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Business Automation, What Does That Mean? (Part One of Two...)

by Scott M. Lewis
I work with a lot of companies on business automation and ways to successfully improve work processes, streamline data flows, and reduce costs, which in some cases can be headcount. What people consider “automation” to be is interesting even within the Managed Service Provider (MSP) or Service industries. I have always had the goals of maximizing workflow and streamlining work processes to efficiently manage our business and overhead costs. Let’s start by defining precisely what “business automation” means:  the automation of complex business processes that improves work processes, maximizes customer satisfaction, restructures labor processes, and contains costs. 
A successful business automation strategy starts with being honest with yourself and admitting that there may be a better way to automate and grow your business. You must be willing to see your current business processes with a critical eye, without looking for the things you are doing well but identifying areas for improvement. Most business owners find this process difficult because we feel we have built businesses that have made us successful, so why change? Even harder is admitting that our businesses have issues and implementing processes to improve, which is what automation is all about. Another problem that always seems to arise is the “This is how we have always done it” excuse not to automate, which translates to a fear of automation and ramifications for individual employees and their jobs. 
There are several things to consider when you are considering business automation as well as ways to implement a solution like Business Manager 365 (www.businessmanager365.com). According to Forbes here are some processes you should find: 
- Implement automation where it makes sense - Business Manager 365 has been under development since 2002 and has been focused on automating complex business problems that cost service-based businesses time, money and human resources. 
- Automate for internal and external engagement - Automation for both processes internally and externally is a complex process because although the needs may seem on the surface to be similar, the need for data and the work process is different. Business Manager 365 takes into account internal data flows and work processes, and provides a portal for customers to access reports and history; interface with support teams; and manage projects—all of which can be accomplished through a traditional web portal or from a mobile application. 
- Automate small tasks for significant impact - One area that a lot of customers talk about is what I call “If I had only known’s.” A work process typically starts with a small piece of information or task that is skipped or done incorrectly, which then derails the process from that point forward. One of Business Manager 365’s goals has been to identify those small items that automate them as triggers in the system. These automated triggers ensure that processes are correctly followed. If the project, service ticket, or other goes off track, management has insight into the problem and can intervene sooner to solve the issue before it becomes costly. 
- Create automated connections between various software solutions - Solution automation is key to the long-term success of automating a business. However, when it comes to automation, a priority should be to reduce the overall number of software packages in use, for which you are paying licensing or subscription fees. Consolidation and reliable automation come with focusing on the center of the processes and supplementing with additional procedures. The more your employees are required to shift from one software package to another, the more complex and less streamlined the process becomes. Automation means that your team is working out of a standard model with a simple work process, which increases the efficiency of the process, reduces mistakes, and saves you money. 
Real business automation is more than using simple laptops, smartphones and tablets. Those could be part of the need to make the automation work, but be prepared to go deeper into your business.
- Failing to define an automation strategy - It is important to know why and what you want to automate. Another part of this one is the commitment to automation; this comes from the ownership which can be often worn down by the noise of change and the automation process, it’s easy to go back, difficult to hold the course and work out the issues. Not having the proper strategy, picking the right product, or having the commitment to see it through is costly and time-consuming. 
- Rushing into development - This is all about the partnership you have with the software or automation vendor. In some cases, the company may be willing to work with you to develop the software further, or you may have to pay for enhancements. However, if you are going to get into the business of developing interfaces to do integration that is singular or non-standard—and yes it is a business--then be aware of what you are getting into, and know that this process will not end. It will always be a budget line item.
- Focusing only on technology, people processes, and technology are the obstacles that you have to overcome - I call this the Human Factor. You can develop methods and implement technology, but humans still have to work within the processes and use the technology. Training is key to this, and involvement in the process of configuration and implementation. It is crucial that employees properly use the technology, which is why having ‘ownership courage’ to stick with the automation and new methods is vital. It’s always easy to go back to bad habits and processes. 
- Not fostering a culture of automation - Keep in mind automation regardless of is that software, hardware, or some other tool that automates processes is just a tool. People tend to want to blame their tools when things go wrong, instead of understanding that we may have picked the wrong tool because of our unwillingness to change, or perhaps the selection or testing teams were not the right people for the job. How a tool is implemented is key to the long-term success of automation and making sure that the right people who are knowledgeable in your business, see value in automation, and excited about automation is key to the success.   
About the Author: Scott Lewis is the President and CEO of Winning Technologies Group of Companies, which includes Liberty One Software. Scott has more than 36 years of experience in the technology industry and is a nationally recognized speaker and author on technology subjects. Scott has worked with hundreds of large and small businesses to empower them to use technology to improve work processes, increase productivity, and reduce costs. Scott has designed thousands of systems for large, medium, and small companies, and Winning Technologies’ goal is to work with companies on the selection, implementation, management, and support of technology resources. Learn more about Winning Technologies at www.winningtech.com or call 877-379-8279. To learn more about Business Manager 365, visit www.businessmanager365.com.
 

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