Two keys to better organization: Centralization and collaboration

Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal in Greenville, SC., on Jan. 18, 2013

By Laura Haight

A digital workflow reduces expense (like printing costs) and increases collaboration, saving time and streamlining operations. Here are three steps to get you there.

Minimize printing. Eliminate desktop printing - the printer on everyone’s desktop that is directly connected to their computers. It is not only expensive but it is the enemy of your digital workflow. Total cost of ownership (TCO) of a desktop printer is deceiving because the printers themselves are so cheap. But factor in the paper and the ink, not to mention the maintenance time, and multiply that by all the printers you see on desks and you have quite a little expense line going.

Replace desktop printers with multifunction networked devices that can print, scan, email and fax. Look for features like:

  • Security features. One of the biggest reasons employees demand their own printers is security. They don’t want reviews, budget reports and other sensitive information lying around on the printer for anyone to see. Look for an centralized device with features like passcodes for documents, so that sensitive files can be printed to a shared device, but don’t have to lay around in the print tray all day. The user can send it to the printer and then plug in a passcode on the printer to print it out while they are standing at the device to collect it.
  • Networked and bidirectional so user setup and job management or troubleshooting can be done by an administrator, authorized users or IT staffer remotely. Permissions can be assigned based on the user’s job and needs.
  • Training. The vast majority of users use these devices just as big shared printers. Invest in training them how to use them properly to reinforce your digital workflow plans.

Eliminate local copies of documents. Most businesses have set up some form of centralized storage - whether it’s through cloud services like Dropbox or Google Apps for Business - or an internal server. But still employees pull down copies of files and keep them on their own hard drives - or worse, print out dozens of copies and keep them in their own hard-copy filing system. Why is that a problem?

  • Security. Your laptop is stolen from the back of your car while you’re at the mall. And your company’s credit report on a customer is sitting on the desktop. We have a lot of sensitive information we don’t even think about and we need to protect it to the best of our ability.
  • Efficiency. Your report on new product development is sent to five other people for review. Each one downloads a copy to their desktop and makes changes. Each one sends the file to the four other people to review their changes and each of those four people make different comments in the copy they reviewed. Whew, I’m already confused. How many different versions was that already? I think you take my point.
  • Accuracy. You keep a central library of sales flyers. Your sales staff copy them onto their laptops so they “always have them with them.” You change schedules, pricing, product sizes, distribution or any other information and - logically - update the flyers in your library. But your sales staff are still handing out the old ones that are on their laptops... problem.

Email is a transfer station not a hotel: Email is an action item: read this, sign that, meet this client. We need to convert it into actionable tasks, appointments or documents and file it appropriately in our workflow. Not the inbox. Here are a few steps to start with:

  • Don’t be an email slave. Set up a couple of times each day to review and prioritize your email. Your goal should be an inbox of no more than 20 items at the end of each day. I’d say none, but no one would believe me.
  • Get email out of the inbox and into appropriate tasks and appointments. Use Quick Steps in Outlook to turn an email into a task or appointment with one-click. See a screencast of how to create custom actions:
  • Set up a folder system that mirrors your digital workflow and a set of status folders - Read Later, future projects, follow up, etc. Use rules and categories to help you stay on track. Rules can put non-critical information in deferred folders and using categories you can color code current projects for easy tracking and searching. Learn to love rules; they are your best friend in email.

The two major reasons for resistance to changes like these are fear of losing something (because they lost something once!), and the perceived complication of layers of security. To answer the “it’s-easier-for-me-to-do-it-my-way” argument? “Get over it.” As to the real concern about data loss or inaccessibility of shared resources due to power or service outages?

Part One: Cleaning out the old

Part Three: Planning for emergencies - great and small.