Most business owners and managers will reluctantly acknowledge that two thirds of the time their employees spend doing work is lost in battling old processes, double handling, fixing typo mistakes and searching for documents. Sound familiar? All of these problems can be solved by business process automation software, but you may not be able to find this software being sold by the likes of Microsoft. Often your workflows are sufficiently unique that you may need to invest in a custom bespoke system to minimise wasted effort. Below are some of the tools that a custom system can offer.
One of the simplest problems to solve is stopping employees from entering incorrect data into your business. There are likely countless forms and worksheets that need to be filled out by your employees every day. What happens when an employee makes a mistake? One of our clients was dealing with multi-million dollar transactions; having a single digit missing would be incredibly embarrassing (and costly). One very simple business process automation technique is validating the data as it is being entered into your system. Computers are very good at checking if:
- The input conforms to a pattern of letters and numbers.
- Numerical data has the correct number of digits.
- Numerical data is within a certain value range.
As an example, your employees could be entering a product code into a field. The system could be used to tell them that the data entered doesn't conform to the product code format and they would need to change their input to get to the next stage of the process.
Following a process can often involve several Excel spreadsheets, a few emails and a couple of meetings. There are many single points of failure in any process, which can take time to unblock when things go wrong. Computers are very good at centralizing information and forcing people to follow a process. In the case of our multi-million dollar transaction client mentioned before, the process was initially a series of emails with excel spreadsheets attached and a few phone calls. The system we implemented made sure that no step in the process was ever missed or skipped and that all of the data that needed to be entered had been done so before the process could be completed.
People often forget to send emails, text messages or make phone calls. I know I have (and so have you!). Computers never forget. If your processes involve communications your text messages or emails could be constructed and sent by an application instead. In our multi-million dollar example, our application would automatically generate and send confirmation emails, contracts and invoices to different parties at different points in the process. The emails never contained typos and the system sent the emails automatically once certain steps in the process were complete.
The other side of automation is integration. Most new applications like Xero, Facebook and MailChimp can also receive commands from an application to use their functions. This means that if you wanted, your application could send a formatted marketing email through MailChimp and post on your Facebook page if it detects that your bank balance has fallen too low.
Over two thirds of employees waste time getting their work done. Most of the problems are in the process, and often the process can be streamlined with business process automation tools. Tools such as validation of input fields, workflow management, and automation are just three ways of getting your employees to achieve more work in less time. There are definitely costs to creating an automation system, but knowing when it's worth it to build a custom application will be the topic of my next blog post.
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