The move from analogue to digital has affected much more than just the devices and gadgets we use; it has altered the way we interact with the world.With the creation of faster and smarter ways to share information and get things done, our tolerance levels with what went before are gradually being eroded. It’s the difference between the clarity of a modern HD TV and the fuzziness of an old analogue signal. It’s the convenience of pinging off emails compared to the faff of using the postal system. To see the impact of these technological changes on business, you only have to look at how consumer expectations have risen over the past decade when it comes to home deliveries. In a pre-digital world, customers would expect a rough estimate for when an item would arrive and then they would simply wait for it. It could be days or even weeks. But order something online now and expectations are so much higher. We want exact delivery dates and times; we want to keep track of the order throughout the process; even down to which street the delivery van is in. It’s as a result of digital technology that companies have been able to offer this level of service, improving standards and raising our expectations. It means that those companies who remain stuck in an analogue world are struggling to compete as their paper-based ways of working no longer meet the expectations of a digital world. In the past, we have had no option but to accept a certain level of “fuzziness” in the way we manage our organisations – we had no alternative to the tried and tested analogue methods. The way we manage employee expenses is a classic example. In the pre-digital world, businesses had no option but to handle expenses by hand. We relied on employees to correctly interpret crumpled receipts and provide finger-in-the-air, travel mileage guesstimates. It meant, it was not possible to accurately manage these costs – there was always going to be genuine mistakes and a certain margin of error allowed for. And it was in these grey areas that exaggerated and falsified claims were allowed to thrive. It gave rise to a business culture in which organisations had no option but to tolerate a certain amount of losses through processing errors and “creative” claims. But we now have digital tools to manage this process, replacing the old paper-based methods with fast and efficient digital systems. It removes the “fuzziness” from expenses, providing managers with clear and accurate data. Whereas employee claims used to get lost in slow and cumbersome paper-based systems, the data is now available to companies in real-time – transforming the way expenses are able to be managed and monitored. With these kinds of benefits available to businesses, why do so many companies continue to rely on old analogue ways of working? In the past, the main reason has been the prohibitive cost of digital systems, meaning they were a realistic option only for the larger organisations. Before the arrival of cloud services, businesses faced the considerable costs of purchasing, managing and maintaining their own IT infrastructure. Now we have a mobile workforce with pocket sized personal devices much more powerful than your average office computer from yesteryear. As more millennials enter the workplace the use of paper-based systems is becoming increasingly anachronistic. So, as costs have dropped and cloud technology has improved, access to digital management systems has been opened up for organisations of all shapes and sizes. It means the barrier facing businesses is now more about attitude than access. The challenge of change is greatest for those organisations that have been forged from an analogue business world of manual and paper-based processes. The danger comes when technology is viewed as a threat rather than an opportunity. Analogue ways of working will become an increasing obstacle when trying to compete against businesses configured to make the most out of digital. There’s no going back to the lower expectations of customers and clients in an analogue age. The simple reason for the powerful influence of digital technology continues to have on our lives is that it offers a smarter way to get things done. Whether it’s sharing photos with our friends or managing the finances of a large company – there’s only one winner when it comes to digital versus analogue.
Adam Reynolds is CEO of Webexpenses, which provides a smarter way to manage and monitor employee expenses.
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