Office automation help teams work leaner and more accurately by reducing time spent on repeatable tasks. Business leaders should consider automating work that happens in the office, or risk falling behind competitors and demotivating employees bogged down in manual tasks. Organizations that fall behind due to a lack of automation find that they lose ground exponentially, because automation allows competitors to redirect resources into other productive areas, resulting in a compounding of efficiencies and scale. In short, Leaders must automate or risk falling out of competitive positioning.
That being said, automation needs to be treated like any other IT investment. You need a way to assess the value before signing off on an initiative. Spending $1,000 to gain $100 makes no sense. In this article, we’ll help you navigate the automation space, help you understand where it’s a good fit and where it’s not, and give you some ideas of thing you can implement in your business.
Advantages of Office Automation
Often times a lack of office automaton is due to lack of qualified skill set, culture that focuses on the status quo, and lack of empowered teams. Sometimes it’s as simple as the lack of an efficient approval process, so ideas get discarded because it’s just too much effort to get through the red tape.
Whatever the reason, it’s worth removing the barriers because the advantages can be significant:
- It increases worker productivity
- Allows an organization to become virtually paperless and go fully digital
- Greater security and predictability of processes
- Forces an organization to define their processes
- Allows employees to spend time on activities that add most value to the organization, by automating simple low value tasks.
- The ’80/20 rule’ as applied to automation (automate the most common 80% of cases), allows businesses to focus more energy on the exceptions and edge-cases
- Reducing manual or mundane tasks improves employee satisfaction (source)
- Creates a culture of innovation as people look for other areas to improve
- Encouraging and implementing automation ideas from team members is a great way to engage and empower employees
Disadvantages of Office Automation
However, automation is not always a good idea. It’s important for businesses to treat automation initiatives as they would any other IT investment, to make sure that the project is both feasible and adds value. Often, a simple framework for assessing and approving ideas is all that is needed to mitigate most of the following issues:
- Initial investment costs may hinder organization from automating processes (source)
- Teams may become over reliant on automated / electronic processes, losing their knowledge of what these processes do, and why
- Automation may be seen as a silver bullet to resolve organization woes or competitive gaps, but it’s usually only part of the solution
- Organizations may not have the skill set to manage office automation efforts
- Businesses may automate bad processes
- Automating high-value customer touch-points can lead to lower customer-satisfaction and reduce the amount of quality contact you have with your customers
Harness Automation in your Processes
In my role as a project manager at the North West Company we hired Mindfield Consulting …Timelines were consistently met and I was always impressed with Mindfield’s responsiveness and ability to quickly grasp the problem and offer up creative solutions. Applications were of very high quality and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mindfield Consulting for any custom development.
Common Misconceptions of Office Automation
A common objective of automation initiatives is to reduce workforce. In fact, this is often used as the desired outcome of the initiative. While this can happen, in most cases the real value comes from freeing up the workforce to spend their time more profitably.
A good example is the evolution of automation on the nature of the accounting profession. From the introduction of the Pascaline in the 1600, the first mechanical adding machines developed at scales, to modern accounting and ERP systems, the field has sought to automate as much as possible. Yet the number of accountants keeps growing. Why? Because far from removing people from the process, automatino has allowed accounting to become more sophisticated, more accurate, more reliable, more secure, and more auditable. Nowadays, nobody in their right mind would suggest removing automation from accounting, and it’s unlikely your business could function if it tried.
A second common misconception is that only the decision to automate should be assessed, whereas the manual ‘status quo’ should be treated as the default fall-back position. Economics introduced an important concept called Opportunity Cost, which is relevant here. Not automating is not the absense of a decision to automate. Not automating is a decision that impactes your business and should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
A third misconception is that automation is focused on automating simple processes. However, some of the most valuable implementations involve automating complex processes, automating the hand-off between teams or groups of processes, integrating data from different sources to enable new processes or reporting, or creating entirely new processes that just weren’t conceivable without technology enablement. The sky really is the limit.
Another misconception is the ‘if you build it they will come’ fallacy. It’s not enough simply to throw technology at a problem and expect things to improve. You need to place equal focus on user adoption. By following a simple framework, liek ADKAR, for organizational change management, you can ensure that they key enablers are in place to increase your chance of success:[table “6” not found /]
Example: Using Office Automation for Payroll Processing
Manual Process: Every month employees are required to submit their time sheets to the company’s accounting department. The process for payroll creation requires the input of multiple factors like hours worked, vacation time, sick days, and statutory holidays. A payroll clerk would then use the time input from the employees across the organization to determine a pay cheque for each employee after applying rules the company uses and follows like government tax deductions. Evidently this requires extensive amount of manual effort to process each employee.
Automated process: In an automated process, the system will apply the same rules used by the payroll clerk in a rapid fashion to determine which employees can be successfully processed without intervention i.e. free of delinquencies or time sheet errors. This allows the payroll clerk to manage exceptions and focus his or her time on further optimizing their department or working with end-users to reduce payroll errors.
