study also found that 15 percent of SMBs store their documents electronically only, while 41 percent only store hard copy documents. The high rate of hard copy document storage suggests that many employees are still wedded to paper storage for its perceived security and reliability: addressing this entrenched culture requires long-term training and developmental work, with a “quick fix” like an electronic-only policy unlikely to have lasting effect. Second, many businesses also encounter difficulties with electronic document systems, particularly when it comes to tasks like indexing archives and tracking changes to documents over time. In this case, the pain point is less than the use of paper and more about the inefficient processes which accompany its usage, including everything from arcane filing systems to manual scans of documents into electronic format.

When SMBs improve their document workflows, they also improve how they respond to and deliver on what their customers, clients and employees desire from them. For every small business, there are at least a few immediate fixes which can deliver quick productivity wins. However, the greatest benefits for SMBs arise when they start to adopt new developments like integrated cloud services and mobile printing which can optimise cost efficiency and increase productivity in the long term. A forward-thinking approach to document workflows bears dividends both for the future and in the present.