Going Paper Free: How to Digitally Transform Your Finance Department

Vickie Malis

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In part one of our three part series on the true cost of paper for finance departments, we established paper-based processes lead to greater inefficiency. In part two, we examined paper and manual processes inhibit financials leaders from achieving their goals. In part three, we’ll look at a few other ways digital workflows help finance departments and how you can get started.

Why automate?

In today’s economy, it is critical that organizations make strategic technology investments to reduce costs, improve cash management, empower worker effectiveness and increase business agility. Improving visibility, the month end close and the audit process are 3 ways that automation enables financial departments to achieve their goals. When you automate your processes as managed services from a trusted and expert vendor, you can gain the benefits of best-in-class technology, while avoiding capital investment and the need to burden your own IT department.

There are 6 key components to improving visibility into your financial operations and streamlining audits:

1) Digitize paper documents as they enter your organization/financial work streams, from wherever they enter, whether it is a remote location or a central mailroom. This removes the inefficiencies of paper from your process at the origin, it can help you to reduce your costs for paper storage.

2) Import electronic documents and information in their native format, directly from enterprise application such as an electronic invoice portal.

3) Extract data from documents as the documents are captured. As this relevant data is pulled off the page it can be automatically shared with other systems, saving the time associated with manual data entry.

4) Automate document routing based on pre-established business rules and requirements for specific document types. This reduces employee involvement to exception processing which can dramatically reduce costs and improve efficiency and employee satisfaction.

5) Use dashboards to provide real-time insight into the status of people, processes and systems. View staff workloads, completed tasks and bottlenecks.

6) Automate the tracking of who has touched any document or file, what they did and when they did it, for the creation of a valuable audit trail.

Three ways that removing the paper and automating you processes can improve your financial close:

1) Process/workflow automation enables you to present employees with their assigned activities for the reporting cycle, along with all of the necessary documentation. Employees are empowered and can more actively manage the close process.

2) Dashboards provide insights and help to ensure that all tasks are completed on time or ahead of schedule. Performance metrics also help managers to esily see that no steps are overlooked or omitted.

3) These solutions co-exist with ERP and legacy financial and other business process systems.They can pull data required for a close from any system including those for payroll, reporting, revenue, fixed assets, accounting and general ledger. Employees can work from within a single work space.

Ready to get started? Here’s some quick tips

Step 1: Determine whether your paper-based processes follow a set of documented procedures or are performed in an ad hoc manner. If your organization has established processes in place, move on to step two. If not, you need to take a step back, gather stakeholders, and design and implement a workflow before you begin a transition to digital. Think of it as creating a blueprint.

Step 2: Root out the inefficiencies in your current processes. Are you employees spending too much time on administrative tasks? Are approvals taking days or weeks when they should take hours? Are you struggling to collaborate with coworkers across different locations? Understanding your inefficiencies will help you prioritize your digital initiatives.

Step 3: Get the right people involved

To ensure you develop effective digital processes, involve stakeholders and users from across the business. Those that rely on paper-based processes every day can help you paint a much more holistic picture of inefficiencies, including those that you may have missed.

Step 4 Transfer your existing workflows

Finally, once you’ve identified priorities, begin transitioning your existing workflows to digital. However tempting though it may be, don’t use this as an opportunity to tweak processes. Trying to optimize and automate at the same time will not get you th results that you want.

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