4 Things I have learned about Digitalisation in the Back Office
Wiesbaden, June 4, 2021. All roads lead to Rome – and all processes in the company go through the back office. After all, almost nothing works in the front office without the back office. In order to simplify processes in the back office, digitalisation is also in full swing there: all companies should have four things in mind for this.
by Enrico Prinz
The tasks of the back office are diverse and range from assistance tasks and meeting preparations to processing applications and preparing customer contracts and invoices. To keep things running smoothly and keep the other employees’ backs free, the back office now has a wide range of technical options at its disposal. This enables companies to make their processes more efficient and save time.
Despite the technical progress and the multitude of new tools, however, we are still in a bridge era – because although there are sufficient technical possibilities, not all parties involved are using them in the same way yet. For example, the back office can create contracts and invoices digitally, but as soon as it comes to official matters, it has to revert to paper form. And banks are still “fans” of faxing.
This adherence to traditional processes has only partly to do with data protection: mainly, the conversions to digital are too extensive to take place quickly. The change in the back office therefore takes time. Processes that have been digitalised to varying degrees mean that in some cases file folders still adorn the offices of the back office, while other things are already completely digital.
When the time of the digitalisation comes, however, this not only saves space, but also spares the nerves, because:
1. Digitalisation in the back office can save resources – if it is done right.
Hours of searching through dusty file boxes, rummaging through thick folders for the right invoice, and finally picking the data out of a mountain of slips of paper used to be a standardized procedure. Today, such processes work much faster – thanks to digital tools. These take on a myriad of tasks, such as managing invoices, and introduce an order in the background that is much clearer and more intuitive than any filing cabinet.
Digitalisation in the back office has other advantages as well. For example, the duration of many processes is minimized when documents can be signed digitally, as long postal routes are eliminated. This not only saves time, but also protects the environment, because the fewer letters that are written, the less printer paper is needed. Tools such as digital time recording and billing applications also enable both consultants and back office staff to use their resources more effectively, freeing up time for what really matters.
2. You cannot avoid digitalisation.
Even if the changeover takes longer in some places – after all, the entire process must first be recorded for a process change. However, it is essential to find out where there is room for optimization in a process so that digitalisation can be driven forward in a targeted manner. Of course, social change is influencing these processes forcefully from the outside. Digital media have permeated almost all levels of everyday life and are now omnipresent for most people. It is therefore functionally necessary for companies to continue to digitalise processes and keep their finger on the pulse of time. This saves resources and creates competitive advantages or prevents competitive disadvantages.
3. Digitalisation in the Back Office must be well structured.
Many may ask: what could possibly go wrong in the process? While it is important to drive digitalisation at all levels, the company must proceed with caution to avoid gross errors. After all, processes can get bogged down during the changeover if the company uses tools that it has not yet tested sufficiently. Meanwhile, the selection of helpful digital tools is so large that it is worthwhile to search for the most suitable ones for the respective company.
This process takes time and many trial runs. For example, the company must test whether a jack-of-all-trades tool or several individual tools that work together are more suitable for digitizing its own processes. This is because the processes have usually matured over the years and been tested against reality and cannot be replaced with a disorganized switch to digital tools. It is clear that there should not be more sources of error than those that one wants to reduce through digitalisation. And finally, you have to consider that a trained employee has to operate the software.
4. All affected persons must be involved.
Some people feel threatened by digitization. That’s understandable; after all, some jobs are even being cut because there are now some well-functioning tools that can run the organization in the back office more efficiently. But it’s important to acknowledge that digitization takes work away from employees, which can be done much faster thanks to the software. After all, the work isn’t getting less, it’s getting better. Ultimately, employees will still have to do other tasks for which there is no tool. For this reason, a mental shift must first take place so that everyone can embrace the new, more efficient digital workforce.
Overall, it should be clear to everyone involved that the switch to digital processes in the back office takes time. It is more of an evolution than a sudden upheaval. Different systems work better for each company, which is why it can take a while before positive effects such as time savings become apparent. From the moment everything is digital in the back office, both the company and the customers will benefit from the changeover.
Enrico Prinz: Consultant
After studying political science with a focus on NGOs, governance and civil society, Enrico Prinz gained many years of experience in the field of international energy policy in development cooperation and fundraising for an international non-governmental organization. At cometis, he organizes, among other things, the back office and is responsible for the smooth running of the project. With his help, many processes are gradually being converted to digital counterparts.