By Rob Pickering, CIO, AAA Allied Group
At most companies, email is the means to run a business. Whether it’s HR, marketing, legal or purchasing, much of the decision-making and tracking flows through the inbox before it manages to make an impact elsewhere. It’s the conduit for requesting equipment or a service, reporting an issue, buying something or getting permission -- each stage requiring human touch, and limited visibility beyond a lengthy, convoluted thread.
In contrast, companies like Amazon, OpenTable or even Uber provide services automated with few human touch points or required responses beyond a one-time notification.
One department that has made a substantial break from email is the IT team, and it started with lessons learned the hard way. Precipitated by an onslaught of requests, most IT departments have embraced a system to define their processes (such as the requests for equipment or reporting problems) and turned them into an automated workflow. For each downed server or lost password, emails are not the means to deliver end results, and IT has eliminated much of the email sent to manage those processes.
Leading companies are applying this IT know-how -- called service management -- to better automate their business services. By defining, structuring and automating the flow of work, service management removes the dependences on email and other inefficient manual processes to streamline services. In fact, a study from KPMG showed that 90 percent of respondents agree that many business processes conducted over email could be better run by service management.
So how did IT end up leading the way in efficiency? Here is a three-step process that can better streamline how departments within your business use email:
Take a Fresh Look at Email
Like many companies, our own AAA teams found that work emails are comprised of a type of request. This can include anything from people wanting something or a confirmation of an item others have fulfilled. IT departments categorize emails and which level of an action item is taking place, such as which emails are repeatable and which processes are uniquely manual. A best practice to maintain is not placing all emails into the same category and not being stuck fulfilling low-value work.
Map out Processes
Once an item has been identified into a next step process, sit down with the business team and whiteboard out the request cycles. It’s important to identify who your requesters are, who needs to approve the requests and which criteria are important. It’s also helpful to scale out the priorities like tasks, deadlines, notifications and escalations. This final scale is your workflow.
Build the Workflow
Next, convert that whiteboard into a digital process. Using service management software, this is easier than you think. At my company, we have at least eight departments rolling out automated workflows to replace email. For example, our marketing team is moving to a custom app that sits on our company-wide ServiceNow platform to help them manage all digital media and website requests. Integrating new processes as seamlessly as possible is crucial for adoption, and utilizing third-party software can be beneficial during this initial step.
By implementing a strategic email process, you can turn unstructured emails into a valuable, data-rich resource. We now have visibility into our business services, and that visibility brings with it strategic opportunity. We know how many requests we get in any specific area, when we get them and how well we do in responding. We can see at any given time what the status is, like tracking a package. If there’s a bottleneck, we can now see it and address it quickly, while also providing scalability.
We’re on the cusp of a new world of work that leaves emails as the "request and fulfill" cycle behind.
Organizations need to move away from their comfort zone to reach a new level of efficiency beyond email, and that efficiency begins with taking a page out of the IT team’s book. In return, they’ll find that the productivity and business results will ultimately be financially beneficial and leave a positive impact on their overall work culture.
Rob Pickering is the CIO of AAA Allied Group, the 12th largest AAA club in the United States, serving over 1.6 million members across seven states. He and his team have transformed the service experience within IT and extended service management through the introduction of two different end-user content management system (CMS) portals, project and portfolio management, software development lifecycle (SDLC) scrum and facilities automation.