We use digital tools for everything – from serving customers to collaborating with our team.

But despite all of the digital technologies at our fingertips, many companies rely on inefficient manual processes.

For example, someone might bury a paper copy of an invoice on their desk and let it sit for weeks before they log it in a database and begin the payment process.

These manual processes can harm your productivity and make your job frustrating. In fact, 34 percent of CFOs called “manual processes” their top efficiency challenge.

What Manual Processes Cost Your Company

Not only are manual processes frustrating but they can negatively impact every part of your business. These failures may lead to the following:

  • Overspending, such as paying late fees on invoices or not taking advantage of vendor discounts
  • Cash flow hold ups that impact your operations and prevent you from going after new business opportunities
  • The inability to pay your taxes on time and correctly
  • Failure to comply with regulations
  • Lost revenue due to poor customer service, slow onboarding times and increased churn
  • Decreased productivity, as your skilled employees may need to perform low-level administrative tasks that don’t drive value for your business

5 Ways to Find Bottlenecks in Your Workflows

If you have chokepoints in your workflows, it’s not a matter of “if” a process will fail but “when.”

Here are five ways to identify bottlenecks, so you can take proactive steps to simplify your processes and reduce your risk of failures:

1. You rely heavily on manual touch points.

Manual processes are time-consuming and error-prone.

For example, someone might inaccurately file a document or put the wrong GL code on an invoice. It’s also easy to make mistakes when you copy and paste information between databases.

As you go through your day-to-day processes, make a note of any areas where you run into errors. Then, ask if you can eliminate these mistakes through automation.

2. You constantly face delays.

Today’s digital technologies give us instant gratification.

We don’t need to drive to a video rental store when we can stream movies on Netflix. If we live in a major city, we can order an item from Amazon in the morning and receive it by dinner. 

Doing business at the pace of life is no longer an option: your customers, partners and vendors now expect it. Delays in your processes can damage these relationships.

Do you regularly deal with hold-ups?

For example, do you have difficulty paying invoices if the person who needs to sign off on them is on vacation? Or are slow onboarding processes causing customers to fall out of your funnel?

Consider whether automating these processes will help you work faster and smarter – while you improve the quality of your service.

3. Your processes involve a high number of steps.

The more steps that you have in a process, the more you increase your likelihood of errors. It’s almost impossible for things to flow smoothly when your data moves between different systems, teams and touch points.

Automating your workflows can greatly reduce the steps – and time – that it takes to get something done. For example, Canada’s leading courier automated its AR systems to decrease the number of steps that it took to process a cheque by 77 percent. During peak periods, the AR team used to spend five days processing a cheque. It now takes them just two days.

Which of your processes involve too many steps

4. Single points of failure put you at risk.

Employees often devise their own methods when they need to solve a business problem. Over the years, these ad-hoc processes may account for the majority of their daily tasks. And while these processes work for the employee, they may not adhere to company-wide standards.

What would happen if one of your top employees retired after 20 years on the job and took all of the knowledge about their processes with them? How easy would it be for someone new to fill their role?

5. Your systems don’t talk to each other.

Businesses tend to operate in silos. Departments such as finance, sales and marketing use different systems and keep their data separate.

When your systems aren’t connected, it’s almost impossible for your finance team to gain a clear picture of how your marketing and sales efforts impact your bottom line. To obtain this information, they will need to create workarounds and use manual processes.

For example, an AR team may need to manually enter post-dated cheques. Keeping track of these payments can become an overwhelming task. AR might misplace these cheques and then send overdue notices to people who have already paid – which can damage customer relationships.

If their billing systems integrated, the AR team could automate the processing of post-dated cheques and minimize complaints from unhappy customers.

What insights could you gain if your systems talked to each other?

Next Steps

These are just a few of the signs that you have broken workflows.

Ultimately, a process is broken if you can’t achieve your desired results or meet industry standards. For example, if you don’t pay vendors promptly, you can’t take advantage of any discounts that they offer for early payments.

The first step to correcting this problem is to map out your daily businesses processes and note any failures. Then, you can determine whether automation will help you reduce your errors, delays and other frustrations.

For real-life examples of how Canadian businesses have streamlined their processes and improved their service quality, visit www.RicohChangeMakers.ca.