16 More Examples of Office Automation
- Approvals: there can be automated systems that requests, tracks and records digitial approvals from managers for all kinds of requests, such as vacation requests, data acess requests and document approvals. This greatly improves efficiency and reduces the risk of requests falling through the cracks
- Security intrusion detection and alerting: vulnerable office networks are often exposed by hackers and other threats such as trojans and viruses. Automating the monitoring and processing of machine data, and having a system that alerts staff when a breach occurs, can help businesses protect and safeguard vital assets and get early warning when something has gone wrong
- Utility management: connected devices and IoT allows lights and heating to be disabled or reduced when there aren’t any employees at work
- Lead routing: a CRM system can allow an opportunity of customer request to be assessed, triaged, and assigned automatically, ensuing a timely response and improved efficiency
- Quote fulfillment: organizations can automate the process of providing quotes to customers, from automating just the sending and tracking of quotes, to fully automating the entire end-to-end sales processes using CPQ (configure, price, quote) software
- Vacation or sick day request, and resulting schedule impact: a company can automate the processing of sick/vacation requests and feed this data into their scheduling software, ensuring that adequate cover can be found in a timely manner
- AP automation: accounts payable processes can be completely automated using visual imaging and text conversion systems to reduce single invoice processing cost by as much as 500% (source)
- Office entry automation: allow employees to come in and out of the office using magnetic badges or biometric systems( finger print, voice recognition, etc.) instead of employing a team of security concierge staff
- Automated concierge: offices have expanded beyond the use of IVR (interactive voice response) technology for phone channels by using robots and touch screens to provide in-person visitors with a innovative concierge experience (source)
- Document management: manage compliance, privacy, and data governance rules automatically by setting up a software system to take care of the storage, retention, management, and approval of all your business critical files.
- Customer information management: use a system to collect and collate high value information about your customer to support strategic planning, sales, marketing, and product development
- Data backup and archiving: instead of having someone manually copy and paste key company files, setup automated backup software to ensure all corporate files are safe and available in a busienss continuity scenario
- On boarding automation: automate many aspects of the employee onboarding experience, like filling out forms, user setup, ordering of supplies and equipment, and even helping new team members find important information and documents they need to get up and running
- Automated testing: automating the testing of new and modified software programs ensures that they are accurate, reliable and do not introduce errors and regressions
- Health and safety training compliance: automatically get notified when employees need to take compliance, privacy, and office safety training, instead of facing government fines or inquiries. And then go further by automatically assigning course to employees and managing compliance
- eLearning corporate training: automate the training process by allowing employees to take training without the need to schedule and arrange events
Why Does Automation Matter?
The automation of a business process creates compounding effects for an organization because a cost has become an efficiency, which frees up people, resources, and time. This allows a company to pursue further investment or simply increases employee satisfaction by reducing manual work. Consider also the other benefits to business process automation:
- Creates a culture of innovation: manual processes that have never been challenged creates a culture of good-enough and positions an organization in the long-term for mediocre performance, where as the exercises of exploring solutions to problems creates the right sparks in helping people on the team grow and inevitably serving stakeholders in a more impactful and effective way
- Provides a platform to understand what is really REALLY important: the process of redefining processes helps distill what is truly essential to each step of a business, meaning greater effectiveness of the end product and reduce waste during the delivery process. Organization that start with their stakeholder first will work backwards to create far more innovative solutions.
- Clarity around process: automated processes often result form highly systemized and documented processes, or they created as an ingredient to automation
- Exponential lag for organizations that over-rely on manual processes: the difference between two organizations one with a manual process and another with automated processes is exponential rather than linear, the company with automated process can indefinitely reinvest savings from resources and time towards high impact projects, rather than spending time duplicating files, moving files, or manual data entry.
Though there are benefits to process automation organizations should consider the risks of introducing new technology to an organization, and diligently assess the value of each initiative. However, it’s important to remember that the decision NOT to automate is just as important and should be held to the same high standard of evaluation and approval.
How to Determine which Tasks to Automate
Businesses should carefully consider which tasks to automate to ensure that they add value. There are several ways to identify these tasks:
- Identify value-add activities: understand what kinds of activities enable your business to be a success, and then see whether the use of automation enables you to do more of these
- Document detailed processes: creating detailed process flows of your processes is a great way to identify manual steps and identify opportunitites for automation
- Document high-level end to end processes: Documenting the end-to-end high-level function of your business allows you to see hand-offs between individual processes and teams that would benefit from automation. This reduces the risk of things falling between the cracks, enables visibility and dashboard reporting of the business operation as a whole, and provides predictable, repeatable, and controlled handoffs between teams
- Identify waste in processes: identify where employees spend the most time adding the least value
- Work with teams to identify changes: have employees participate by asking them to submit their ideas for how to make their job easier, more efficient, and less monotonous
- Measure: baseline the current process in terms of its time to complete and the level of accuracy, and use that as a basis for targetting areas for improvement
After having identified the key office tasks and baselining the data, managers will find themselves in strong position to begin the process of automation for their office.
Why Offices Remain Stagnant
One reason businesses or teams stagnate and lack efficiency is often due to culture or norms. This can often point to deeper challenges which require more than the scope that this article can offer. The best way to resolve this is to empower employees and instill a culture of efficiency and lean into your team.
Lead with Innovative Teams and Technologies
Mindfield Consulting has successfully helped teams deploy office automation across North America, creating leaders that excel at empowering team members and innovative technology. Our team has over two decades of experience delivering technology that meets every mission. Our client’s win when they are empowered with the right technology and the right consulting partner. Mindfield specializes in custom software development, elearning for corporate training, IT advisory, Microsoft 365, and jira expert consulting.