Don’t Forget the Back OfficeDon Cockayne
In past articles, I’ve talked about the impact of your Point of Sale operations and how important it is to pay close attention to how well that area of the operation functions, but today I want to talk about an area of the business that often gets overlooked, the back office. Just as we know that it’s critical to have the right technology in place to get customers in and out of the doors quickly, it is equally important to make sure you have a well-functioning and efficient back office operation. Let’s face it, if the statements don’t go out on time and the bills aren’t paid promptly, none of the rest of the business can survive for very long so don’t overlook the back office when looking for ways to improve operations overall.
The first think I like to look at when looking at back office operations is the overall flow and management of paper. Sure, we know the days are long gone when we had to print multiple copies of Invoices and file the signed copy throughout the month only to pull those copies out again at Statement time for folding and mailing. (You’re not still doing that, right?) But even with the most modern of systems we still find that people are sometimes reluctant to give up the shuffling and filing of paper.
But even though you already own your fleet of file cabinets free and clear, there’s really no need to go through the hassle and wasted time of filing and un-filing paper documents. Scanning paper in and storing it electronically is usually a much better way to go, especially given the fact that the hardware needed to do this is really trivial in cost. Look around your business, nearly every place that you have one of those wire baskets for piling papers, you could just as easily have a document scanner and a shredder so the paper document gets fed through the scanner and then into the shredder.
Scanners aren’t all that expensive, and many of the newer network based models have touch screens that can have buttons programmed on them so anyone can walk up, drop the paper in, press the appropriate button and scan the document into an appropriate folder as a PDF file.
And while in the past we had to be really conservative about how we used up expensive disk storage space in our systems, these days the cost of the storage space can literally be just about the least expensive part of the picture.
So step one in modernizing our back office operations can be to simply change the way we manage and store paper documents, a really simple change that can have an immediate effect on the overall productivity of your back office folks. But we don’t have to stop there. These days, the venerable old paper fax machine has become as much of a relic as your file cabinets. For those times when someone does need to send you a facsimile of a piece of paper, you can move your fax number to an electronic fax service such as eFax or Metrofax and receive those faxes right into your inbox as a PDF attachment. And don’t worry, you can send a document the same way for those vendors or customers who themselves are still limited to a paper fax machine. The cost of these services is typically less than the cost of the phone line you’re paying for that is plugged into your fax machine, and you won’t ever have to by toner, ink or rolls of paper for your old fax machine ever again.
And of course, no article from me would be complete without me touching on the age of the computers your back-office staff is using. In a lot of cases, you make these folks suffer along the longest on old, slow computers that are years beyond their reliable lifespan. Think about it, the back office is typically the nexus of all the money that moves around in your business, in from Customers and out to Vendors, and yet you may be making the people that do that work crawl along on outdated machines that are sluggish and problematic.
We know from experience that new, fresh, speedy computers in front of people increase productivity right off the bat, but more importantly, they usually remove the frowns and replace them with smiles on the faces of the hard-working back office personnel.
The last area that is sometimes overlooked is the backup and disaster recovery process when it comes to the machines and data stored on back office machines. We know the Servers are always given proper attention in this area, but often the amount of information that back office people have on their local machines is quite large, and quite important to the overall operation of the business. Sure, your Point of Sale Server and its data is backed up, but what about the Insurance Forms, Budget Spreadsheets and Personnel Records that are sitting on the back office machines. Losing this information by mistake, a failed piece of hardware or a virus infection might not bring the entire business to a stop, but it will sure make for some serious discomfort if the information wasn’t included in the overall backup strategy.
So I know I asked you before to wander out front and watch how well business flowed at your cash counters, but once things are operating smoothly there, I’d certainly recommend a little stroll through the back office. Watch for piles of paper, overflowing file cabinets and fingers bandaged from paper cuts. Those are all signs of an area that could stand a little improvement.