Office Automation System

One of the biggest problems we see at many companies we visit are overworked staff in the back office.  We see many of them are just trying to survive, getting their work done with the tools given to them with no understanding or knowledge how to make work more enjoyable or free up time for customer service, innovation or taking on more work. With the rapid expansion of the internet, the increased digitization of data and rapid decrease in technology costs, employees and companies can now put in a office automation system that will reduce overtime, processing times and improve morale. To begin building your office automation system, I recommend you ask three questions: What process or tasks causes me the most stress or anxiety that I would like to have an office automation system take over? If there is one task that I would like an office automation system to take over, what would it be? What would be the benefits to me and our company be by putting in this office automation system? The benefits of asking these three questions is it will begin to activate your creativity and allow to begin to see that cost effective solutions to automate your problems are now available to you.  It will allow you to ‘connect the dots’ by seeing how leveraging a bit of technology at the right task or step in the process will generate huge returns. In conclusion, identifying opportunities for a office automation system is not hard.  It just takes effort to slow down and pay attention to what is going on around you.  You will...

The “Moment of Insight”

This week, we were presenting our findings to the senior executive team at one of our clients.  As we got deeper into presentation, we got the ‘that can’t be right’ statement from one of the executives.  We love this point because we know this is the point in time when the “Moment of Insight” begins to occurs and true understanding of the situation begins to take root.  Some people may call this the beginning of the ‘eureka’ moment, others may call it the ‘ah ha’ moment.  Nevertheless, it’s the point at which the client or individual begins to see and understand the new connection points within their business and thus gain new insight into their business.  You always see this at movies where all the clues come together and the answer everyone was looking for is found. The benefits of reaching this moment of insight are great.  New energy is released within the company to take advantage of this new insight and release its value within the business.  These benefits may include shorter process times, lower operating costs or even increased cash flow. Arriving to this point isn’t easy and it’s usually why our clients hire us.   It takes a lot of time and effort interviewing key individuals within the company, running data queries off the company’s systems, observing how people are working within the business and basically asking a lot of questions on why things are done the way they are (just like the detective Columbo of old.)  Nevertheless, there are some simple steps that any company can take to generate these moments of insight. Don’t be afraid to ask questions:  In today’s economic climate, so many people are...

Key Performance Indicators and Causal Relationships

This past week, we met with a client to help them determine what their key performance indicators are in order for them to drive profitable growth. While some think this process is quite straight forward, we still continue to find individuals who do not understand the importance of causality and processes when developing the right KPI’s for their business. Don’t get us wrong. We still insist that our clients (many who have finance and accounting backgrounds), to continue to read their monthly financial statements, including the traditional Income Statement, balance sheet and cash flows and to continue to compare those monthly results to the plan and/or to the previous year’s results. We also continue to encourage them to run the traditional ratios as a way to check the health of their business. What we are recommending is that they create a new section within this review that includes more significant key performance indicators as part of their management process to track and predict their business success. This section must, however, be carefully crafted to ensure that the ‘right indicators’ are included that properly measure the processes the business engages in every day. Let us explain. While we won’t get into the academic discussions pertaining to Causality (you can google Causality or go to Wikipedia to get into the details of the subject from multiple disciplines), the key idea is that with any business process, there are certain ‘laws’ governing that process. While everyone may not totally understand the ‘laws’ governing that process, those ‘laws’ still ‘govern’ that process. Those laws must be followed in some order to get the...

Creating Business Value

One of the biggest problems we see are people that are not focussed on activities or tasks that continue to add value to their business or their clients. We have seen a lot of folks stay in their comfort zone doing the ‘routine’ without realizing that by doing this, their value and the value of their  business is decaying. To help create business value, we recommend three steps: Automate routine tasks With our society now digitally based, there are a lot of software and tools to automate routine tasks like data entry from one system to another or to automatically calculate material to make decisions upon.  While everyone is good at creating material in spreadsheets, they don’t take it to the next level of automating the upload of that data into the system that needs that data to do the next step.   If your time is worth than $15 per hour, you need to hire a programmer to help automate the data transfer from one system to another.  You will be able to get a payback in less than a month. Learn to listen Quieting your mind and actively listening to what your client is saying is crucial.  so many people are thinking about how to reply without really taking the time to pay attention and understand what their client is saying.  If you focus to much on your thoughts or focus on how you are going to reply, you are not going to get the ‘secrets’ to truly create business value. Constantly ask questions for confirmation People are sometimes afraid to go back and ask for confirmation of what...

The “Request” Gap

When we begin our transformation analysis, we often observe “request gaps”.  Request gaps are defined as the time and work effort difference between what the senior executive thinks the request will take and the actual time and effort required to complete the request.  It may also include a difference between what was ‘envisioned’ and what is ultimately delivered. (See illustration.) The “typical situation” is that a senior executive is thinking about a pressing problem or trying to make a decision on a particular issue.  During that thought process, he/she determines that they just need some data or ‘quick and dirty analysis’.  They phone up their ‘right hand person’ to explain what they need. It’s usually at this point where the gap begins to appear.  The executive thinks that they have been clear on what they want and when they need it.  The right hand person taking the instructions doesn’t want to look incompetent so they make some assumptions based on their experience.  The instructions are then past onto a third party or group of people to get the work done based on the instructions given from the second party.  The third party or group of people then make their own assumptions to get the work done.  They provide their best efforts to complete the work based on their understand and give it back to the person they got the request from.  That person then reviews the work and provides it back to the executive.  By this time, the executive is getting frustrated because he or she can’t understand why it has taken so long to get a ‘simple request’ completed.  When the executive receives...

Transforming your Back Office

Most companies are tempted to cut back office services and staff across the board when costs increase dramatically and performance drops.  In studying various companies and working with various clients, we have found that strategically trimming and redesigning the back office areas is actually better in not only reducing costs but improving performance, efficiencies and effectiveness. There are three techniques that can be used to acheive cost reductions, improved performance while improving efficiencies and effectiveness:  Reduce activities Re-engineer processes and Restructure the entire back office Reducing activities is fairly easy to implement.  It is usually involves reducing the number of reports that need to be generated or talking to internal customers on what activties are not value added and no longer need to be performed.  The other option is to create an internal ‘pricing system’ to allow departments to ‘feel’ the cost of providing those services.  The idea behind this is to leverage “market forces” to ensure that only the most efficient, high value activities are provided internally. Re-engineering processes requires more thought and planning.  It also requires a company to ‘look under the hood’ to it’s core processes and studying each activity in the process to determine if its value added and whether or not it can be automated.   This work also requires some cost analysis to determine the current cost of the process as well as options to reduce those costs.  This type of work is more difficult to do because it requires dedicated resources who have process and technology expertice.  However, it does generate higher, sustainable savings as opposed to just reducing work loads. Restructuring the back office is...
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