Practical technologies for improving productivity

January 25, 2021

by Thomas G. Stephens, Jr., CPA, CITP, CGMA

No doubt, you have heard the terms leading edge and bleeding edge when referring to newer technologies in the workplace. Many use these terms to describe newer—sometimes untested and unproven—technologies. Indeed, most business professionals need to be aware of these new technologies that might impact them in the future. However, a more immediate concern is what are the practical technologies that can improve productivity today. In this article, you will learn about five practical and proven technologies that you can use today to enhance personal and team productivity.

Collaboration and Synchronization Tools

Today’s business climate is one in which collaboration is an integral component of many processes. Team members frequently need others’ input when working on word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents. Legacy means of collaboration typically involve emailing files to each other. This process often leads to unproductive issues such as multiple copies of the same file, lack of version control, reduced visibility of changes to documents, and challenges to incorporate all changes into the original file. Fortunately, there is a better way!

You have a multitude of collaboration tools available to you today to address collaboration and synchronization issues. For example, the Microsoft stack includes Teams, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online. With these technologies, you can facilitate multiple users viewing and editing the same document simultaneously. You can also use these tools to keep copies of these documents synchronized between your device and Microsoft’s cloud-based storage environments, so you always have access to the latest version. Likewise, tools from Google and Zoho can facilitate similar levels of collaboration and synchronization, and all of these tools are available on monthly subscription plans, eliminating the need for large, up-front cash outlays.

Password Management and Data Loss Prevention Tools

Business professionals waste countless hours every year trying to access their systems and data and securing sensitive data. These efforts are both noble and necessary, but the unnecessary time wasted on these actions certainly adds up. Two key proven technologies can help to reduce wasted time while simultaneously improving security. First, password management tools can relieve the burden of trying to remember your dozens of passwords. Not only will these tools recall your passwords and insert them on-demand into your applications and websites, but they also will create the “long-and-strong” passwords we all need. In this market, applications such as RoboForm, Zoho Vault, LastPass, and Dashlane are among the many outstanding options you have to improve password security.

Additionally, if you are running business-oriented Office 365/Microsoft 365 subscriptions or Google Workspace, you may have access to Data Loss Prevention (DLP). DLP is a technology that helps restrict the flow of sensitive outbound data (such as Social Security numbers embedded in an email message) and where you save such data on your network. By activating DLP rules, you can efficiently and effectively prevent disclosing sensitive information. And if you don’t already have access to DLP capabilities, you can use third-party DLP applications to take advantage of this technology.

Workflow Tools

Where’s that approval? Who authorized that purchase? What’s the status of that tax return? These are all examples of questions that should never arise if you use workflow in your organization. Workflow applications allow you to create rules that automatically route documents to the appropriate next person in a business process. For example, tax practitioners could use workflow management software from XCM to ensure that a tax return follows a prescribed processing path while preparing it for a client. Similarly, a controller using Sage 50cloud Quantum could track the flow of transactions and ensure that team members follow established internal control procedures met using the built-in workflow options available in the application.

Bank Feeds

If you or a client are not yet using bank feeds, you may be missing out on one of the best practical technologies available today. First pioneered by many of the cloud-based accounting applications, bank feeds allow you to connect your bank account (or credit card account) to your accounting application. Once you make the connection, whenever a transaction clears your bank account, it automatically synchronizes to your accounting application. Typically, if the transaction already resides in accounting application, the bank feed “matches” the two versions and clears them from the bank reconciliation. If there is no matching transaction in the accounting application, the bank feed enters the transaction automatically on your behalf. As it does so, it follows rules that you establish to control to which general ledger account(s) the transaction posts. Those who use take advantage of bank feeds reap the rewards of spending less time entering and reconciling transactions. They also benefit from “rules-based” accounting because each transaction entered by the bank feed process follows a specific set of rules, without exception.

Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the newest of the five technologies discussed in this article, but it is by no means untested or unproven. RPA represents a new way of working, whereby rote, repetitive tasks are automated using software-based “robots.” In fact, many team members use RPA every day, and they do not even realize they are doing so. For example, companies could use RPA to create automated responses to email messages received from customers. By doing so, the company could benefit from improved customer satisfaction because they received a quick response and reduced labor costs because an RPA process sent the email to the customer.

RPA generally works best in situations where critical thinking and analysis is not necessary. For example, many organizations use RPA today to process accounts payable bills. As the company receives paper bills from vendors, they are scanned, and an RPA tool extracts relevant details from the document, such as invoice number, date, amount, and purchase order number. The automation continues as the tool enters the data into the accounting application and matches it to the purchase order. Upon completing the match, the RPA application authorizes the bill for payment without the need for human intervention. Of course, if exceptions arise—such as a price discrepancy between the purchase order and the bill—a team member can get involved to address the issue. With RPA, you can free your team members from many of the repetitive processes that consume so much of their time, so they can focus on tasks that add more value to your company.

Summary
Leading-edge and bleeding-edge technologies can be fun to think about and consider how they might help your business. But, in the here and now, it will be tried and true, practical technologies that have an immediate positive impact on your bottom line. In this article, you have learned about five such technologies. You can use each of these in virtually any type and any size of business. When you do, you will be well on your way to improved productivity, profitability, efficiency, and control.

Thomas G. Stephens, Jr., CPA, CITP, CGMA is a shareholder with K2 Enterprises. You may reach him at tommy@k2e.com.
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