5 Steps to optimise workflow management for reduced operational costs

Blog 21st September, 2020

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With the state of the world’s economy in questionable condition as the new coronavirus COVID-19 continues its spread, there’s never been a better opportunity to identify opportunities to reduce operational costs through optimised workflow management.

If, indeed, a recession does result from these unprecedented challenges, your business will be well-positioned to remain profitable in evolving markets. And if it doesn’t? Every step taken at this point to optimise your workflows by reducing the resources allocated to non-core activities will further enhance your ability to drive revenue and sustain your company’s competitive advantage.

Use the following five-step process to identify opportunities to optimise your existing workflow management approach:

Step #1: Define Your Existing Business Challenges

Before you can optimise your business’s workflows, you need to know what you’re working with. Establish a baseline understanding of your current practices by asking the following four questions: 

  • What current issues exist with incumbent processes?
  • Where do bottlenecks exist?
  • What impact are these issues having?;
  • What new or unexpected challenges are you facing due to Covid-19?

To truly understand the bigger picture, solicit input from team members at all levels. As an example of how important this process can be, take this example of a manufacturing company:

Issues of inefficiency, high workloads, or low morale may be plaguing workers on the line, but if managers handle these issues without passing awareness on to leadership, executives may not be aware they’re occurring in the first place. If these misperceptions are left uncorrected, the executive team could make decisions around operation and workflow based on ill-informed assumptions about the state of their existing processes. By engaging with works of all levels, the responses to the three questions provided above will be more comprehensive and allow for more effective solutions to be executed.

Efficiency, workload, and morale are three challenges to look out for at this stage, as they each signal challenges that may be able to be resolved through better processes. Others include higher than expected costs of operation, signs of poor customer experience (such as declining CSAT scores or NPS markers), or lost sales, due to an inability to process payments or invoices.

At this point, it’s also a good idea to consider what you hope to achieve by optimising your workflows. Reducing operational costs is certainly a good target to aim for, but it isn’t the only way your company can measure the success of your efforts. Increased sales, higher referrals, and lower turnover may also be worthy aims.

Whichever benefits you choose, think through how you’ll measure your progress. Which KPIs will you track, and how much progress on them can you reasonably expect? If you’re unsure of what these could or should be for a business in your industry, consult with an experienced business process outsourcing partner – these initial consultations can prove invaluable to determining what measurements are both achievable within your business, but also effective when considering your business goals.

Setting specific goals based on the issues you uncover so that you can initiate a plan of incremental improvement.

Step #2: Change Your Business Mindset

The economic climate facing businesses in 2020 requires a different level of analysis for many businesses who are now threatened with the unprecedented situation of COVID-19. Organisations are having to pivot quickly and on a daily-changing basis to accommodate the evolving social and business landscape necessitated by the viral spread of infection, and the task of identifying workflow issues can feel overwhelming or demoralising – it’s not enjoyable at the best of times to proactively seek out your shortcomings and look them square in the eye, let alone in the current circumstances.

However, the smartest companies and those that emerge from such crises in the best position are those that look for opportunity in adversity. And although – like every business – they are dealing with the issues at hand, they also have a view to the future and are planning how they’ll emerge stronger from the current crisis.

This task of auditing existing processes should be seen as opportunities to optimise their workflows and processes so that they can reallocate resources from non-core activities to those that sustain their competitive advantage, particularly during a time of upheaval across the globe.

Doing this requires changing the business mindset many organisations have when it comes to outsourcing. Although many think of outsourcing as a ‘one-size-fits-all, all-in’ approach, significant nuance exists in practice.

Outsourcing can mean externalising entire operations, but it can also encompass the off-loading of non-core and other support activities that don’t drive revenue. With resources freed up in the process, teams can invest more into the core activities that support their competitive advantage and top-line revenue.

In fact, in this way outsourcing can be seen as an extension of strategic competitive advantage. When implemented in a smart way – such as when actioned in partnership with an established outsourcing leader – companies can benefit from access to expert insight, reduced costs, greater operational speed, reduced risk, and minimised complexity.

But these advantages do not occur by accident. Successfully embracing outsourcing requires that companies adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, in addition to developing a culture that supports all of its workers in adapting to their new environment. Leaders must be able to handle objections related to data, security, and people reasonably in order to persuade their teams to embrace automation and optimisation as part of a path to a stronger future.

A key part of managing these objections effectively will be for leaders to provide educational assets and use cases to their team for dissemination. These use cases can generally be provided by the solutions partner your company is working with, and should aim to defuse any objections or concerns through the relevance and merit of the information provided.

