Automation is a word you’ve probably heard a lot in recent times—for good and bad. At CommArc, we’re always looking for how technology can improve your business, so to learn how it can work best, we often use ourselves as guinea pigs. So because there’s a lot of interest in automation, we’ve set out on the automation journey ourselves. Here’s a bit of what we’ve learned so far.
Automation 101: what is automation?
In today’s world no single business is immune to the disruptive nature of technology. This is especially true when it comes to automation, “the technology by which a process or procedure is performed without human assistance”.
In industry, it’s been around for decades, proving its benefit by making workplaces safer, more consistent and more efficient. And now, automation is starting to take greater hold in general business areas such as finance, law, accounting, engineering, construction and IT.
What kind of automation is happening?
The competitive nature of business means that most organisations are looking for some sort of edge. Commoditisation, tighter margins, and scarce labour are all reasons why one might consider automation and/or artificial intelligence—tools that make things faster and allow staff to focus on other duties.
Tools that automate accounts payable, debtor management, document creation, project management, and approval workflows are all fairly common now. We’re also starting to see smart contract technology (currently under development at CommArc) that automates many elements of agreement management.
Who or what is driving automation?
Pretty much everyone! Many businesses have a constant drive to automate, though they don’t always do it well.
In many respects it is seen as the next evolution of outsourcing, except to a machine rather than an offshore labour force. It is all part of a commercial momentum that has accelerated on the back of globalisation.
Is automation an opportunity or a threat to our business?
It’s definitely an opportunity that could easily become a threat if one doesn’t read the signs well enough.
At CommArc we’ve seen measurable benefit in targeted automation. It’s helped to plug many of the gaps that appear when one task or business process hands over to the next. The issues that appear when people forget, or communication breaks down are reduced, and in a number of cases you find lost revenue that was due to poor manual processes.
What do we need to look out for with automation?
Beware the “sheeple” effect: just because it appears to trend does not mean you should jump in. There are many automation opportunities out there, but not all of these are good for your business.
Beware the promises people make. Just because the software can do something it doesn’t mean your business can—or should. We see automation attempts break down because they are just too ambitious, there are too many people involved, or simply the fact that the business is just not in a position to automate these functions.
What should we do?
You should embrace rather than fear automation.
The key to success is pretty much like any other technology project.
- Don’t aim too high
- Look for low-hanging opportunities
- Work hard to achieve an outcome so you can a) say it’s done, and b) measure/quantify its success.
It’s very important that you can see an outcome for your money and effort. You should also be prepared to modify your business to suit the system. That’s easier, less costly and far more likely to get the outcome you are looking for.
Where should we look to add automation?
Look for areas in your business where there are obvious gaps. And have a clear perspective of what you want to achieve—do you want to improve service, reduce effort, minimise cost, cover key person risk or just close the gaps between inefficient manual processes?
Once you understand your gaps you can start looking at the various systems that can address them.
We don’t sell this stuff, so we are independent about its pros and cons, and we have considerable experience helping customers identify and quantify automation opportunities.
We’re more than happy to share our experiences with automation (good, bad or indifferent) with you. We know what it’s like to set out on the automation journey–because it’s something we’ve had to do ourselves!