Workarounds are actions taken to bypass real or perceived inefficiencies in an officially established workflow. They can take many forms, from simply missing a step in a standard process, to totally circumventing the established system or protocol for a particular function.

Workarounds typically emerge because people consider existing practices to be too inefficient or complex, and the financial services industry is particularly susceptible to them. Large financial services organisations are typically sophisticated, geographically-dispersed businesses, which makes it difficult to maintain strict oversight and control over the processes used across the organisation. This creates the perfect conditions for offices, teams, or even individuals to develop their own ways of working that don’t link up with how the rest of the business operates. This is compounded by the prevalence of outdated legacy systems, for which workarounds must increasingly be found. It’s basic human nature – people will find the path of least resistance for any task.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the costs to businesses of workarounds and what financial services organisations can do about it. Crucial to this is the idea that not all workarounds are bad; as we’ll discover, the key is being able to evaluate whether a workaround costs a business or creates efficiencies that could be adopted more widely.

What workarounds cost businesses

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: one of the busiest teams for a leading car finance provider wants to procure a piece of software to record customer interactions. The team needs the solution quickly so that it can start delivering value as soon as possible. Having found the IT procurement process too complicated and slow-moving, the team decides to bypass it entirely and purchase a few trial subscriptions for a SaaS solution and sign off the cost on expenses.

Because this has been adopted without the explicit endorsement or approval of IT, not only is it evading the purview of the organisation’s IT governance, but there may also be other teams that have the same solution, multiplying the costs.

It’s worth understanding at this point that there are legitimate reasons why teams do this. Different teams have different requirements of their software solutions and too many restrictions on IT procurement can create complexities and inefficiencies down the line. However, finding a workaround often creates a store of knowledge unavailable to the rest of the business, even if it may be directly beneficial for others to have access to it.

Aside from the obvious inefficiencies, this can lead to challenging situations for organisations; we came across a situation in which one team had a database of customers who had already been engaged and another team on the same floor of the office were independently reaching out to those customers, unaware that they had already been contacted.

There is also a risk that a loss of knowledge could occur when employees leave the business and take with them their understanding of these workarounds, unrecorded in company policy or training programmes, leaving other employees to have to decipher them.

As we’ve mentioned before, workarounds often address perceived inefficiencies or complexities in processes – it’s often the case that workarounds are built around how individuals or teams are accustomed to working. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For example, an Investment Analysis team within a company may decide to use different software for their analysis because it better suits their requirements and how they want to work. But the complexity comes because others cannot easily see their outputs or benefit from their learnings and results.

It’s clear to see how the inefficiencies, wasted effort, and lost time build up. So how are financial services organisations supposed to address workarounds?

Finding, understanding and addressing workarounds

Identifying and evaluating workarounds should be an integral part of any cost transformation programme. As alluded to earlier, not all workarounds have negative outcomes; in fact, sometimes a workaround is a significant improvement on an existing process that reduces time, complexity, and cost.

The best way to identify workarounds is to validate existing processes through one-to-one interviews, talking to individuals, and collecting details of how they work compared to how they’re expected to work.

Many people might not feel able to open up about the workarounds they use for fear of reprisal or blame. It’s therefore important to position it as a neutral exercise. Learning why and how a workaround came about will reveal a lot about the gaps and flaws (perceived or real) of the expected processes, and thus how to make real, substantial improvements. This in turn will make people’s lives easier, reduce laborious activities, and free them up for more interesting, higher-value tasks.

Once workarounds have been identified and the reasons for them unearthed, the implications to the business can be fully understood. The business then has the chance to evaluate the various options available going forwards, and design future processes to help the whole organisation work more efficiently with standard, clearly-documented processes.

BJSS’ team of experienced change consultants have helped many businesses streamline their processes and eliminate costly workarounds. In our free white paper, you can learn more about our approach and how your business can shift focus from reducing costs to transforming operations in a way that protects and grows revenue streams, and controls costs in line with strategic goals.