Step #3: Identify Non-Core Activities

Once you’ve embraced – or, at least, understood – the importance of adopting a growth mindset across your organisation, it’s time to identify the specific areas where workflow optimisation through automation or process improvement may be beneficial.

Just about every organisation has non-core activities that are required to support ongoing operations, but they don’t contribute to driving top-line revenue for the business. Any or all of these may be candidates for future optimisation efforts.

You may have identified some of these opportunities in Step #1 of this process. Generally speaking, they’re likely to fall into one of two categories:

  • Specific points, issues, processes or departments. Tasks like document management, scanning, and data entry are necessary for organisations to function, yet do little for their bottom lines. Entire departments, such as AP/AR, may be considered as being part of this category as well if they aren’t direct revenue-generators and don’t contribute to a company’s competitive advantage.
  • More complex, bespoke business-wide issues across systems. Digital transformation through the digitisation of information, digital mail handling, and robotic process automation (RPA) for call logging are all examples of initiatives that fall under this umbrella.

Don’t let yourself get hung up if you don’t know how to off-load each non-core activity you identify as part of this process. At this stage, you simply need to understand which of your existing processes and functions directly contribute to either the money you make, or the competitive advantage you hold in your marketplace. The next step will be where you work with your solutions partner to identify how this off-loading process can take place, using their experience and knowledge to best provide recommendations for your organisation and industry.

Step #4: Work with an Expert to Find the Right Solution

Working with an expert in automation and process optimisation allows your company to identify the most appropriate combination of people, processes, and technology to minimise the resources allocated to non-core activities.

But what kind of expert do you need? With so many solutions available today, selecting a partner requires that you have some level of insight into the type of support your company needs. Fortunately, most organisations can benefit from one of the three following types of experts:

A Digital Solutions Expert

A digital solutions expert may be able to assist with the implementation of automated accounts payable, document scanning and ingestion, or data management (including storage and retrieval). Digital solutions experts commonly focus on digitising physical inputs in order to present information back to companies so that they can do what’s needed with it.

Common tasks handled by the work of digital solutions include:

  • Managing daily invoicing
  • Extracting and interpreting data
  • Complex review and analysis of existing data
  • Compliance and validation of data

An RPA Expert

RPA solutions, on the other hand, are more appropriate when workflows include data manipulation, repeatable manual operations, or operations that involve user interface between systems. RPA implementations often involve zero footprint, functioning entirely as a service model that saves on resources and overhead expenses.

If the gap you’ve identified doesn’t require decision-making – besides establishing basic, defined business rules upfront – partnering with an RPA expert may make the most sense.

Full Service Business Process Outsourcing

Digital solutions experts are most appropriate when workflows require human input, while RPA’s greatest benefits come from user-based repetitive, manual tasks. But what if you need both? What if you need a solution that allows for the ingestion of information, as well as output across multiple, unintegrated systems (such as those requiring both ERP and CRM inputs)?

If your circumstances require a full service business process expert, look for an expert like Converga that has a track record of proven success across multiple optimisation disciplines.

Step #5: Aim for Continuous Improvement

Optimising workflows isn’t a “once and done” process. In fact, massively overhauling systems and procedures all at once may risk alienating team members and erasing the buy-in support needed from them for a successful optimisation effort.

Many companies choose to start small with a test project before ramping up their automation or optimisation to larger scale initiatives. There are a number of benefits to this, both for the small test project and the larger scale initiatives, including improved staff buy-in, the approach being business case proven, the ability to make optimisations before commencing larger projects, better ROI, and a more effective level of change management.

Keep the goals you identified at this stage in mind as you continually align your efforts to your established business strategies and targets.

Working with a trusted and reputable Business Process Outsourcing partner who offers flexible commercial models such as as-a-Service options ensures that your processes are always overseen by an expert, yet you remain in control. These specialists are trained to deliver solutions across industries, and can assist with bringing new processes and innovations back into your business.

Launching Your Workflow Management Optimisation Effort

Even the most streamlined of workflows can evolve inefficiencies over time as organisational change occurs and new inputs must be accounted for. As a result, just about every organisation can benefit by holding a magnifying glass up to its processes in order to identify issues that are impacting performance.

This is of particular importance to business during difficult economic situations such as the 2020 Covid-19 crisis – process improvement is a viable short to medium term strategy for improving business efficiency, and may help your business weather economic storms both now and be the offensive strategy you need in order to position for growth in the future.

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