Sunday, March 18, 2012
Author - Colin Wilson
by Colin Wilson, Global VP of Sales, for Managing Partner Magazine, March 2012
A few years ago there were a series of schoolboy jokes going around about a certain brand of car and, to save any embarrassment, I’ll call it brand X. “Why do brand X have rear heated windows? To keep your hands warm when you push them!” When that joke first went around, built-in rear heated windows in cars were a little bit of a novelty. Brand X was also a bit of a novelty and it had to sell on price to be able to grab the attention of the public. Some discerning salesmen may have tried to use the ‘hand warming rear-heated window’ as a feature and added benefit for when the car broke down; the thing is, the car was not supposed to break down in the first place.
The analogy works well to explain the different approaches to workflow within digital dictation solutions. A basic definition of workflow is the automatic electronic routing of documents to the users responsible for working on them. The important word is automatic. We find, in our market, ‘automatic’ is a term loosely used and there are some systems out there that are more manual than you might think.
Simple workflow usually means that a document makes the journey from author, to secretary, possibly back to author, and then perhaps onto some document production. It may even follow a specific workflow depending on its job type. This is all good stuff and is a big benefit over analogue systems and, while jobs flow around and keep moving, all is fine. It’s when jobs start to stack up – think of abnormal volumes of work, other jobs taking priority, staff sickness, staff holidays or jobs taking longer than expected – that problems and typing backlogs begins to occur.
Typing backlog is the workflow equivalent of thrombosis, which is not nice and needs specialist treatment. With simple workflow systems, the ‘treatment’ is to go to a computer screen and manually balance the workload across different secretaries/departments, akin (using the previous car analogy) to extolling the virtue of a rear heated window to keep your hands warm. Fine if you are satisfied with that.
History is littered with examples of the idiom ‘prevention is better than cure’. The Roman poet Persius (A.D.c 58) seems to be attributed with the original version, followed by Thomas Adams (1583-1652) with an English version. The best known, however, is Benjamin Franklin who, in response to helping Philadelphians avoid fire fighting activities back in 1736, famously said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. And there we have it, pay a little bit more to prevent it, or a whole lot more later to fix it!
Winscribe go along with the prevention theory – it saves so much time and money. Sophisticated workflow is already built into our digital dictation solutions, allowing our customers to build intelligent workflow processes that keep documents on the move ensuring they meet their turnaround times. All of this is achieved without intervention from humans who are costly, can be inefficient and carry the risk of making mistakes.
Our first step towards prevention is to specify when a document is required – the document turnaround time. Step two is to configure the systems to the working hours of the secretaries. There is no point sending a document to a secretary who, due to their working hours, will not be able to meet the document turnaround time while the author cannot take account of secretarial workload and be expected to choose an appropriate workflow that directs work elsewhere. Equally, the secretarial supervisor should not be expected to redirect work either.
As part of implementing true workflow, we configure each customer’s digital dictation solution to automatically move work based on escalation rules linked to document turnaround times and working availability. This means the system automatically moves work and can even escalate to a supervisor if it detects that a job is likely to fall even further behind.
In the current economic climate, businesses are all forced to save costs, be more efficient, and raise their game. They have to be more competitive and use innovation to retain, attract and develop clients. Times have changed and there is no room in the legal sector for shrinking violets; rather bold actions coupled with the ambition to succeed.
This is a message that you will find throughout the business world and it comes from the top. UK prime minister David Cameron has recently shared his view about EU leaders: they must be “bolder” if they want to shake off their economic troubles. So, mediocrity should not be the standard to strive for. A bold move would be to completely restructure typing resource away from departmental silos into a contiguous network of professionals that cut across departmental boundaries. There is often more typing capacity across a firm than is actually used and, while one department is fully stretched, another may have capacity to take on more. You can see the inefficiency in terms of throughput and cost when overtime is paid to reduce the backlog. Importantly, there is the client to consider – if their documents are not being produced in a timely manner, there is a chance that they could get unhappy, which is never good for business.
A contiguous typing network consists of a number of typing groups who do not have to physically sit together. Each group is able to produce similar work of a variety of different job types and these jobs can move from one group to another following a predetermined set of rules. To make sure each group works to maximum efficiency, there has to be a buffer of work waiting. However, if a buffer grows too big and document turnaround times signal potential failure of work to be completed on time, then the system will automatically reallocate work to another group. Any work that is in danger of becoming critical will not only be pushed to the top of the list but automatic escalation alerts are made.
Groups can also be assigned different working hours. As the end of the working day approaches for group A, any outstanding jobs can be automatically sent to group B. Equally, as the end of the working day approaches for group B, then all outstanding work can be sent back to group A or even a group C. We call this internal outsourcing and the structure of how work can be internally outsourced is entirely changeable. For international firms, the concept of ‘follow the sun’ typing is absolutely automatic, entirely feasible and makes fantastic use of resources and time management which benefits more than just the bottom line. Along with our considerable experience in legal, we also have many years’ experience in the healthcare sector helping hospitals implement trust-wide digital dictation systems. What is absolutely imperative for them is the document turnaround time. Each document has to be completed on time or there could be serious consequences. Ask yourself, what competitive advantage could a law firm develop from being fanatical about document turnaround times and offering service level agreements, just as healthcare have had to be?
Workflow is not only important to digital dictation, it is important across all processes within an organisation. So here’s another thought – what competitive advantage could be gained from developing sophisticated workflow across the whole firm? Our business process management solution is already helping firms with automating process such as file reviews, client and matter inception, complaints procedures and many more. With the current economic climate, the introduction of alternative business structures and outcomes-focused regulation, there has never been a greater imperative for bold action.
For further information, contact Colin Wilson, VP Global Sales, Winscribe (at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +44 118 984 2133).
Read the article as it first appeared in Managing Partner magazine here.
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