A workflow is a set or standard sequence of steps for fulfilling a task (such as creating a product, providing a service, or processing data) from beginning to completion. One of the simplest examples of this is the Input-Process-Output workflow in IT.
To illustrate, imagine entering search terms in a web browser. That’s the input phase. The web browser applies its algorithms to find the most relevant search results for you. That’s the process phase. Lastly, the browser brings you to a search engine results page filled with search results ranked according to relevance. That’s the output phase.
For many businesses that are just starting, workflows are not well-established. Processes are often scattered and yet to be mapped out. The owners of a small craft ice cream shop, for example, might handle everything from purchasing raw materials to making batches to serving customers, but once their business grows and they hire new people, processes may get messy.
There may be days when it’s the new guy doing the purchase orders, and the business owners will do it on other days. The filing system for bills, receipts, invoices, and tax returns — which used to be just one slim and manageable folder — can swell into a pile that takes over their entire office desk.
Overdue bills and payables accrue late fees and interest, respectively. Missed receivables make them short on the cash they need to pay employees and replenish supplies. It’s a slippery slope that can be very difficult to recover from. Cases like this showcase the benefits of having a workflow — and one of the best types to have is a document management workflow.
A document management workflow clearly defines internal processes
Documentation serves to bring order to the organization. By establishing which business processes require paperwork and then setting guidelines for who initiates processes, approves and validates them, and finally determines them as “done,” all members involved are kept abreast of the status of processes and projects, as well as of how their colleagues are doing work-wise.
With document management software (DMS), teams can do away with mile-long email threads, time-consuming meetings, and phone calls that fail to provide the entire picture. Documentation hand-offs are immediate, notifications are automatic, and auditing “paper” trails are easier with DMS.
A document management workflow streamlines paper shuffling and ensures employees’ accountability
Once you have a document management workflow in place, you can use DMS to make your company more efficient. Instead of piling on the paperwork, DMS such as SharePoint and M-Files can capture documents — such as invoices and receipts — and convert them into electronic files that are automatically tagged and processed into your database. Pre-programmed workflows can then redirect specific documents to the right people. For instance, documents classified as outstanding invoices can be routed to accounts payable managers for approval and eventual payment. And since people can trace where a document currently is, it’s very easy to keep staff accountable for their tasks.
A digital document management workflow improves business processes
By digitizing files, it’s easy to initiate documents and to collaborate on them. Staff members can use templates and fill in the blanks instead of having to create and print new documents. And by making the workflow electronic, the risk of losing a document due to all the shuffling being done is next to nil. Processes can be monitored and, therefore, continuously improved, and nifty tasks can be automated to reduce human effort as well as help processes be moved along. For instance, if a document is taking too long in somebody’s hands, that person can automatically receive reminders to keep things running on schedule.
Other useful alerts include ones that:
- Alert employees when work is sent their way
- Give a heads up to stakeholders when a certain step is accomplished
- Notify the entire team when their project is marked “done”
A document management workflow clearly defines internal processes, streamlines paper shuffling, ensures employees’ accountability, and improves business processes.