Business Automation Consulting
Automating the future of your business.
“Software is eating the world” says Marc Andreesen, Founder of Netscape and Venture Capitalist. Everywhere you look, industries are being disrupted by tech companies – Uber, Facebook, Amazon – the list goes on. But these are the obvious examples at the top end of disruption. What about everyday businesses? Here, the disruption isn’t so obvious. But I guarantee you it’s happening, just often beneath the surface.
Perhaps one of the best examples of automation powering an enterprise in a hidden and unexpected way is the recent US election (2016). Donald Trump appeared to be losing. Indeed, his win was a shock to most. Whilst he did garner a lot of free media coverage for his outrageous (and completely unacceptable) statements and behaviour, it was the hidden activity behind the scenes to convert swing voters and discourage typical Democratic voters from turning out that really changed the tides. This was all done using tens of thousands of FaceBook targeted ads, and up to 100,000 tailored websites. You can read more about this process here. This type of mass personalisation couldn’t have been done without automation driving it.
What about automation for your business?
The above is just one example of how automation can play out. Did you know you can:
- integrate multiple systems into one to reduce double-entry, eliminate errors and speed up process completion times?
- automate data transfer between multiple systems, such as automatically creating invoices in Xero based on activity in another system?
- automate overdue invoice reminder sequences?
- automate lead-generation and follow-up, with personalised content and contextualised sequences?
- use “human-in-the-loop” automation, including out-sourcing to services such as Mechanical Turk where human intelligence is required, but the process is tedious?
- completely automate service delivery from the back-end in any kind of online marketplace? (Such as any kind of online service booking)
- all-but-eliminate email by sending custom notifications to Slack instead?
- eliminate manual work by automating reporting and building dashboards, with triggers sensitive to outlier values to “manage by exception”?
- automatically send receipts for donations or payments?
- let people automatically book an appointment in your calendar, and even pay for it, without going back and forth to arrange a time?
- automatically send reminders via multiple channels (email, sms, facebook messenger etc) for upcoming appointments?
These are just a few examples of what you can achieve with full-blown automation. You can also partially automate processes, or simply document processes inside an automated task management system to get control over things that aren’t quite worth fully automated yet. What would your business look like if you could do some or all of the above? I bet you’d be employing less staff, turning work around quicker and making more money.
The CoreMind Automation Approach
Everybody is busy. We get that. There’s only so much you can do at once. As such, the goal of our consulting work is not to identify a utopian endpoint, but to identify a sequence of small steps that can get you there over time. This approach takes less time, delivers benefits sooner, costs less and, critically, requires far less people/change management. In short, it’s an example of Continuous Improvement. Using this methodology, we can get started slowly and accelerate the pace of change (and associated benefits) over time as:
a) staff get used to constant improvements
b) the business generates more excess capacity (time, dollars or both) to invest over time, through the delivery of interim benefits along the journey
Identify > Optimise > Document > Facilitate > Automate
Our 5-step framework is flexible to each process – sometimes we can go straight from step 1 to step 5, if the automation is obvious and easy to implement. But often it isn’t and the best approach is to go through each of these steps in sequence.
We start by identifying possible improvements in the business. This is done through a combination of interviews with key stakeholders, observation and formal process mapping workshops. At the end of this process, we end up with a sorted, prioritised list of improvements that would have the greatest return on investment.
Depending on the changes involved, we may also insert a Systems Architecture piece here to ensure that the changes we plan to make over time converge rather than diverge. This is the case if we need to implement multiple software systems over time – we want them to talk to each other, or leverage a common system – rather than result in further siloing of data and business processes.
Then, sequentially, for each process, we tear apart the way it is currently working and ask how it could be done better, bearing in mind both possible manual and technical solutions. We get you or your staff to run this process and see how it works.
We then document this improved process. At this point, you can “hand it off” to a manager or staff member to manage. This should free up your time to be able to focus on other business improvement tasks. Whilst the work is still getting done manually at this point, the documentation serves a couple of key purposes:
- it gets the management of this process off your plate
- it results in a greater likelihood of the process being executed correctly and resulting in fewer exceptions / escalations to you
- it acts as a form of “specification” for what we want to subsequently partially or fully automate
During this phase, we identify if technology can be used to facilitate the human managing or executing the task. For instance, a procedure may need to be done manually (it may involve phoning someone, and we don’t want our customers speaking to computers just yet!), but the management of the status of that task might be automated – such as the task creation being done on a schedule based on some data in a CRM, a notification sent automatically to the staff member, business rules around how long the task is allowed to sit in WIP and then automated reports on process completion times and volumes of activity at the end. This may be sufficient without further automation. In particular, doing this kind of facilitation is far cheaper than trying to automate highly complex or human-dependent tasks, but typically delivers 80% of the benefit of so doing. It also allows far greater business scalability and facilitates a flatter (and hence more efficient and dynamic) organisation to evolve over time, as there is less need for multiple layers of hierarchical management.
After the above, if and only if there is a clear business case for so doing, we automate. Having gone through the above steps, this is usually trivially obvious to establish as we have baseline data for how long a task is taking manually and can calculate that cost. We know the exact steps involved in the task (through step 3) and hence we can work out to a high degree of accuracy what it would take to automate that task. The ROI is then very clear (or not), and is typically achieved for many common tasks inside 3 months.
We then repeat the above process until we run out of ROI-positive things to improve. But at that point, you’ve probably grown and have new challenges!