Office automation system provides a way for businesses to accelerate, scale, and reduce risk in 7 areas of office work and productivity. Executives and leaders need to recognize the need to create automation systems so that their best practices can be shared, practices, and consistently utilized across teams. Mindfield Consulting works with leaders to create unprecedented technologies and systems to help fuel growth and manage risks that keep you from fulfilling your mission.
Often times a lack of office automatons is due to: lack of qualified skillset, culture that focuses on the status quo, and lack of empowered teams. Mindfield has successfully helped teams deploy office automation across Canada, creating leaders that excel at empowering team members and innovative technology.
What is Office Automation
Office automation is the use use of process and technology to automate the the 6 different components to each and every business activity which includes input, processing, submission, reporting, archiving, and disposal. One of the most common office automation systems is an enterprise resourcing planning application that allows an office to streamline and automate front-desk and back-office tasks managing the processes and data that go into sales to collections.
Key Components of Office Task Automation
In general every aspect of office work can be generalized into 7 categories across organizations and industries. Whether it is serving customers or designing a new car, we begin by working with information at hand, transforming it, and then using that data to complete work or spin up a new cycle of work. This definition of how we use information and data to work will set the foundation for how automation technology can enable better results and higher work quality.
The first step in an office procedure is to receive information or enter it into a system. Examples of these could be a customer places an order which a company receives via a telephone, request form, or simply having an employee pick up the phone
Data processing entails the rules that are applied to modify or reformat the information provided, which typically triggers other tasks or sharing of information. To carry on with our customer order example, once the order is received, the information is validated to ensure accuracy and correctness, as well as whether products and services requested are actually available.
Data transmission is the act of sending data from one area of the organization to another, or sometimes even to an external party. Once a customer order is validated, it can be sent to a fulfillment department to ensure the product/service is delivered.
Gathering data is an essential step to managing an office, this allows for ad-hoc, periodic, or real-time information on the health or capacity of an organization. An inventory manager may request a customer order report to see how many placements there were to help them in their role.
The research and critique of reported data is the subject of science and art as part of identifying insights, determining prudent actions, or simply ensuring targets are being met. A manager may find that upon reviewing their report that they are off-target from their previous year’s sales and may then set in motion a number of corrective measures.
Archiving data entails storing information in a secure and accessible location often to comply with regulatory requirements or corporate business needs to further analyze and utilize collection information. The office manager in our running example may request her technology team to archive information so that there is space to work without being cluttered with old customer orders.
Disposing data is often times a regulatory requirement and one that helps companies safe guard sensitive information from their clients. The office manager may determine or set policies in place to remove out of date information from their records or simply dispose of non-essential records.
Stages of Office Automation
Over the years the office has gone through a number of iteration on how information technology has automated and evolved the modern enterprise. The three stages of office automation offers an accessible catalogue of automation that provides context into the maturity of an office. As offices transition it is not uncommon to see an ensemble or a mix of automation technologies. For example email may be a basic office automation system but because of Google’s increasingly adaptive capabilities, it can leverage advanced levels of automation like machine learning to determine what emails are most pertinent to you or your inbox.
This catalogue can help guide organizations into their next steps of as part of maturing their office automation capabilities. Though the features are primarily focused on back-office activities there are similar stages for front-facing offices or product development departments.
Basic Office Automation
Preliminary office automation is characterized by the transition from analog work on paper or through manual effort into electronic platforms. This often times provides exponential time savings and resource conversation like moving from pen and paper to a digital publishing application.
- Electronic publishing: the use of office document editors or spreadsheets are examples of office publishing automation including Microsoft Word and Apple Pages, or even Paint applications
- Digital communication: office communication automation includes e-mail, instant messaging, and video conferencing
- Digital file transfer and storage: instead of housing rooms full of paper and archives, organizations can opt to leverage services like Google Drive, Drop Box, and Apple iCloud to store their company files
- Electronic signing: electronic signing is great way to reduce paper usage and slow turnaround times, this allows business leaders to digitally sign documents for approval
- Calendar automation: calendar applications allow meetings or events to be scheduled in a shared calendar thereby eliminating the need to fill out an agenda or diary with appointments
Intermediate Office Automation
In the intermediate stage investment has been made in defining company rules and creating systems to automate and scale the work office staff can do exponentially
- Workflow management: managing a process that oversees submission of information for approval and release can be automated using rules so the information keeps moving rather than getting stalled by one person
- Absence management: organizations often have vacation and sick day policies, systems can automate the accruals and track time off taken along with integration to payroll
- Accounts payable automation: systems are currently available to reduce the manual data entry and payments of bills and invoices
- Just-in-time manufacturing: allows for a minimization of inventory and work in progress materials, enabling companies to deliver and ship products in a rapid manner using specialized technology
- Workforce Compliance Automation: allows organizations to train and develop large complement of employees across geography and timezones while managing compliance for safety, regulatory, and ethical domains
- Payroll processing: payroll processing can and has long been area of office automation saving accountants and book keepers vast sums of hours during a pay week
- Facilities automation: allow for the seamless booking and reservation of office meetings rooms and work spaces with virtually no concierge involvement
- Direct deposit: companies automate the deposit or delivery of their employee’s pay cheques
- Automated enterprise resource planning software upgrades: for organization that utilize web application or Software as a Service this allows them to adopt new features and product released as soon as their available, with seamless technology inertia.
