I work with a lot of companies on business automation and how to improve work processes successfully, streamline data flows, reduce costs, which in some cases could be headcount. It is interesting what people consider automation even within the MSP (Managed Service Provider) or Service industries. It has always been a goal of mine to maximize workflow and to be as streamlined in our work processes that it allows us to manage our business and manage our overhead costs efficiently. Let's start by defining precisely what business automation means, which is the automation of complex business processes that improve work processes, customer satisfaction, restructuring labor processes, and containing costs.
A successful business automation strategy starts with being honest with yourself and admitting that there might be a better way to automate and grow your business. You have to be willing to dissect your current business processes with a critical eye, not looking for the things you are doing well, but identifying areas that could be improved. Most business owners find this process very difficult because we all feel we have built our businesses in a manner that made us successful, so why change. Even harder is to admit there are issues and put in place a process to improve, which is what automation is all about. Another problem that seems always to come up is the "This is how we have always done it" excuse not to automate, which is a fear of automation and what it is going to do to the individual employee and their job.
There are some things to consider when you are considering business automation and how to implement a solution like Business Manager 365 (www.businessmanager365.com). According to Forbes here are some processes you should find:
- Implement automation where it makes sense; Business Manager 365 has been under Development since 2002 and has been highly focused on automating complex business problems that cost service-based businesses time, money, and human resources.
- Automate for Internal and External Engagement; automation for both processes internally and externally is a complex process because although the needs may seem on the surface to be similar, the need for data and the work process is different. Business Manager 365 takes into account the internal data flow and work process but also provides a portal for customers to access reports, history, interface with support teams, manage projects, and this can be done through the traditional web portal or from a mobile application.
- Automate small tasks for significant impact; one area that a lot of customers talk about is what I call "If I had only known." A work process typically starts with a small piece of information or task that is skipped or not done correctly, which then derails the process from that point forward. One of the goals of Business Manager 365 has been to identify those small items that automate them as triggers in the system. These automated triggers ensure that processes are correctly followed. If the project, service ticket, or other goes off track, management has insight into the problem and can intervene sooner to solve the issue before it becomes costly.
- Create automated connections between various software solutions; Solution automation is key to the long-term success of automating a business. However, when it comes to automation, a priority should be to reduce the overall number of software packages in use and that you are paying licensing or subscription fees. Consolidation and true automation come with focusing on the center of the processes and supplementing with additional procedures. The more your employees have to shift from one software package to another, the more complex and less streamlined that process becomes. Automation means that your team is working out of a standard model with a simple work process, which increases the efficiency of the process and reduces mistakes, which saves you money.
Real business automation is more than simple laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Those could be part of the need to make the automation work, but be prepared to go deeper into your business. According to CIO Magazine, here are some of the common automation mistakes.
- Failing to define an automation strategy, this is important to know why and what you want to automate. Another part of this one is the commitment to automation; this comes from the ownership which can be often worn down by the noise of change and the automation process, it's easy to go back, difficult to hold the course and work out the issues. Not having the proper strategy, picking the wrong product, or not having the commitment to see it through is costly and time-consuming.
- Rushing into Development, this is all about the partnership you have with the software or automation vendor; in some cases, they may be willing to work with you to develop the software further, or you may have to pay for enhancements. However, if you are going to get into the business and yes it is a business of developing interfaces to do integration that is singular or non-standard than be aware of what you are getting into, and that this process will not end. It will always be a budget line item.
- Focusing only on technology, people processes, and technology are the obstacles that you have to overcome. I call this the Human Factor, you can develop methods, you can implement the technology, but humans still have to work within the processes and utilize the technology. Training is key to this, and involvement in the process of configuration and implementation. It is crucial that employees properly use the technology, which is why having ownership courage to stick with the automation and new methods is vital, it is always easy to go back to bad habits and processes.
- Not fostering a culture of automation, keep in mind automation regardless of is that software, hardware, or some other tool that automates processes is just a tool. People tend to want to blame the tools when things go wrong, verse understanding that maybe we picked the wrong tool because of our unwillingness to change, or perhaps the selection or testing teams were not the right people. How a tool is implemented is key to the long term success of automation and making sure that the right people who are knowledgeable in your business, see value in automation, are excited about automation is key to the success.
Automating is one thing calculating the return on investment to ensure that your automation is paying off for your business is another issue. There are two categories when it comes to automation return on investment, hard dollar costs, and soft dollar costs, and both are important when you evaluate your automation return on investment. There are items to think about when you start assessing automation, and the first question to consider is why are you automating and what problems are you trying to solve? Let's start with are you trying to correct unexpected downtime due to human error? Operational issues related to project management, parts and inventory, scheduling, customer communication, or approval processes? Monday morning surprises due to weekend tasks not being completed, scheduling conflicts, human resource management, or unscheduled Monday tasks? Or delays related to customer access, parts management, or human errors that create a delay in processes? These are the types of events that have a real financial impact on your business and assuming you are tracking these costs now, calculating the return on the investment going forward in savings should be an easy process.
