The management of corporate workflow is increasingly becoming a concern.
Molly Pierce investigates the solutions
Systems pursue us throughout our lives. They can be productive or restrictive: but for corporate agencies and their clients, they're very necessary. The management of corporate workflow is highly important, as both a preventative measure and a solution to tangled situations.
It's tempting, particularly early on in an agency's life, to believe that corporate workflow management is better left up to the big guys. "Many agencies with the talent to conceive and execute outstanding creative work leave their financial systems upgrade to a later stage – typically when their first major clients start demanding greater analysis on the management of their accounts" says Chris Lever, MD of AgencyDNA.
However, this approach of waiting to react to demand for management software is misguided, Lever believes. "No matter what stage of a project, or how big or small, agencies should not compromise on their information systems. It's fundamental to being in control. It's not untypical that until this point [of upgrading] all client budgeting, report and analysis is done in Excel and, with financial data views not coming directly from the system, it is this disconnect which carries risk."
AgencyDNA is a consultancy which specialises in systems that improve planning and management at creative communications agencies. It recently announced an exclusive partnership in the UK and Europe to distribute AccountAbility, a new cloudbased management solution, which can integrate all of an agency's financial and management information – meaning fantastic accessibility and no need for costly, space-filling servers.
However, it isn't just in account management or budgeting where systems for managing projects are essential. Leif Skogstad, commercial director at the corporate communications agency Addison, told me that Addison has been offering remote access systems to its clients for 14 or 15 years.
Addison produces annual reports for many of its public company clients - a labour-intensive and timeconsuming process. It will never be an easy task: annual reports go to investors and analysts, and are full of crucial detail. Errors or even mis-steps can severely damage a company's reputation and therefore its bottom line.
"These reports are 250 pages, and they take three or four months to produce, with as many as 15 people needing to edit the document," says Skogstad.
"In fact, it's going up to 19 users with a client in the next few months. But we're working with people whose main occupation is not the efficient production of a document - nor should it be."
Recently, Addison has switched over to a new system for managing the editing process of its reports, a Swedish service called CtrlPrint. Addison assumes the cost of installing CtrlPrint and its InDesign and InCopy plug-ins on its clients' systems, because the benefits to the overall management of workflow far outweigh the expenditure.
"The main point for us is to be flexible," says Skogstad. "We would never tell clients how they ought to work, but using this system definitely makes the client's life easier." Of all the clients that have made the transition with Addison to using remote editing on their annual reports, not a single business has then reverted to tradtional methods. CtrlPrint has had some customers shy away from the system, but its feedback is for the most part extremely positive.
"It used to be the case that you would agree on a number of proof cycles, which was labour intensive. I've seen account managers on the phone to clients for four hours at a time going through a document section." Previously, reports were marked up, often by hand, then scanned or delivered back to Addison. Now, CtrlPrint allows team members access to edit the specific sections relatable to their function, then upload the edited versions back up to the system.
"The first benefit is that you're not tied to a cycle of proofs, so certain sections can go through 15 or 16 rounds of amendments if needed. The amendments can be made and approved within an hour, rather than waiting for the next proof cycle – so it consolidates the process." The second benefit, according to Leif, is in the time saved; the new system also allows for greater accountability.
"It's improved control over the document itself, because all changes are tracked and the version history shows who's made which changes when. This in itself helps to apply internal rigour," he says. "And you can control whose changes are accepted, and who has read-only access, and who has editing access for each section, as well as switch these security levels during the editing timeline."
Lever also brings up increased levels of control as a reason why such software is crucial for a business. "Without integration... the time spent on the job may not be known, the agency can lose sight of the third party cost spend, and very soon the expected profit and capital working positions are exposed. Integrated systems provide visibility over client jobs at any stage." The new control levels are also a tangible benefit to clients, as well as the contribution to a job's overall profitability.
A major plus with AccountAbility is its mobile capability. Lever says this is crucial: "Like most industries, agency people increasingly expect to be able to access their tools on their phone or tablet, to view or update details such as doing a timesheet, wherever they are. Accountability has iPad/ iPhone capability and is developing an HTML5 interface to be used across any browser." And the straightforward web delivery system of CtrlPrint is attractive to Addison.
Although these systems do two very different tasks – and in fact, there are probably as many systems for managing corporate workflow as there are processes which need managing – the benefits to companies are transparent: they provide ease of use, increased visibility and accountability, straightforward interfaces, and flexibility. It seems likely that before long, comms agencies won't know where they were without them.
Wednesday, 02 January 2013