Who in Your Finance Department is a Collaboration Superstar?

If you haven’t tapped your Receivables and Cash Applications staff for hints on collaboration and knowledge management, then there’s a risk you’re leaving a potential resource untapped. Let’s dig a little deeper into the nature of their jobs to see what I mean.

The crew in Receivables and Cash Apps (RCA) are on the front lines of your company’s cash flow. They’re the primary interface between your customers and your bank account. Their role entails juggling some very delicate conversations with customers with intense pressure from two major internal constituencies, management and the sales force.

Management wants cash in the door with little exposure to deadbeat customers. The sales force wants to get product/services in the hands of customers without impediments. And when issues arise, neither group cares about vacation days, sick days, or who on the RCA crew is taking flex time. They want/need answers now.

With these forces in play, it’s imperative for the whole RCA crew to be on board with a departmental sharing and documentation methodology. For this they usually use the built-in notes and documentation aspect of the operating system, which works fine. I challenge you to walk over to someone in RCA and ask about the collection status of any customer; ask anyone in the department, just toss a customer out there. They’ll probably pull up the operating system, do a wildcard search on the name of the customer, and immediately begin relaying stuff like this:

  • Status summary
  • Collection statistics
  • Details about the last few discussions with the customer
  • Background information from the sales person handling the customer
  • Names and numbers of parties involved, internally and externally

All of this stuff is at their fingertips because it has to be. Cash collections and getting sales booked are too important for it not to be. The RCA crew needs to be constantly engaged with internal and external sources of information and they need to get it recorded in a trusted system so it can be accessed by any authorized user at any time.

They don’t have any choice. It’s as if they are keeping an internal blog specific to their own set of issues. Heck, when I asked you to “walk over to someone in RCA” I was being funny. If you have access, you should be able to get that same information by pulling it up on your own.

That’s the power of collaboration and knowledge management.

Let’s extrapolate this to the rest of your finance staff.¬†As it stands now, I’m guessing that if you walk over to the accounting department and request details on a journal entry, someone will pull a three-ring binder off the shelf and scramble to find the entry. Once they find it, it will probably have handwritten notes with some background and other support documentation. In all probability, further research will need to be done to resolve any questions.

It doesn’t have to be this way. What if there was a system to keep notes, thoughts, assumptions, and background on all of your journal entries kind of like this receivables and collections system? What if you had an internal blog with tagged and searchable information relevant to each journal entry?

That’s the first step to collaboration and knowledge management nirvana, a trusted system. I’m talking about something outside of manila folders, three-ring binders, email strings, and shared documents on the network. I’m talking about a system (preferably in the cloud) that’s shared by finance and links up the milieu of notes, conversations, thoughts, and documents so that anyone with access can make sense of them without burdening the organization with questions.

For my collaboration tool (internally and with clients), I primarily use the 37Signals suite of Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire. That means that if we’re working on a project together, all of the notes, discussions, brainstorming sessions, files and documentation are going to be in one place. There won’t be any need for you or your team to call me or email me to get the latest version of something. And for a project status, if you can’t reach me you can still get it by logging on to the collaboration tool using your own email address and a password of your choosing. And mostly, there won’t be long email strings that you’ll have to sort through to refresh your memory on important discussions.

There a ton of options in this arena. I’m not too familiar with Microsoft’s offering, but I’ve heard great things about Sharepoint and it’s capabilities. I’m also testing Microsoft OneNote, which seems to have many collaboration capabilities. And finally, as you know, I’m well versed in Google Apps as a collaboration and general productivity tool. I’ll continue the conversation and be reviewing these in future posts.