Once you have gone through the what am I trying to solve, then you move onto what tools do I need to address these issues and automate the process of supporting my business financials and improving the customer experience through automation. High priority processes to consider maybe;
- Scheduling processes that are integrated into other internal processes. Processes that could be affected by the schedule are time and attendance, which employees are working and which aren't and which ones have scheduled events already.
- Critical process management as an example scheduled things that were supposed to happen today, but due to an employee absence now, you have a significant event that needs attention.
- Manage priority processes such as tasks, parts and inventory, CRM processes, ongoing and upcoming projects, time and attendance, and escalations. The goal should be to manage all these processes through a single portal. A single portal allows you to proactively and effectively manage your business in real-time, along with the management of your customers in a manner that makes financial sense.
- Automation of workflow notifications, such as integration with calendars, schedules, priority setting, notifications of tasked events, ticklers on reoccurring events because missed events are costly in the customer's eye and in the process of workflow and time management for staffing.
We have discussed some of the hard dollar processes or costs related to return on investment; however, there are soft dollar costs that you have to consider when looking at automation.
- Downtime or opportunity mistakes due to human error, there are a lot of reasons this might happen, lack of documentation, lack of preparedness to perform the job or the project, or simply not being familiar with the client. However, most of this comes back to lack of training or documentation of what the project consists of, and this is due to having data in multiple systems, disassociated data meaning not available to anyone but the holder and lack of proper history on the customer. Business Manager 365 has a built-in document management system, which allows you to upload any electronic file, picture, along with indexing capabilities. Business Manager 365 also has a customizable customer information section that will enable you to build informational and operational information storage for detailed information related to a specific customer.
- Customer service levels and customer satisfaction not met. How do you measure customer satisfaction today? Most MSPs or service companies are not measuring it at all, not that they don't want to but don't have a methodology to do so. The emotional factor is something I have learned is very important in the continued growth and success of our business. It is one thing to be able to provide the facts and figure analytics; it is another thing to ask, "How are you doing." Business Manager 365 has an automated Quality Assurance module that allows you to consistently manage the how are you feeling question of the customer so you can proactively manage a customer when they are not satisfied with the service provided.
- You are managing scheduling delays due to resource issues. Human resource issues, delays are expensive regardless if that delay is created by a is shipped part, delay in the ordering process, customer, requested delay, or it is something as simple as an employee called in sick. Having work processes in place to catch this as soon as you can is critical to limiting the financial soft dollar impact on your business. Business Manager 365 has a fully integrated scheduling process that manages all the key indicators that could affect the scheduling, like time and attendance.
- Overhead cost increases due to incomplete jobs, mistakes, or human error; in most cases, when it comes to a service-based business, the highest costs are overhead, i.e., employees and benefits. Managing your overhead based on the analytics of your business load, and customer requirements are vital to being profitable. Knowing what is costing you money, which employees are working, and which ones might be hiding in the weeds can affect your financials drastically. Part of being a good employee is making sure their paperwork and documentation are completed promptly to support the financials of your organization. Overhead cost to delays, sickness, exceeding contract values, ordering wrong parts, or going to customer location without the right parts or no parts or materials these are all costs that impact your business and should be reported on and controlled if possible. Business Manager 365 has a lot of reporting and business analytics that can assist you in the management of your financials and overhead costs based on the trends within your business and customer needs. Business Manager 365 analytics can help determine if your staffing levels are too high or too low, who is working a full day, and who is not it's all in the collection and management of that data.
Business automation is now considered competitive weaponry in today's business environment. Finding and utilizing the right tool to help you streamline work processes, reduce costs, make information easily, and quickly accessible is key to any business's long-term success. If you don't consider automated tools to help you grow your business and reduce costs while improving profits, then you are limiting your potential and business opportunities.
About the author: Scott Lewis is the President and CEO of Winning Technologies Group of Companies which includes Liberty One Software. Scott has more than 30 years of experience in the technology industry and is a nationally recognized speaker and author on technology subjects. Scott has worked with large and small business to empower them to use technology to improve work processes, increase productivity, and reduce costs. Scott has designed thousands of systems for large, medium and small companies and Winning Technologies goal is to work with companies on the selection, implementation, management and support of technology resources. Learn more about Winning Technologies at winningtech.com or call 877-379-8279.