Ops Management

Go Paperless to Maximize Efficiency!

The key to successfully navigating a business through any economic climate is efficiency. This is especially true in the DME industry, where a streamlined business model not only enhances your profitability, but makes it easier to meet a patient’s needs completely and quickly.

Going paperless is a very effective streamlining method that ensures your business is operating at maximum efficiency, while actually improving upon the service you can offer your customers.

Despite doing business in a truly digital age, most of us are still surrounded by a sea of paperwork on a daily basis. This certainly makes the transition to a paperless operation seem like a daunting task. Like any worthwhile investment, the key is making a commitment to the process and taking the steps to see it through.

It is unrealistic to expect to make the change in one across-the-board measure. It is a process that has to be planned and implemented in phases with realistic goals and timelines.

The Benefits of Going Paperless

The goal of going paperless is to improve efficiency and strengthen customer service. Moving to a Web-based system will provide access to standardized company policies, procedures, protocol, forms and documents. It also allows for the introduction of a universal customer database. This heightened access increases accountability and adherence to company requirements. Online access to forms increases productivity, legibility and accuracy. E-mail alerts can be employed to inform management when a task is not completed within a pre-set timeframe. When your whole company is connected, your clients benefit greatly from your instant access to a wealth of information.

Getting Started

The first step is to identify the areas where your company can go paperless and evaluate the steps and investment it will take to get there over time.

Start with the areas of your operation that can be most easily converted while providing the maximum benefit to your customers. Determine the equipment and training needed to complete each phase, starting with the basics.

A simple investment in a computer and software can make an immediate impact. For example, by giving your technical service staff access to one or two computer stations, you can streamline your entire service operation. Your staff can access online support resources from manufacturers, including troubleshooting guides, illustrated parts manuals and even live factory support. They can interface with a manufacturer’s online ordering system to better manage parts ordering and receiving, reducing the need to maintain a large inventory of parts. Most importantly, streamlining this area can go a long way in building a strong customer service reputation. Initially, simple steps like this will prove very valuable in your overall effort, and you will quickly realize a return on your investment.

Develop a Standardized Process

Going paperless can help you maintain a uniform workflow as you move to a Web-based system. An added benefit of the process being done in phases, with all steps being evaluated, is that it can allow you to identify areas where you can build in added efficiency.

Outline the steps required from intake through collections, and examine the activities required to complete each step. Determine which activities can occur simultaneously and those that must occur in a sequence. Set a clear definition for the completion of each activity and whether that completion initiates a new activity.

Identify the individual or department responsible for completion of each step in the process. Identify the average time it takes to complete each activity to set productivity goals and expectations.

Proper Training & the Right Equipment

Once a standardized process is outlined, you can determine the ideal equipment and software needed to complement your company’s needs and workflow along with the training requirements necessary to ensure a smooth transition with minimal business interruption.

Supply your field personnel with a means of connecting from the road. This can be as simple as providing your RTS with a Blackberry device or iPhone. Give key personnel access to a scanner to upload documents. Cross-train personnel to allow management to assign and reassign tasks based on real-time visibility of the order process. Identify the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to get the job done, and make your investments accordingly.

Keep the big picture in mind, but work in small steps and modally. Don’t jump into a deluxe, all-inclusive program. Research your software purchases thoroughly to be sure they are a good investment match. A modular system allows you to learn as you go and prevents you from becoming overwhelmed by change. It can teach you valuable lessons on functionality, training requirements and, most importantly, help you make wiser investments in equipment and software.

Don’t Do It Alone

Look to your business partners to provide you with comprehensive online resources. Leverage the tools they can deliver into better business efficiency. Align with manufacturers who can deliver comprehensive support. Web development services, printable product brochures and merchandising materials, as well as educational and reimbursement tools, can all be accessed online. Take advantage of what is available to you at no cost.

Of course, online ordering is essential to maximize your paperless efficiencies. Work with your primary partners to develop complete Electronic Data Interface (EDI). This will allow you to have seamless integration of your system with theirs. This allows for completely electronic order placement, tracking and invoicing.

Assess other areas of your operation that can be streamlined by using sources outside of your own company. For example, you may benefit from utilizing a service like Gmail from Google to handle your company’s e-mail needs. This eliminates the need to host and maintain your e-mail data and could deliver better efficiency and savings.

There’s Much to Be Gained

After you make the initial investment in going paperless, your company will be saving on common office expenses beyond paper. You will be reducing the usage of your general office supplies. That includes a large range of products from staples to printer ink. Postage and shipping charges can also be reduced.

The “going green” aspect of going paperless is another benefit. According to The Nature Conservancy, 36 million trees are cut down each year, and deforestation accounts for 20-25 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere each year. By going paperless, you are doing your part to help conserve natural resources.

Numerous studies show that consumers prefer doing business with companies that have implemented green initiatives, and a recent Harvard Business Review article by Andrew Winston explores how going green at the workplace motivates employees. The article finds that when companies go green, morale is actually boosted, as employees like the idea of working for a company that’s environmentally sound.

As outlined here, going paperless has many benefits and may be the easiest way to best meet your clients’ needs while maintaining the maximum efficiency your business needs to thrive in a challenging economy. If done properly and in well-thought-out phases, you can realize a very strong return on your investment with two to three months of implementation.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Kirsten DeLay is the chair of Medtrade’s Blue Ribbon Task Force and the executive VP of sales management & operational planning for Pride Mobility Products Corp., Exeter, Pa. Kirsten can be reached via e-mail at kdelay@pridemobility. com or by calling (800) 800-8586.

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