Using E-mail as Document Management and Workflow Hurts your Business

Using E-mail as Document Management and Workflow Hurts Your Business"Oh, I can't get to this right now. I'll "Flag" it for later, no problem."

Is this a common phrase in your organization?

Microsoft Outlook is probably one of the most widely used workplace programs - e-mail, calendar, contacts, etc. With the only real challenger in the last decade being Gmail's business offerings, it's easy to see why most professionals have become almost overly proficient with Outlook.

The flexible yet no-frills nature of the software lends itself to unique styles of use - do you open emails from pop up notifications, or do you read them all inline in the window? Do you always schedule where you'll be (Busy, Out of Office, etc) from the dropdown on appointments, or just make a note in the location box?

The flexibility and user-friendliness of the program is what has made it so commonplace - but it's important to remember that without standards in your office, you will lack a lot of consistency.

For example - when companies define workflow, the most important aspect is often that a well-defined workflow with processes and procedures that are adhered to will produce a higher quality product/service, and by default result in a better customer experience, improving brand loyalty, customer retention, etc.

Some of the worst workflow management we have come across while doing process consulting for major companies is that conducted haphazardly and on an individual basis inside of Outlook.

Now, this often comes in two ways - we see people who are flagging messages and simply using the list of flagged messages as their workflow. This relies on a human judgement of priority (which may or may not be in line with the businesses processes and procedures), and also prevents any real kind of notification or reminder from ocurring other than knowing that, at set times, a person ought to check their flagged messages.

The other method we see relatively often is the "calendar crisis". We see people who book every task they could ever imagine onto their calendar with a carefully appropriated length of time to complete said tasks. This becomes challenging and often results in unclear schedules for appointments and meetings, rushed tasks as the goal becomes more about staying on schedule than completing with quality and accuracy.

These methods are supplemented, then, by relying on the fact that your e-mail will store documents that are sent to you as attachments indefinitely, so why bother saving anything except to edit?

And version control? Well, just look at the version you sent back to them. That's good reference right? Everyone you e-mail uses the same naming conventions, and you can always assure that everyone remembered to hit reply all, right?

This probably isn't the case, but there is a way around it. A dedicated document management solution can actually save you money in this regard.

It may seem counterintuitive that purchasing and implementing a new system would save you money, but consider how much time and human resource is being wasted with any of the above methods - hunting for documents, wasting time and effort determining what work needs to be done next, and other equally as mundane tasks.

A large portion of this task can not only be centralized into a digital repository, but automated with the incorporation of a process automation solution as well. This means work is automatically made available to workers whenever there is a new task that needs to be accomplished, and can even be prioritized by business rules and procedures so that the worker always knows what needs to come first.

Good indexing and high search functionality can also reduce the time it takes to complete document searches when a manual search is necessary, meaning that employees are spending less time hunting for documents, and more time adding value to your customer's experience.

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