This weekend I was hiking the Beaver Brook trail near Denver, CO, an 8.5-mile trail that many families and dog walkers will hike. Every now and then, we like to set up a car shuttle and hike one end to another. Much of the trail faces east and catches plenty of sun. The vegetation on either side of the trail has really built up — in some places the trail was overgrown and it was tough to see the trail and what lay ahead. Three hours into the hike, I heard my partner freak out behind me as he was backing away from me. He explained we had missed a rattlesnake that had crossed the trail between us, meaning that I may have just stepped over it. I was so busy working my way uphill that I failed to see or hear it. We were both very wary and enjoyed the hike out a little less for the rest of the afternoon.
Maybe that’s an extreme example of what a lack of visibility can mean in business. But it is very easy to get lost in what we are doing, like working hard to keep up with order processing to meet customer SLAs or routing AP invoices to be coded and approved in order to pay suppliers and not miss early payment discounts. However, a lack of visibility due to our focus can derail the entire process. Customers have explained to me that when an invoice sits too long, a senior leader may burst into the shared services center in need of an urgent payment as to not get cut off by the supplier, and any early payment discount opportunity on the invoice to that supplier already flew out the window.
In an earlier blog post, Mark gave some examples of how a group email inbox, also known as a “hotbox,” can hurt business processes like AP, order management and AR. IT staff have also shared that they do not care to use an Outlook hotbox as the company archive as it’s inefficient and inconsistent, and they get pulled away to try and find emails or fix issues plenty.
Last week, one of my customers shed more light on this and shared the following problems regarding managing a business process hotbox:
- Hard to take ownership. It’s confusing who actually owns the next step. There are multiple people in a department; is the action on you or someone else?
- Visibility issues. This often gets limited to one person, meaning emails may be stuck in one person’s inbox without anyone else ever knowing about it.
- Schedule conflicts. This ties into visibility again. Someone being out of the office is a problem and urgent emails can be stuck or won’t get auto-forwarded to the team, especially if the employee is out of the office sick unexpectedly.
- Inaccurate sorting. Emails can be dropped in the wrong folder and get lost forever. Then, customers get mad and suppliers don’t get paid and they are confused by our poor process, or our DSO gets dragged out.
- Coding system. It’s easy to assume an issue is resolved because the email was color coded differently, but that’s not always the case. There isn’t really any accurate tracking on exceptions.
Before we talk about automation of these processes using tools like machine learning, what many are seeking is a set of clear dashboards that help sum up the current volume of orders, invoices, etc. in the process, ranked by stage (e.g., new, in process, under review, approved).
The ability to monitor these documents for key words/key SKUs helps ensure rush or priority orders actually get priority. For example, distribution centers may have regional cut off times that need to be met and east coast orders may need to be weighted higher to ensure on-time delivery and a positive customer experience. Layering on dashboards for extra visibility helps AP departments see which invoices are stuck in the approval cycle, how much money needs to be accrued, and the potential amount of pre-negotiated early payment discounts at risk if the business owners do not code and approve their AP invoices.
Esker provides visibility and automation across business processes to help avoid nasty surprises and stressful disruptions. I think I’ll take my hiking higher up to Snowline for a clearer path.