Given its origins in the manufacturing industry and its roots in physical processes, Workflow Management might seem like a strange area of expertise for a firm of accountants. This assumption, however, neglects the fundamental changes taking place in the modern accountancy profession and in workflow management itself.
One of the fundamental requirements of a properly functioning accountancy system is a flow of accurate, high-quality information, and its implementation is, in itself, a workflow management process. Beyond this, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) analyses one of the main activities of an accountant as: ‘The generation or creation of value through the effective use of resources’. This is a broad and forward-looking definition that captures the development of 21st century accountancy far beyond the ‘number-crunching’ for which we’ve traditionally been famous.
At Smith & Brown we specialise in process management, whether that’s a flow of information, the movement of a product system or service through stages of development or distribution, or a transition from customer query through to sale and retention. We can offer consultancy on these issues, implement specific technology solutions or advise more directly from our perspective as your personal or company accountant.
We have significant expertise in the implementation of Xero Add-Ons like WorkflowMax and ProWorkflow, standalone products like Geo-op and, for more product-orientated operations, we offer sophisticated inventory management software that allows you to track your products anywhere in the world, giving you unprecedented insight and control into the way you make your money.
Above all else, we are committed to holistic working. We will never promote one product or methodology over another. We will always take the time to work out how your business operates and help you find a real, elegant and functional solution.
Whatever industry you work in, however you run your business, the chances are that a number of processes link your initial customer contact to a sale and then to delivery of the final product or service, many of which might involve employees. As a company director, sole trader or manager, your role demands perspective, which is often difficult to find among the day-to-day demands of running the business. An independent eye can usually help, and the flow of work through your business can often be the best target for improvement.
The concept of workflow first emerged in the 1920s in response to widespread industrialisation and the growth of the manufacturing industry. Prior to this, Frederick Taylor, an American mechanical engineer and leader of the so-called ‘efficiency movement’, and Henry Gantt, one of the world’s first management consultants, were arguably engaged in an early type of workflow management as they sought to improve the operation of the manufacturing businesses that employed them.
The concept was extensively developed during World War II, when highly organised systems of production were essential to coordinate the production of weapons and equipment and the training and deployment of troops. NASA’s Apollo programme, too, contributed significantly to the emergence of a coherent theory of workflow in the 1960s.
In the 21st century, workflow management has come to be synonymous with a wide range of quality and process control measures, and may equally apply to the way an insurance claim is handled and to the way a car is assembled from disparate parts. In each case, the aim is to ensure that the processes involved in transforming the raw materials of a business, be they physical, informational or personnel-related, into the final product are efficient.
Workflow applies to every conceivable kind of business. Whatever your product or service and wherever it comes from, there are bound to be intermediate steps which, in fact, constitute the ‘labour’ (to use Karl Marx’s term for it) that adds value to the final output of your business. The way that these steps interact – as a particular machine part is passed from station to station in a production line, a product is ordered and sourced from a warehouse, or a job of work is requested and distributed to a technician in the field – constitutes workflow.
The principle of workflow management is that inefficiencies in the way that products, information and people move through a business cost money. By optimising the way these interactions happen, therefore, a business can maximise its profit.
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