What You’re Missing About EFSS and the future of work

Cloud and SaaS applications like Salesforce, Workday, Linkedin and Netsuite have transformed specific business units — Sales, HR, Recruiting and ERP respectively. These verticalized applications have had a profound impact on the way work gets done in modern businesses.

However, there are a number of ugly and inefficient business processes that remain highly manual. These workflows require a high degree of coordination and collaboration between employees, disparate teams, managers and third party vendors. The long chains of meetings, emails, files sent, spreadsheets, comments and revisions and waiting and wondering if your counterparts have viewed or edited your documents is extremely tedious and time consuming.

These processes are almost exactly the same as they were since the invention of corporate email. Union Square Ventures recently did a deep dive on a similar topic. One of the partners, Albert, referenced a famous Harvard Business Review article from 1990 by Michael Hammer titled “Don’t Automate, Obliterate.” The author argues that the methods for boosting performance — process rationalization and automation haven’t yielded the dramatic improvements that companies need.

Many of our job designs, work flows, control mechanisms, and organizational structures came of age in a different competitive environment and before the advent of the computer. They are geared toward efficiency and control. Yet the watchwords of the new decade are innovation and speed, service and quality.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that business processes and structures are outmoded and obsolete: our work structures and processes have not kept pace with the changes in technology, demographics, and business objectives.

Here are some of the problems that arise:

  • Conventional process structures are fragmented and piecemeal, and they lack the integration necessary to maintain quality and service
  • They are breeding grounds for tunnel vision, as people tend to sacrifice the goals of the larger organization to further the specific goals of their individual departments which leads to further siloing of the organization
  • When work is handed off from person to person and unit to unit, delays and errors are inevitable
  • Accountability blurs, and critical issues fall between the cracks
  • Moreover, no one sees enough of the big picture to be able to respond quickly to new situations

Now more than ever, these “Last Mile” business processes once thought of as “cost centers” can be transformed into competitive advantages in efficiency and agility via software. The author has a number of recommendations:

  • Reengineering requires looking at the fundamental processes of the business from a cross-functional perspective
  • Organize around outcomes, not tasks
  • Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralized
  • Capture information once and at the source
  • people who do the work should make the decisions and that the process itself can have built-in controls

While were a long way from perfectly harmonious workflows, at the heart of the solution is collaboration and then providing the infrastructure, systems and tools for people to work better together. The class of software attacking these last mile problems, is what Gartner calls “Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing.”

This term vastly belies the value. Heidi Gardner, a distinguished fellow at Harvard analyzed the effects when people don’t collaborate in Professional Service & Law firms. Simply put, the more disciplines that are involved in a client engagement, the greater the annual average revenue the client generates — as much as 5x more revenue.

The breadth of the changes required suggests one factor that is necessary for this type of reengineering to succeed: executive leadership. Beginning with the vision, collaboration tools are radically transforming the execution. Obsolete workflows are made frictionless by capturing information once, centralizing it, making it accessible everywhere seamlessly and ultimately transforming the enterprise.

Here’s how its transformed a shoe manufacturing company from initial design of the product through marketing and sales. The European design team shares the initial design files with headquarters in the US and when finalized, manufacturing in China already has access to the files immediately reducing the necessity for physical shipment of large design files. The revision workflow is accelerated dramatically and time to market is reduced by 6–12 weeks depending on project. The marketing team is able to distribute view only folders to all retail locations so they have consistent brand messaging and sales always has the latest collateral on their ipad. Previously, pulling data from a wiki, and staying up to date meant constant back and forth from both teams and now there is a universal source of truth and neither side has to worry about not having the right data.

Look at your business and ask yourself if you are providing the tools to transform workflows to make your organization more collaborative and agile.

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