Company policy at your fingertips

Peter Hanney explains how complex reference material can be made accessible, with a little hi-tech help

Imagine you want to know your organisation's policy regarding the depreciation of computer equipment. Assuming that you did not set the policy yourself, you might just think of looking in the finance manual. If so, you might be among a minority who could find a well-maintained and accessible manual.

This example illustrates a growing problem facing all organisations. But few recognise all aspects of the problem and even fewer are addressing it effectively. The challenge, therefore, is to make relevant reference material more accessible in a business environment which is becoming ever more complex. This is especially true of the finance function. Fifteen years ago an accountant could reasonably be expected to have a detailed, up-to-date knowledge of company policies, the latest systems developments, accounting standards, company law and tax requirements. Today, individuals can no longer hope to do this. Instead, staff tend to have an overview of a wide range of subjects but have an in-depth knowledge of an increasingly narrow range of subjects. The need for good reference material is, therefore, paramount.

So what are the key elements of the problem? First, if reference material is not readily accessible, this increases the risk of things being done inconsistently or incorrectly. For example, reference material might describe the corporate response to the outside world in areas such as quality, safety, financial control, legal compliance or dealing with difficult customers. Defining the most appropriate response in these areas encourages best practice and reduces risk. This contributes to promoting and protecting the organisation's reputation.

Second, managers are increasingly deluged with ever more complex reference and other operational information. The finance function is no exception; staff now have to keep up with a body of information that seems to be growing exponentially. This includes new financial reporting standards only marginally shorter than War and Peace, together with company policies and procedures, systems user guides, service agreements, industry regulations - all subject to regular revision.

In addition, the accessibility of this information and material is not made any easier if it is inadequately indexed and cross-referenced. Managers need to be confident that they can access the latest guidance at a stroke. They want to be able to find the relevant sections that will answer their question as quickly as possible.

Finally, manuals are almost certainly out of date almost as soon as they have been published. But, if they are to be at all useful, they need to be kept up-to-date.

Part of the solution to the problem lies in taking advantage of the increasing use and sophistication of information technology. New technology has revolutionised both the creation of operational information and the dissemination of reference materials.

For example, at Coopers & Lybrand we needed to develop a manual to support one of our latest software tools and methodologies. CLIME is a multi-dimensional reporting toolkit for large corporations. The manual for CLIME had to be easy to use. We expected there to be several releases of the software over the first 18 months of its life and the manual would need to be updated with each new release. By using Biblos, a specialist electronic publishing software package produced by Point of Reference, we were readily able to produce a new manual in electronic form with each release of the software.

As a result, we have no stock of out-of-date printed manuals. Users are spared the inconvenience of receiving loose-leaf update pages, and still have the option of printing all or part of the manual if they prefer a paper copy. Moreover, we can help the client to integrate not only documentation on the software tool but also accounting policies and procedures in the same electronic environment. So all information relevant to the corporate reporting process is easy to access.

Such an approach offers several advantages. First, information can be presented in a way that is more accessible to the end user. By ensuring the content is always clear, relevant and up to date, it will be more likely to be used. Easy access is provided by key word search facilities. And users can annotate the material so that it meets their own needs.

Building electronic links with other documents, for example accounting regulations or company legislation, also offers clear benefits. Links across documents allow different functions or processes within the organisation to be better co-ordinated. For instance, linking the disaster recovery section of a finance manual to the organisation's overall disaster recovery plan will help to ensure a consistent approach.

Second, new technology can be harnessed to disseminate reference material in a more effective way to users. Electronic publishing software such as Biblos offers significant benefits over traditional paper based distribution. For instance, central library management and version control is provided, copies can be printed locally if required and electronic books can be created easily from existing word-processor files. In addition, usage tracking allows monitoring of how effectively the reference material is being used. This can help to assess value for money or to identify possible training needs.

Finally, electronic communication provides the opportunity for a dialogue between the developer of the reference material and the user. In this way, material can be developed and refined in response to users' needs. For example, one possible model is the use of Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) lists on the Internet, which deal with topics of common interest. People who contribute in one area also benefit from the contributions of other people in other areas. FAQs are always relevant to real needs rather than being written from an abstract compliance-driven viewpoint.

So new technology allows organisations significantly to improve the creation and management of useful reference materials to help staff. As organisations become increasingly dependent on areas of specialist information in a complex environment, they may need to invest more in protecting the core knowledge which helps to safeguard their future.

The writer is a management consultant with Coopers & Lybrand.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

    Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

    £280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little