“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
– Bill Gates
Automation rocks! I’ve changed many people’s lives through automation. Where once they spent their days doing the same mundane task day in day out, week in week out, now they are free from the bonds of the monotony of manual tasks, free to use their brain on something much more interesting and valuable. If there are people in your organization manually doing the same process, getting the same report every week, do them one of the biggest favors of their life and automate that crap.
Imagine a room the size of an air hanger, with pictures of tens of thousands of airplanes hanging everywhere, with hundreds of people running around with pens, writing peoples’ names on little seats on each one of those airplane pictures. Well, that is how United managed reservations back in the 1950s and 60s before computers and automation. Crazy!!!!
Almost 1 million Published Automated Books
Nowadays, you can automate just about anything. Phil Parker, who I’ve had the pleasure teaching strategy with at McKinsey, has automated the writing of books. If you are curious, go on Amazon.com and type in his publishing company, Icon Group International. The last time I checked, he had 896,763 books on Amazon. But, that number only goes up every day as his computers and servers are writing hundreds of books a day. If you are curious, check out the video below and Phil will take you through how he has automated the authorship of books.
Strategic leaders that focus on automating processes grow the capacity of the organization. In most companies, you have the people whose entire job is to run the same reports, process the same paperwork, do the same manual task, day in and day out. If you can cost-effectively automate what they do, you free up incredible capacity in the organization. If you don’t automate, the flipside of people focusing on repetitive tasks is the faster you grow, the more people you need. Manual tasks often become incredible bottlenecks to growth.
Furthermore, I always tell ambitious people, to move up in the world you have to create more personal capacity to work on more important things, and the only way to do that is to automate, delegate or eliminate those less-important activities you find yourself doing. So, let’s dig into what automation is and the best practices to make it happen.
What is automation?
To automate means to convert repetitive tasks and processes done by people to be completed by a computer or machine. A computer, machine or robot can do almost any repetitive task or process done by a person, more efficiently and effectively. Computers automate repetitive information-based processes, such as report building, analysis, processing information-based workflows and the storage of data. Machines and robots automate repetitive manual labor processes.
How do you automate?
When people think about automation, they often start to squirm, thinking about some multi-million dollar software implementation that will take ten years and probably fail. With the right tools and expertise, most processes should only take a few hours or days to automate. There are great options that are typically quick and inexpensive, if you have the right people, with the right skills. We’ll stick with going over computer and software solutions since machine and robotics options get pretty complicated.
Here are some of your choices to automate information-based processes:
Once an organization grows to be 50 to 100 people, the leadership should consider getting a database analyst, who knows how to create databases, transform data, and code and write macros. A good database analyst is often the automation specialist in an organization, working with teams to figure out how to quickly build the right tools to help teams automate core workflows, reporting, analysis, and get more value out of existing systems.
Better utilize existing software
Typically, organizations have software that they are not fully utilizing. There are often modules not being used, simple enhancements that will create substantial value, a poor understanding of the reporting tools, or people simply not utilizing the software correctly. Before you start looking at new solutions, always look at what you already have. Often, people are surprised at what their existing software can do, once they start digging in.
There are online software solutions, often called Software as a Service (SaaS), for pretty much all the typical capabilities and processes of an organization. The reason why so many organizations are moving to online solutions is they are easy to implement, easy to customize, often inexpensive, pay as you use models, with free automatic upgrades to new features and functionality. Furthermore, online solutions often utilize best practice processes, analytics, and reporting. With the right implementation and training organizations can often leapfrog their current performance using online solutions.
The traditional model of software has been the client-server model, where an organization buys a software package, has a large implementation, and then spends a ton to maintain and periodically update the software. For larger organizations, sometimes the client-server solution is the right one because they need a high level of customization, integration with other systems, and control. Though, for most organizations, the client-server solution is inferior to the simplicity, cost, and functionality of online solutions.
While the computer and the internet drove automation and productivity in the 90s, many people believe robotics will drive automation and productivity over the next 30 years. The technologies born out of the massive and continuously improved robots in factories are now finding there way into robots that are being tested and perfected for pretty much every repetitive and semi-repetitive task that is done by enough people that it makes sense to be automated. Check out https://www.youtube.com/user/BostonDynamics to see some very human-like robots.
The ROI of Automation
The decision to automate a process or not comes down to ROI. While we’ve discussed how to drive down the I or investment in ROI, the R or Return is typically in the form of freeing up capacity, cost savings, fewer mistakes and issues, and quicker processing. For growth organizations, it cannot be stressed enough that the R should also be about creating scalability by eliminating the need to linearly grow in the number of people as the organization grows.
In automating a process, be sure the process is Level 3 or 4 in Process Maturity. The process should be repeatable, consistent, documented, and preferably optimized. If you automate a bad process, you typically spend a lot more time and energy and get poor results.