- Pricing estimation: quotes and proposals can be automated based on the definition of inputs, calculation parameters, and optimized outputs to arrive at rapid pricing for clients
- Resilient office systems: systems can be designed and deployed in a such a way that they become highly available, meaning 99.99% uptime with limited impacts to clients
- Automating Maintenance: automating the inspection and dispatch of asset maintenance, greatly reduces the need to retain a large staff of maintenance workers and allows for a high level of utilization of employees
Advanced Office Automation
The paradigm shift in this level of office automation requires an organization to: create a flexible rule base that is adapted over time automatically, provision for automating processes across platforms, or application of proprietary or leading edge practices into technology
The advanced office automation is at the cutting edge and is probably where most of the major multi-national and large enterprise reside and are characterized by their use of these following technologies
- Data management: in this stage an office that has multiple systems referencing a single organization wide data model can provide unprecedented ability to serve and interact with customers and suppliers, this provides the ground work for a virtually zero silo’ed system while limiting the amount of data migration and loading
- Automated decision making: systems can be refined such that they can reliably make decisions in trading, placing orders, quotes, and restocking inventory such that the human actor requires little input, creating for a rapidly accelerated and autonomous processes
- Robotic process automation: allows for computers to rapidly enter data from one system to another, with virtually zero human effort allowing for increased speed and quality of services
- Automated customer service: organizations typically deploy chat bots that interact and provide essential information to clients on websites or messaging platforms
- Proprietary systems: technology platforms that utilize industry leading practices to deliver service or products at unprecedented velocity, scale, efficiency, and quality
Office Work that’s Easy to Automate (Hint:Rules Based and Reside in Digital Formats)
HubSpot released a report last year that cited 72% of sales people will spend at least an hour in data entry (source). Based on a recent search for the term Sales Rep in LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator for Sales Representatives in Canada, there are currently about 79,000 professionals (as of May 21, 2018). That means each day a segment of office employees are spending 79,000 hours on data entry alone, which amounts to $869,000 – $1,106,000 dollars spend each day by companies (based on $11/hour versus $14/hour referencing the lowest and highest minimum wages in Canada). Given that sales professionals aren’t the only employees in an office, this figure expended by Canada is staggering. But here’s what companies can do to spot potentials for automation.
Office work that is easy to automate typically involves managing large sets of digital information that requires rule based processing and typically occurs in the same application instead of across systems. Further automation of work is made easier using macro recorders or automation tools that typically facilitate the flow of information through pre-defined or canned actions that can be prescribed.
Identifying High Value Tasks to Automate (Hint: usually mundane tasks conducted by generously paid staff)
The process of identifying the right office processes to automates becomes increasingly difficult as the number of hand-off points, departments, and people become involved. With a smaller organization there are often rooms for automation particularly for data extraction and reporting.
- Rules based tasks are great for automation
- Step-by-step jobs are also another great candidate for automation
- Large spreadsheets with many calculations are also great opportunities
- Find the most dreaded tasks that employees hate
- Tasks that involve periodic inaccuracies are often another great choice
Processes Automation and Scale Matter…Alot
The process of automation and scaling business process is important and professionals need to come around the table. It creates lasting changes that seeds an organization for future growth but is difficult. 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:
- Drives 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
- Makes it more clear what is 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.
- Greater definition around process: automated processes often result form highly systemized and documented processes, or they created as an ingredient to automation
- Exponential deceleration for those over-relying 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 diligent assess the value of such initiative.
Why Offices Remain Stagnant
The main reason offices and teams become stagnated or fail to become more efficient is often times due to culture or day to day norms. This can often point to deeper challenges which require more than the scope that this article can offer. The best way to automate and office is to empower employees and install a culture of efficiency and lean into your team. At best even if a concept of office automation is deployed, not having the right employee training or culture can hamper initiatives to improve the office setting.
Create Office Automation System with Mindfield
Mindfield Consulting has helped Organizations lead using the right mix of manual and automated process from planning service delivery to remote locations to global trading systems for precious materials and resources, 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 people for over 19 years across Canada. Mindfield specializes in custom software development, elearning for corporate training, and jira expert consulting.