The pandemic has proven that virtualization of your business operations is critical to the overall ability to continue business as usual while the workforce is scattered all over. Today's software solutions can offer many opportunities to evolve a business towards virtual processing. Even so, many companies have already invested in technology solutions that will accomplish this task, but haven't implemented, or fragmentally implemented those features. The overall success of a good virtual strategy is simple. Anyone can do their jobs and report the results from anywhere, and at any time, all while improving the efficiency of the data collection and streamlining process.
Today we will examine 5 steps to virtualizing your business. They are:
Setup remote access and security to existing software
Evaluate strategic information workflow processes and make them paperless
Review management reporting and make it electronic
Invest in technology that takes advantage of your new virtual configuration
Create standard operating procedures (SOP)s and re-train your staff
So Let's begin. Step one is all about remote access. Let's take this example. Your AP processors are working from home and need to process and pay invoices. First, they need access to the software. If your system is on-premise, then you must use remote desktop or Citrix to get functional access to the AP program. If your solution is web-based, then you login with your browser (we discuss this more thoroughly in step 4). Security is a major concern with remote access to data, however, today's router technology has resolved most of those issues. If you have move to the cloud with your ERP or co-locate your on-premise solution in the cloud, then you already have experienced the logistic advantages of cloud computing.
Next, the processors will need to be able to get access to the invoices and supporting documents. Here are several ideas:
Having your vendors email the invoices is a start to any "virtual" accounts payable process. The AP processor would have the ability to get invoices entered for payment from her house without having to go to the office to pick up the invoices, or have the invoices scanned and sent to her from the office.
Supporting documents need to be paperless, as well. Purchase Orders and Receiving tickets generated in the field can be easily captured with a camera and emailed to the AP processor. Also, there are many forms based applications that will extend that functionality and automatically create, route, and update the ERP solution's PO system, then store the image in AP to be match with the invoice. The same goes for the delivery tickets.
Virtual invoice processing, routing, and approval can be done with most AP solutions on the market today. They give the user the ability to enter the invoice (fully integrated with ERP), match documents, check irregularities, route for approval, file paperwork in electronic file cabinet , and update the accounts payable solution. These steps can be all done virtually, without paper, from anywhere.
Invoice review and payment processing can also be a virtual task. In this example, the check signers can be put on the routing sequence and approve the disbursement there, or most solutions today will allow the signers to generate reports or review details electronically once it is ready for payment. This eliminates the need to provide all the paper backup with the check to the signers for signature. Also, generating the check to the vendor can now be done very much like Payroll direct deposit. There are services that will take your check disbursement journal and send out the checks to your vendors, and even give you participation points if the vendor accepts credit card payment. Also, many ERP solutions have this built in, so that you can set that up with your bank, and it won't cost you a fee.
In the virtual scenario we are discussing, the image of the paper is electronically stored automatically and paired with the supporting documents, and some solutions will even provide paperclip access to those documents from within the ERP solution. Having your files electronically indexed will have a huge impact on efficiency when it comes to retrieval of the information. For instance, in our scenario, if the owner bill needed a copy of all invoice images to be attached to the bill, that would be a simple query from the file system with a .pdf output of all images…within seconds. Again, if the field needed a copy of the invoice image to repair a warrantied item, they would go to their phones, lookup the invoice, and save it to their device.
Most management reports today are generated from the information that is captured during a period of time, analyzed, then re-presented in some reporting tool like Microsoft Excel. Today, there are plenty of opportunities to streamline the collection and representation of the data by using dashboards, or integrated reporting tools. As you move toward "paperless" processing and workflows, it is easy to collect the information on a daily basis then create reports and Matrix KPI's on-demand. These reports can even be electronically routed, automatically on a daily basis. The processes used to manually collect and create these reports must be reengineered to adapt to the digital daily data collection and reporting. Further, we are seeing web-based software tools that will allow you to create your own forms, validate the data, integrate the information with ERP, and provide instant metrics from the data collected. Microsoft and Omnidek have really taken hold of this concept and provided some robust opportunities to manage and report data.
Let's talk about technology. As software migrates to the cloud, and data is becoming more normalized, we see a host of applications that have been developed to bring data together (normalize) in order to streamline paperless processes, eliminate double entry, and provide instant validated information for analysis. There is technology that allows for field collection of information using mobile apps with what I call "Entry Point Validation". That is integration with ERP data. Why is this important?. If you want to use the information downstream, like creating a purchase request in the field on a mobile device, routing it for approval, then submitting it to the PO module of the ERP solution without double entry, you need "Entry Point Validation". Another aspect of technology is the hardware. Today's mobile devices are very capable of providing the tools necessary for the field to start a digital workflow process. Most companies already have a substantial investment in these tools. Leveraging those devices with a digital workflow can prove very cost effective and substantiate the ROI for these tools.
Another aspect to the technology point are business portals. We are seeing, and hearing, a lot about community collaboration. This is networking your business alliances together in order to broaden the digital foot print of your organization to outside effected participants. This means that the people you do business with and your organization can communicate, collaborate, report, and process documents under one network. In the example above, a business portal would be used to submit invoices, collaborate with subs on pay application submissions, invoice status lookups for vendors to see how their invoices are progressing through the payment cycle, submission of additional documents like lien waivers, and COI's, and "Facebook" style connectivity for instant notification and response to information or issues.
Finally, the technology that is really making a difference today is the virtual meetings. Products like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebX, and MS Teams are the more popular, but if you are a google or yahoo user, meeting is built into those environments as well. However, it is very important to set standards for those meetings and rules of engagement. Some Examples, whether to use the cameras or not, do we record the meeting, connectivity at the remote site (there is nothing worse that someone cutting in and out during a meeting), setting agendas for meetings, and most important not to multi-task. One of the easiest things to do is return emails while you are in a meeting. If you are not muted, everyone hears your keystrokes. And finally, turning off the phones..nothing more annoying than a phone going off during a meeting.
Most important is the re-engineering of your company work processes in order to document and train ALL parties on their roles and responsibilities. In my last engagement, I was tasked to do tune ups for the company to see how our clients were using their software. It was an eye opener! Over 50% of the customers still maintained a paper-based filing system, even though our solution digitally imaged them. They were unaware of the organic features that had been developed to solve paperless process issues. They did not know about the virtual features that allowed project managers and supervisors to approve invoices on their phones. If you were to do a survey today, most companies use only a portion of their applications' features and do not know what all the software can do.
Even as we move out of the pandemic restraints on business, making a company "virtual" makes a lot of sense financially. Again, the last company I worked for we had 60 employees worldwide with no office. From a logistics point of view, meetings can be pulled together much quicker; I have literally pulled off the road and joined a meeting about some hot topic that needed resolution. Dealing with the human resource side of things, when employees have sick children, they can still get their work done after hours. Hiring can be effective because your requirements for office visits can be slimmed down. Work productivity among your staff will increase substantially because they will generally work until the task is complete, instead of waiting until tomorrow to finish because they are going home.