The term workflow as it relates to tax, accounting and other segments of information administration, is not new to business professionals. The use of technology tools to aid in the control of workflow is, however, on the rise and is helping many organizations of all sizes improve their back office operations. A basic definition of electronic workflow is the technology infrastructure, inclusive of both hardware and software, used to direct, regulate and automate the flow of an organization’s electronic content in order to make said flow more efficient and secure.
Benefits of Utilizing Electronic Workflow Tools
Organizations utilizing electronic workflow tools derive two primary benefits: greater efficiency of operation (noted above) and strengthened internal controls in areas ranging from protection of sensitive content to improved procedures relating to organization assets. In the following two examples, both benefits are illustrated. Click here for a list of Workflow Solutions and Providers.
1). Jenkins, Adkins and Jones, CPAs has a traveling audit staff that consists of six accountants. These auditors submit weekly expense reports in order to receive reimbursement for the expenses they incur while working on behalf of the firm. In the past, the expenses were documented on a spreadsheet, which was printed out and given to the audit manager for review. Amounts that surpassed a predefined dollar threshold were supported with receipts stapled to the report. Once the audit manager reviewed and approved the reports, she forwarded them to the payables clerk who would enter the expenses into the accounting system, making sure they were charged to the proper general ledger accounts and engagements. This required a fair amount of time, and occasionally errors occurred during the entry process.
Recently, the firm began using an online workflow tool design to help with expense reporting. The auditors now build their expense reports from anywhere an Internet connection is available or from a mobile computing device such as a smartphone. The camera built into many phones may be used to capture images of required receipts and easily attach them to the applicable expense. The field auditors now take less than half the time previously needed to complete the reporting task. Once reports are submitted, the audit manager reviews them, alters them as necessary and then approves them for payment by the accounts payable clerk. The manager can view the underlying receipts in any PDF viewer. The AP clerk no longer needs to re-enter the information into the accounting system; instead, she imports it from the workflow mechanism, reducing both time required to key the information and the occurrence of data-entry errors.
2). A manufacturing entity was struggling with control over its raw goods inventory and contracted with a technology provider to help with the problem. The consulting company determined that, due to the large volume of materials handled, proper documentation of things such as product type, location in the warehouse where items are stored, and even quantity information was inadequate. Warehouse workers used a series of paper checklists to record these values, but often the data was incomplete or the lists were lost during the bustle of the workday. If the paper documentation did make it to the warehouse manager’s office, a data-entry clerk keyed the information into the inventory system. This was extremely time consuming, and errors in the keying process often occurred.