Get Your Firm’s Processes Ready for the Cloud in 7 Neat Little Steps
Regardless of which type of cloud solution you decide on, your current processes will need to be revised and adjusted so that you are able to effectively use the new technology.
Those who have already transitioned to a paperless (or even less paper) office are less likely to be affected than firms who still rely on paper processes. However, there is still an element of revision and adjustment involved even for paperless firms.
Whilst the kind of cloud solution you select will have some bearing on the preparation required (with respect to implementation of new arrangements and ways of working), the fundamental steps involved in preparing your processes for the transition to the cloud are the same.
So what exactly are the steps involved in getting your firm’s processes ready to make a smooth transition to the cloud? We’ve set them out from 1 to 7 below.
Step 1: Pick a process champion
When looking to review and modify your processes, it is crucial to gain the support of your whole team, and a good way to ensure ‘buy in’ to the change process is to nominate a ‘process champion’ to drive the project. Ideally, this person should be the team member with the best combination of enthusiasm and influence with your team.
The role of the project champion is to make sure that all the steps involved in getting your processes ready for the cloud are carried out effectively and according to the particular time frame you have laid out.
You must ensure that the process champion has the ability to delegate tasks and can follow up effectively and with authority when or if deadlines are not met.
Step 2: Capture your current processes
So that you know what needs changing, you need a solid understanding of the way things currently happen in your firm. According to last year’s Good Bad Ugly survey, there is less than one third of firms who have more than 80% of their procedures formally documented, so chances are your firm has some processes which are not currently captured.
You should think about how your firm operates – on both the client side and administration side. How is a client’s job currently executed? How does paper flow in and out of your office? How is invoicing dealt with? You should then identify one of your simpler processes to begin with – one that involves limited steps – and document all steps involved, including who is responsible for carrying out each step.
Go through each process, step by step – until you have effectively captured how everything is done in your firm.
Practically speaking, you can use any number of tools to do this – for example, Microsoft Visio, a whiteboard, or even some butcher’s paper and sticky notes. Be sure to involve the people who are actually involved in or responsible for each process. Remember, what you are capturing is the way things happen now – not how it is supposed to be happening (that comes next).
Step 3: Identify the reforms needed
It is only once you have defined the current state of play that you can truly identify which parts of which processes can be done electronically or with less paper so as to properly prepare your firm for the smooth implementation of your particular cloud solution. This is also the perfect opportunity for you to consider how you are able to operate more efficiently in your firm. So, Step 3 almost has two objectives: firstly, to make sure your processes support a smooth transition to the cloud and, secondly, to remove any inefficiencies in your current processes.
This is not a ‘blame and shame’ exercise – be conscious of the fact that there will be team members who have invested time in developing your current processes and who may be attached to the way things are currently done. Acknowledge effort and make sure to position any changes in a positive light – otherwise your people may lose motivation and interest, making the change processes even more difficult.
Step 4: Apply a paperless approach
Revising and adjusting your processes in order to prepare for the cloud provides you with an ideal opportunity to apply the principles of a paperless office. You can’t put paper in the cloud, so it’s only logical that a change in processes should involve a transition to a paperless office so far as is possible. And, as you would suspect, the steps involved in transitioning towards a paperless office are very similar to those involved in transitioning to the cloud.
You should be minimising the use of paper in all of your processes, which will involve doing as much as you can electronically. Key processes which you should be looking to make paperless include:
1. Incoming information from clients
If your clients currently provide you with boxes or parcels of paper documents, you should educate them on scanning and emailing or even consider relying on an online client portal to exchange information with your clients. Electronic questionnaires (which clients then email back to you) are an ideal tool for making sure you gather all of the information you need from your clients.
2. Incoming information from the ATO, ASIC and other regulatory bodies
If you receive a large volume of incoming mail from these organisations, you should consider implementing an ‘intelligent scanning’ system (by which we mean a combination of software and scanners that automate the scanning process by identifying client-specific information on the documents scanned and using this to file documents electronically against the right client and possibly auto-generate letters or responses to those clients using the scanned information). Intelligent scanning systems can save many hours each week on what is otherwise a tedious, time consuming and error-prone task.
3. Using workpapers
A truly paperless office involves working from electronic workpapers. Whilst many firms are making the switch, working with electronic workpapers does present some new issues, for example how the review process will work in practice. The key to the effective review of electronic workpapers is to have a PDF editor which the reviewer can use as they would a pen, sticky note or stamp to mark up any changes. Dual screens are also essential. You should consider trialling the review process with both the preparer and reviewer sitting side-by-side so that any problems or gaps can be identified and corrected.
4. Outgoing documents and other information
How information leaves your firm is just as important as how it comes in and how it is processed. Information must be capable of being emailed or uploaded to an online client portal. You should consider how to generate letters using electronic letterheads. You should also consider how effective your current electronic document management system is – for example, does it automatically prompt you to save all outgoing emails? Does it allow you to set different levels of security around who can edit and email final versions of documents?
Step 5: Map your revised and adjusted processes
This is the easy part! You’ve already got a clear picture of what your current processes are and how they need to be adjusted to accommodate your move to the cloud (plus any efficiency improvements you identified) – now you just need to put the two together to map out your revised and adjusted processes. Like with Step 2, you could use any number of tools to document your processes – from Microsoft Visio to a Word document with links to various templates which support the relevant process. However, you need to make sure that the processes are documented electronically (which is centrally stored and accessible by all team members), rather than solely in hard copy format.
Step 6: Take action now – don’t wait for the cloud to implement your revised and adjusted processes
Having gone through Steps 1 to 5, you will have a set of documented processes which are more streamlined and more efficient than what you currently have in place – so why wait until you move to the cloud before you implement them?
Amongst other things, having more streamlined and efficient processes in place will allow you to:
- Improve the efficiency and quality of output as your staff work from approved and standardised procedures; and
- Reduce your dependence on key team members as your firm’s ‘know how’ is now documented and available for everyone to access, as well as prepare you very well for your eventual transition to the cloud.
Step 7: Test, challenge and improve
Once you have implemented your revised and adjusted processes, you need to be prepared for a ‘testing’ phase, during which any ‘teething issues’ can be identified and addressed.
Beyond this state, you should encourage your team members to continuously look for ways to improve your processes, particularly from the perspective of cloud technology and paperless methodologies in mind. Incentivise the forward-thinkers in your group by getting them involved in the decision-making and challenge them to find more efficient ways of doing things – even a process which becomes just 10% more efficient could mean a sizable increase to your firm’s bottom line.
And, finally, you should repeat all of these steps at regular intervals. As better, faster and more efficient technologies become available, you need to challenge the way you work to take advantage of any improvements on offer.
HowNow Online and Smart Workpapers are your keys to the cloud.