Efficient access to critical business information a priority for pandemic and beyond

The ways in which business’ workflows were altered by the pandemic demonstrate the importance of an effective information management says Julian Cook, Chief Customer Officer at M-Files during an Accountancy Age webinar.

“What many companies have realised as we’ve gone through these difficult times is that they actually have a lot of business critical information locked away and stored in quite distributed silos within their business,” says Cook.

“What this pandemic has really highlighted, as we are working remotely, is that actually getting access to a lot of information is very difficult.”

Even before the pandemic hit, ease of access to institutional information was causing a duplication of efforts.

“Imagine the amount of wasted time in professional services where people have done a bit of work or some research or prepared some advice. Then another client will come along and ask you the same question,” says Robert Insall, Partner at Begbies Traynor.

“If you don’t have good system for categorising that information and making it available further down the line, I can see a lot of wasted time trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Cook gave an example of clients who were ill-prepared to transition to remote working, where they still relied heavily on physical copies of documents and even those stored electronically were not able to be accessed outside of the office, forcing them to organise shifts for staff to go into the office so that they could save important information locally to their machines before they were able to begin working from home.

“Many of our clients are now starting to really think about how they can accelerate their digital transformation to be more productive today, but also be unfortunately prepared for potentially similar events in the future.”

Insall agrees, adding that one of the key lessons to be learnt from the past year is the need to be adaptable.

“The most important message is that ability to be adaptable,” he says. “To plan ahead as to what your business and what your client’s businesses need- can you react to what is a swiftly changing and uncertain environment?”

A report by Accenture found that leadership style, an agile mindset and organisational silos were the largest hurdles in business agility. However, setting up an information management system is not without its challenges. One of the first steps towards organising content is determining the level of access, according to Cook.

“The important first step is to do an audit, understand what [information] you have and where it lives.”

“Once you’ve done that, disseminate what’s important to your business, what’s business critical and what’s sensitive,” he says. “Potentially you have responsibilities around managing data in the correct way. Then also understanding what’s quite casual, data and content you don’t have to worry about as much because it’s not private, sensitive or critical to your business.”

Though beginning the digital journey can be daunting for those who still have many legacy processes, digitalising does not necessarily mean purchasing or using new tech, says Cook. For many businesses it is better utilising the technology they already have.

“People who were using information management or document management solutions quite casually have actually now really had to double down on the way they use it and to use it more effectively,” he says.

“[Companies] are using tools that maybe they already had the pandemic has forced them to now do so in a better, much more effective way.”

But the biggest hurdle, according to Insall, is getting businesses to understand that the money and time investment made now will pay dividends in the future.

“If you can get people to have that lightbulb moment and recognise that while there’s probably some upfront time costs and investment to get them over the hump, they can also see what some of the digitalisation, streamlining and automating processes will do for them,” he says.

Remote working’s one year anniversary

With many office workers nearing their first-year anniversary of working from home (WFH), most workplaces have successfully transitioned to a remote working environment.

“People have got to grips with what’s happening in the world and changed how they’re conducting business,” says Cook. “They’ve put in place new processes and new technologies, and many of those challenges around productivity have been somewhat overcome”

“The good news is for everyone is those productivity gains now will stay with us.”

Researchers at the London Business School found that WFH has helped employees hone in on priority tasks. 78 percent answered the activities they were doing were “essential or important”, in 2013 only 57 percent said the same.

But information sharing remains a laggard in the WFH revolution.

You have to work a lot harder to collaborate if you’re not in an office with people, says Insall.

He adds that informal teaching that occurs in the office is a problem that hit newer employees the hardest.

“Where productivity has suffered has been amongst the more junior people. The people who don’t have the same levels of experience, just because they’re not around more experienced guys. The inability to watch people work, to listen to how they resolve issues, and to learn from them.”

“I think that’s an area where people have to be really aligned to making sure that their staff can continue to collaborate and learn, to maintain productivity,” says Insall.

To listen to the whole webinar with Julian and Robert click here.

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