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Digitization can help break down data silos and make information available to everyone. However, when it comes to the daily business life, a multitude of tools and workflows gets in the way of efficiency and transparency.

The days of physical file folders, isolated Excel spreadsheets and stand-alone solutions are coming to an end. With the digital transformation, workplaces are becoming more and more digital. Due to the pandemic, this change also happened a lot faster since many processes had to shift to virtual platforms due to lockdown and isolation rules.

The advantages are obvious: digitized data is stored and processed centrally which means that the location of an employee doesn’t matter when it comes to working with files, data and other colleagues, partners and customers. Processes can be accelerated and data is available in the office, at home or on the go.

Additionally, the classic data solos from print out folders and excel sheets are slowly vanishing and are replaced by central data platforms that offer transparency instead.

The catch: there’s no transparency without workflows

In theory, every person in the company should now have access to the right data and documents. In everyday life, however, this often is not the case.

The merging of data, even with implemented CRM and marketing automation systems, continues to take a lot of time. According to a CX study, 82% of all respondents have problems with various aspects of data processing. Meanwhile, a Bitkom study reports that less than one in two companies uses applications to digitize documents and only 41% use electronic archiving and document management.

In addition, digitization also means that employees have to give up on processes that they used every day for years. In some cases, they have to learn completely new workflows and tools.

From my own experience, too, it takes time and effort, for example, to reduce e-mails in order to share and discuss documents on central communication platforms instead. And it is precisely this change process that creates the biggest hurdles because as they say: ‚old habits die hard.‘

Those who were used to storing documents on their computers for years and only sent copies as email attachments for editing, will not seamlessly start with a perfect digital documentation process over night.

5 tips to establish digital processes that work

As part of the digital transformation, companies and teams need to reengineer their processes so that the existing technological possibilities can be used in a meaningful way.

Set up clear workflows

It is important that every user is made aware of the new workflow which ideally has been defined by an interdisciplinary team that also includes the end users.

The workflow must be comprehensible. If it contains new technologies, all users need have access to these technologies. In addition, training should be provided to show and explain their use.

In the context of legal and compliance requirements, it is important to involve users in the design of the workflows. This is the only way to guarantee that actual user requirements are also taken into account and potential issues are identified at an early stage. It is not uncommon for new digital processes to cause frustration if they do not improve the core problem of the „old“ process, but instead duplicate or worsen it.

When implementing workflows, there should be room for error. It is normal for users not to get everything right from the get-go, so workflows should be designed in a way that mistakes in the beginning won’t break the whole system.

General workflow rules should also inform users when to use them. Especially during the adoption phase, it’s important that users know, for example, what to share via the new platform and what still needs to be send as an email attachement.

Define taxonomies

Documents, channels, applications, etc. need comprehensible names and designations. Users are often accustomed to their own taxonomies and forget to adapt them to the standards when uploading documents, for example.

In addition, many companies have processes without any established taxonomies. Maybe only one person was previously responsible for a certain task or any adaption seemed to much work.

However, for central, digital storing, the naming must be standardized. A central document repository in particular contains so many documents that different naming conventions make it impossible to find data and files, especially if they’ve been uploaded months or years ago. This applies to content management systems as well as project management applications.

The taxonomy also includes logical subfolders and metadata, such as the language in which a document is written, the business unit for which it was created, and so on.

Connect applications

Most companies have central systems that handle numerous processes and link business units. This could be a CRM system, a marketing automation application or a content management system. However, users often need additional applications that are not always covered by the system in use.

When choosing apps, one of the key requirements should be the connectivity to main systems and other apps. It therefore pays to see whether the current system has a list of its own or partner apps that can be easily connected. It helps, if the IT department has an overview of all internal and partner apps, so requests can easily be checked. This also helps to keep processes lean and save costs.

Especially in the case of applications that cannot be linked to the used systems, it’s necessary to design workflows so these apps don’t create data silos or security risks. Additionally, the added value of the app needs to be compared to the potential extra effort of a (manual) data transfer.

Make sensible tool choices

This somewhat general heading actually refers specifically to the number of apps and tools in use. Especially modern CRM systems offer a wide array of new apps that are used by different teams with different requirements for their work.

However, if these teams work together, it can add to the amount of apps each single user has to use which adds more complexities to overall processes. A new tool has to be installed and users need to learn how to use it. If too many tools are added with each new project, productivity drops and it’s nearly impossible for employees to develop an efficient routine.

Accordingly, a new tool needs to have added value and longevity before it should be adapted by a team. Often, compromises can be made with tools that are already in use by both teams.

Review & adapt workflows

Digital workflows are not set in stone, nor should they be. For many users, change can cause frustration. Often, it’s not the system but added work that causes the frustratio, for example if despite digital sharing, physical documents still need to be maintained and therefore create twice as much work.

It is therefore suggested to regularly check the workflows. Can they be optimized? Are there better, simpler solutions? Is it even possible to remove individual tools from the workflow or reduce the number of steps?

By the way, this can also be done in smaller teams. As long as it doesn’t affect collaboration with other teams, greater freedom to make decisions about processes plays a role in how open users are to new applications.


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