Automation of work processes to improve productivity and free up time for higher-value work seems like a no-brainer for most organisations. Yet, it is only in recent years that more companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, are heeding the call to automate. Typically we think of automation in terms of manufacturing or service orientated businesses, rarely considering automation in the office.
A recent survey showed that 60% of managers spend more than three hours a day processing work e-mails. Further analysis showed that a large proportion of these mails were simplistic, repetitive tasks like processing purchase orders. On average an employee spends around 40% of their day doing administrative work, think of that in real terms; 2 days out of a 5 day working week, basically Monday & Tuesday doing admin – think how much more productive teams could be if they were freed from this burden.
So why isn’t everyone automating tasks like this? There are many reasons: –
• A lack of awareness – Lots of managers/ businesses simply are not aware that certain manual processes can be automated. For example a client we are currently working with didn’t realise that one of the 3rd party programs he has to use in his business for compliance purposes has a free to use API meaning the application we want to build for them could integrate with this 3rd party tool. He thought that the two systems couldn’t work together meaning he would be double-entering data. It wasn’t until we told him this wasn’t the case that he began to see the benefits of what our software solution could offer him.
• A resistance to change; people generally don’t like change, especially if it directly effects them. Humans are primarily creatures of habit, even at basic levels. In our staff canteen I’ve noticed that people sit in the same place every day. Part of me wants to move all the tables around in there just to see how people react! In terms of Software a new automated system will mean a person’s jobs will change, some of the daily tasks they either love or hate will change or not require their input any longer. As such people will resist the change, looking for any chink in the new system to claim “it doesn’t work so I’m going back to the way we used to do it”. Ways of combatting this include us ironing out as many bugs as possible through our own testing and on boarding the customers through training and educating them on how this new system will benefit them.
• The overarching culture of the business; is it around improvement and efficiency or is it just about getting the job done, if it’s the latter then managers are going to be so consumed with fighting the fire for that particular day that they will never have time to understand how process automation could alleviate their headaches.
However the biggest challenge is actually identifying and understanding all the manual processes in an organisation in the first place. We simply don’t recognise some things as being a manual process or system as we are ingrained in the business, we essentially can’t see the woods for the trees.
Once identified the next challenge is to analyse proposed changes or the automation of these processes. We need to look at the associated costs and the level of technology involved as the process of automation needs to deliver a return on investment. We need to identify what’s the best way of doing this from a cost and technological perspective. I recently read about a US company that manufactures toothpaste and sells it to supermarkets. The supermarkets informed them that a small percentage of their product was delivered to them with no tube of toothpaste in it, just the empty box. The MD decided he wanted to eradicate this issue so he hired a consultant to review his processes and his assembly line. The company spent over $200,000 on a new piece of equipment on his assembly line that weighed each tube of toothpaste, if it was empty it wouldn’t weigh as much and subsequently set off an alarm and stopped the conveyor belts until the empty tube was removed and an employee hit a restart button. When analysing the new system the MD noticed that the alarm went off 3 times in the first week and hadn’t gone off once in the following month. He went down to the assembly line to investigate and noticed that just before the piece of new equipment on the assembly line one of his employees had rigged up an industrial office fan on one side of the conveyor belt and a bin on the other which had empty toothpaste boxes in them. The MD asked who has done this and his floor manager said they were sick of the alarm going off and having to restart the assembly line every time the new machine detected an empty box so they set up the fan to blow the empty boxes off the belt and into the bin before it got to the machine. The fan and the bin cost around $50 and did a better job than the $200,000 piece of equipment.
The moral of the story is that yes – go ahead and automate your processes, but don’t do it for the sake of it and analyse what you’re getting into; you need to pick the battles you can win and then win them as efficiently as possible.
If you want us to help automate your systems please contact us. We will also work with you to understand your systems and we will tell you straight what can and can’t be done.