In this last year, we have seen a fiscal crisis of historic proportions, forcing businesses across industry sectors to resort to extreme cost cutting measures, key amongst them being reduction in staff and business investment. The outlook for 2010 is more positive, but fears of weak demand in a fragile economy remain says Rob Lancashire, Sales and Marketing Director, nFlow Software.

As a result, even though this is a good time to make investments in additional resources in preparation for the upturn, businesses continue to be concerned by excess capacity. This makes maximising utilisation of existing resources of utmost importance so that delivery of customer service is not adversely affected. To this end, IT deployed strategically and linked closely to business performance can deliver business efficiencies and give organisations a competitive advantage as economic prospects brighten.

Voice productivity solutions are one such tool. In fact, 2009 has seen an increasing interest from businesses in the professional services industry, particularly the financial investment, accountancy and loss-adjusting sectors, for such systems. The key reasons for this are the growing importance of remote and mobile working, the increasing cost of Professional Indemnity Insurance and better risk management, and importance of best practice procedures for record keeping.

Only recently, The Times newspaper highlighted that thousands of Britain’s high street solicitors are facing 20% increases in the cost of their annual insurance premiums due to the threat of negligence cases arising from the recession. This is a good indication for other business sectors too and highlights the value of good record keeping for risk management and compliance purposes.

A voice productivity tool?

A voice productivity tool is essentially a solution that enables users to use their voice to record instructions, make notes, create spoken text for documents and capture information. In an office setting, some commonly used methods for capturing information include handwriting at typically 31 words per minute, self typing at 37 words per minute, and typing on a QWERY smartphone keyboard at approximately 30 words per minute. Converting these words per minute rates into time spent per 100 words, it works out to 4.33 minutes for handwriting, 2.7 minutes for self typing and 3.33 minutes for typing on a smartphone.

Using voice productivity software for dictation, an author dictating at 120 words per minute combined with a transcriptionist typing at the rate of 90 words per minute would only spend 1.94 minutes per 100 words.

In a typical information capture process, this diagram illustrates voice productivity technology’s position?it sits between the devices that help capture and record data and those that are used for data entry for further input into other technologies used by businesses such as practice management systems (PMS), customer relationship management (CRM), document management systems (DMS) and time recording (TIME).

If implemented enterprise-wide, voice productivity solutions can facilitate business efficiencies. The increased productivity especially of business developers and fee-earners as a result of its use translates directly into lower administrative costs, more accurate and timely record keeping, better utilisation of staff talent and enhanced customer care.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales’ (ICAEW) Connected Accountants Survey in December 2008 revealed that 60% of accountants spend more than 10 hours per week working out of the office. Better utilising their time through reduced downtime and time spent on administrative tasks can substantially increase their billable time.

E-mail versus voice productivity

E-mail has become the de facto standard for communication and information sharing in business. However, while it is a great correspondence tool, from the operational efficiency and risk management standpoints, using it as an enterprise-level tool for workload sharing and complex instructional messaging makes it inadequate. For example, there is no underlying workflow that allows for efficient yet secure work sharing and therefore increased utilisation of support staff.

A voice productivity solution on the other hand, is an enterprise-level workflow based-solution that captures voice recordings in a digital format using a variety of recording devices and via electronic transmission makes them available to back office support staff for typing? in its role as a document production and data entry tool. London City law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain saved £150,000 in overheads such as reduction in overtime and temporary staff costs, in its first year of deploying such a solution. 400 people use a digital dictation system for client document production including briefing notes and legal correspondence.

In addition, using voice productivity tools for instructional messaging is more effective and less time consuming than email communication when directing support staff for client work. For instance, fund managers and advisors working remotely at JM Finn, a leading privately owned UK investment manager, use a voice productivity tool to relay complex financial investment instructions to back office staff to action deliverables on client portfolios. This ensures clarity of instruction and saves the fund managers from having to draft elaborate e-mails or return to the office to give instructions.

Benefits of workflow

Data is a digital asset and crucial to organisations’ success is their ability to capture, use, manipulate and manage it. Often specialist organisations are brought in periodically to clean existing and poorly maintained CRM systems. All this no doubt comes at a cost. But by deploying enterprise-level voice productivity technology, maintenance of CRM systems could be done as a matter of course at the point of first discovery.

Consider this scenario. Typically, after a series of client meetings, at the end of the day, the sales executive or fee- earner types up notes from all the individual meetings into a CRM system or sends it to a dedicated person responsible for maintaining the system, and then proceeds to prepare quotes or documents to deliver to prospects and customers. The executive uses a combination of Microsoft Word and e-mail for this communication, which potentially takes a reasonable time to craft and may not always be completed in a timely manner, given the work pressure.

Using a voice productivity system, the sales executive, business developer or fee-earner could record all these updates, information and instructions for client deliverables in one single digital dictation from a mobile device, immediately after every meeting. This would be delivered instantaneously to their organisation’s back office with guidance on level of urgency, type of document and deliverables for specific tasks.

For instance, potentially, administrative staff could turnaround a cost quote for a prospect within a matter of hours, freeing up valuable executive time for new business or other billable activities. Or where CRM database management has been outsourced, the voice productivity system could be linked to the service provider’s infrastructure so that all database updates automatically reach them via the dictation sent by the executive.

Further, the digital voice recording will reside in the company’s workflow, giving access to information to all authorised staff and facilitate work sharing and better utilisation of staff, both back office and fee-earning. It will also ensure more accurate and timely record keeping of client instructions and deliverables, as pressure from Professional Indemnity insurance and regulatory compliance mounts.

In essence, by combining mobile devices, digital voice recording and workflow, a process is created that can take information in a spoken form from the point of discovery and route it to the most efficient method of input, freeing the discoverer to do more billable work and utilising more cost effective resources to complete back office, administrative functions.

Integration with virtualisation and cloud computing technologies 

Those considering implementing voice productivity technology would do well to adopt a Microsoft .NET-based solution. It’s a future-proof investment as the .NET framework is well supported for the foreseeable future.

Also, with the growing adoption of virtualisation and cloud computing technologies in business, installed client-based voice productivity systems offer richer functionality and easily integrate with other IT systems deployed within the organisation to deliver a consistent and seamless business environment, as opposed to browser-based solutions.

In a competitive environment, where accuracy of information and speed of action is imperative for running business operations, voice productivity technology can significantly enhance organisations’ agility and response times to business situations. As has been historically proven, the best time to invest in business is when the markets are down?it not only gives organisations the highest rate of return, but also a lead in the race for market share during the upturn.