September 28, 2012 by Tom Zeliff Categories: Office Automation

Every day that an order sits in your inbox and every additional step that an order takes to get processed represents a delay in cash flow which can hurt the financial health of any organization. Furthermore, lost orders—which happen to a surprising number of companies—mean poor customer service at best and lost revenues at worst.

Document management and workflow automation software can streamline the sales order process so that, once an order enters your organization, it is processed immediately. If not processed immediately, the system can automatically alert management to address the bottleneck. The result: better customer service and fastest order-to-cash.

To better understand how to speed up the sales order process, let’s take a look at two processes, one manually driven and the other automated with document management and workflow.

Manual Process

An order comes in via fax, is printed out and then scanned into an order file on a shared drive. The file is manually named according to company policy. Someone then retrieves the order and manually enters it into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) or accounting system—Oracle Financials, as an example. Once the order confirmation number is generated, it is manually entered into a database, possibly Microsoft Access or an Excel spreadsheet, along with the file name and directory. At that point, which can be days later, the order is sent for processing.

What is wrong with this process?

  1. Inconsistent File Naming: Every file has the potential to be named differently. Even if you train your staff to enter it properly, people make mistakes. When a file is misnamed, the entire order is lost and must be found by guessing where the file is located.
  2. No Accountability: How do you know if an order’s been processed? Is there an accountability process that tracks the order from when it enters your company to when it’s entered into your system?
  3. No Version Control: Customers change their minds and make mistakes, so order numbers may be changed based on updated information to the order (e.g. version 1 to version 2). The order information must be manually updated in the Access Database as well as information added to the ordering information.
  4. Delayed Cash Flow: slow processing can lead to unnecessary financial issues.

Automated Process

Your sales staff completes an order on their laptop or mobile device with an e-form. The signed electronic form kicks off an automated workflow determined by information on the e-form and based on your business rules. The order is automatically routed to the appropriate persons for approval and then processing. Once approved, data from the electronic order form is automatically uploaded to your ERP or financial software, such as Oracle, eliminating the need for manual data entry. Customer information from your CRM system can be automatically added to the order, providing additional means to track it. The order is now part of a workflow queue that can be monitored by management, which can alert you to sales orders that are taking too long to process.

For archival purposes, the e-form is saved as an image to a document management system for storage and easy retrieved. The ERP number is automatically entered as an index value on the image via integration with your operating software and database look-up. Any additional documents, such as confirmations, or changes received by email can be connected to the order as the order gets fulfilled.

How is this better?

  1. Consistency: Document management systems rely on keywords to identify a document instead of a user-entered file naming structure. Therefore, you can eliminate the need to have people have to remember how to name a document, which can help prevent mistakes.
  2. Improved Accountability: Workflow queues can be monitored to track when actions are taken for a given document. No longer will you wonder if an order is waiting. When someone goes on vacation, you can route their queue to someone else, ensuring that the orders can be processed without delay. You will be able to see when it entered the order entry queue and when it was processed.
  3. Version Control: Since the order number is automatically added as a keyword to the system, a whole host of other information can be automatically added to the document. Shipping information, voucher numbers or any other system-generated information can be added as index values, improving searchability and eliminating guesswork.
  4. Faster Order-to-Cash: quicker processing can help ensure an organization’s strong financial health.

Note that the automated process does not significantly change the core process but instead makes it more efficient and adds visibility for management based on your existing business rules. The difference is that automation enables you to spend less time looking for documents and more time fulfilling customer orders as soon as they are received. Let us know if we can help you achieve this level of automation.