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.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

    £16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones