Just about every business employs automation tools to some degree. Whether it’s an automatic payroll system that ensures employees receive salaries regularly and on time, or a predictive analysis tool that grabs customer data and establishes metrics for how to grow your top line. But choosing to implement multiple automation tools all at once can cause more havoc than it helps, which can result in a reduction in both operational efficiencies and data quality — both of which are things you want to address by seeking automation.
So how do you automate to decrease redundancies in your business, cut the amount of time your employees have to spend on administrative tasks, and grow your bottom line without necessarily needing to hire a slew of new staff?
The answer is, as in so many things, to develop a detailed plan utilizing Operational Transformation Methodologies — which can be used to streamline and integrate your technology stack incrementally and in a controlled fashion. This will ease the process of implementing systems to cut the fat in your workforce, automate workflow, increase ease of scalability and provide your business real-time data analytics you can use to trim expenses, build leads, convert customers and grow your business.
Before you launch on this journey of implementing Operational Transformation Technologies, however, make sure you know where you’re going.
Here are four critical operational transformation questions you should ask to better target your business and workflow automation goals, and make sure you (and the firm you hire to assist you) create a digital platform that suits your unique needs and aspirations:
1. What do you want your digital platform to accomplish?
Have a clear sense of the processes you most need to automate, so you can choose the system(s) that best meet your business needs and wants. Those might include: form modeling, document integration, report generation, role-based accessibility and easy user assignment and reassignment, easily adjustable workflow automation, notifications via email and automatic task prioritization. Ideally you have some quantified assessment of the labor and duration associated with the processes that you seek to automate. Start with those that will generate the greatest return on investment.
Once you have a sense of what you most need to automate, then you can evaluate software that best meets those needs.
2. How much customization will you need?
The biggest problem most businesses face when they go to automate processes, particularly if it involves multiple pieces of software, is the integration challenges that commercial-off-the-shelf systems present. No off-the-shelf workflow automation — payroll, data analytics, CRM, or other software package — is going to suit your needs absolutely.
Thus, you’re likely going to have to employ your internal technology staff or hire an outside consulting firm to customize the software you select to some degree. Make sure you know from the get-go what kind of customizations you will need, what will be involved in making the software you employ workable for your business. Also how long it will take to implement and integrate with existing and/or other new automation systems, and the degree of the learning curve involved in getting your employees up to speed on its use.
And, because an operational transformation platform is software, make sure you have a strong integration test plan as well as a back-out plan that can be used before and during your implementation phase. The last thing you want is for your business to grind to a halt as some unexpected gremlin creeps in at 2 A.M..
3. What kind of data do you have?
Business is driven by data. What kind of data do you have, and do you have a handle on it?
If you’re not taking advantage of the new age of machine learning, where software programs can basically take the data you provide them, plug it into algorithms, and actively analyze trends in your customers’ needs and wants, as well as track changing markets, you’re behind the curve. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review automated predictive analytics, anomaly detection, and natural language detection can help you better manage your company’s financial resources, determine enterprise risk and regulatory compliance, improve customer service and even sell products and services.
HBR points to an array of inspiring examples, one of which is a Canadian financial services group that uses active biometrics software VocalPassword to identify customers who call in by their voices. This eliminates as many as four steps in the customer authentication process (if you’ve ever called in to check your credit card balance and have to provide your account number, social security number, date of birth, and a special password, you know what I’m talking about). The result? The company reported a 50 percent rate of improvement in call routing.
While most business automation isn’t quite this exotic, it pays to consider the return of implementing this type of system into your current digital ecosystem. VocalPassword allows businesses to process customer call-ins more quickly, while other systems — such as CRMs — can automate the sales process. The idea is to make data more accessible and more usable in real-time.
4. What do you spend for administrative workflow functions?
So just how many employees (or contractors) do you have spending significant amounts of their workday performing administrative and operational tasks that could be automated? Two? 10? 20? It’s time to take a look. Not only might you be able to streamline operations and reduce cost with automation tools, you might also be able to keep a better handle on business operations as your company grows. Scaling is frequently one of the most painful processes companies face. That’s because they often don’t have the technology in place to do it efficiently — and/or the more employees they bring on, the harder it becomes to keep everyone in the loop.
What is the lack of automation costing you? And what could it save?
Nucleus Research finds that for every dollar spent on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system implementation, returns can peak at a stellar $ 8.71 (2014). Run your own numbers through an online ROI predictor like Forrester’s Total Economic Impact (TEI), and see the potential benefits of implementing a stack of technologies that communicate and work together via a framework of operational transformation methodologies.
What could you be doing more quickly, more efficiently and more cost effectively? A lot. Start asking your business some tough questions, and then start investigating how operational transformation could start providing the answers.