Friday, July 3, 2020

Executive Education

4 Ways to Make Automation Work for Your Department

Business process automation

Automation is not a new idea — it’s been around at least since Henry Ford started using the assembly line to mass-produce cars. Still, it remains an elusive concept for many companies.

Historically, automation has been pictured as a factory floor filled with robots doing the work of humans. While that type of automation does exist for many manufacturing businesses, it’s not what most of us experience in our everyday working environments. Over the years, the use of automation has expanded beyond adding efficiency to assembly lines. Today, we most commonly experience automation through software applications.

Notwithstanding these old images, business leaders still struggle with the concept of automation. For many of them, their experience with implementing automation has been painful, long-term, costly projects involving major technology and process changes. While those types of projects still exist, newer technologies have been designed to ease that pain. With the advent of the software as a service (SaaS) model, businesses can now easily procure and implement helpful applications while staying well within their budgets.

And the dread of the top-down, corporate-level software project is being replaced by quick and easy implementations at the department level. By focusing on implementing within their departments, business leaders can quickly solve critical problems and add efficiency without having to go through a long, tedious process.

Accounting software, like Quickbooks, and email marketing software, such as HubSpot, are common forms of automation for businesses. They are easy to implement, web-based, and have mobile apps that make it easy to access business-critical information. Another example is online appointment software. For departments that handle appointment scheduling, online scheduling software can be implemented quickly and easily. Just like accounting and email marketing software, online booking is becoming a common automation tool for businesses.

Is It Worth the Change?

Even though modern cloud-based software is much easier to implement, most companies don’t roll it out effectively. Thus, they never realize the promised benefits of scalability, time-savings, and growth.

What they fail to take into consideration is that automation means change. Transitioning to new technology — even if it is simple to implement and use — is still change. And as anyone who has undertaken changing an established process knows, it’s not for the faint of heart. Change management requires abundant communication, training, documentation, and maybe even a little cajoling. People resist change, usually because they don’t understand the need for something different and don’t trust that the new way will be better.

When planning an automation initiative, no matter how small, how you handle the change management component will make or break the project. People won’t just blindly adopt automation. Whether it’s a robot, an assembly line making a Toyota Prius, or a follow-up sequence in Marketo, if you don’t factor in the human aspects when implementing a change, it won’t work. But if you do manage change effectively, automation software will enhance customer experience, cut administrative expenses, and improve your staff and resource allocation.

Making Automation Work

Effectively implementing and using new technology in automation initiatives can be challenging, but having a plan makes all the difference. Here are four ways to ensure that your initiatives accomplish your goals, no matter their size.

  1.  Think big, act small.
    When implementing automation, even if it’s just downloading a task manager app, think bigger. Is this something that could be integrated into other tools you use on a daily basis? Could it be shared among your workmates to keep everyone on the same page? Is this a tool that could eventually be taken companywide?

    Then, act small. Even if you think your plan has big potential, try implementing it on a small scale first to gauge its effect. This allows you to work out a lot of the kinks and uncover “gotchas” that may help others down the road.

  2. Test it out.
    When going through the change management process, your own viewpoint is just one source of data and feedback. Acting small allows you to test out the automation and gather comments from employees or other users, which helps in discerning if the result is worth the effort. Focus on determining if the application actually accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish.

    For example, let’s say you automate the sending of a daily Salesforce report. Try sending it to only a few people at first. They will be able to provide valuable feedback and let you know if they find the report useful, or if it ends up going unread. Their input will allow you to make improvements to the report or the process.

  3. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug.
    If you are in the test phase of a new form of automation, don’t get emotionally involved. Automation is about making life easier. If it doesn’t accomplish this goal, don’t be afraid to shut it down. The workplace is full of applications, systems, and processes. If a new approach doesn’t allow you to do your job more effectively and efficiently, you shouldn’t hesitate to let go and move on.
  4. Be empathetic.
    Be mindful of the effect automation can have on people. Whenever you automate something, you can bet someone is going to feel a twinge of fear. They may not say anything, but the worry of becoming irrelevant, being of less value, or even of losing their job may cross their minds.

You can help overcome fears by clearly communicating the automation’s goals and intentions. This helps reinforce how valuable your teammates are in the process, and builds trust in the new system. The more detail you can provide on the benefits, the better.

Bear in mind that sometimes automation does replace humans. Automated warehouses, like Amazon’s, allow for huge labor savings. As a matter of fact, Amazon’s entire business model is dependent on automation. That may be an extreme example, but the point is that sometimes people do lose their jobs when automation is implemented. If you find yourself in a leadership position where this is the case, then clear, abundant communication is your best bet. It won’t be easy, but, in the end, it will be appreciated.

Reaching the Goal

The lofty ideals of automation that Henry Ford envisioned more than a hundred years ago continue to drive companies to automate today. Many aspects of it have changed over the years, but the goals of saving money and increasing efficiency continue to be the motivating forces in automation initiatives today.

It’s important to keep those two goals in mind as you consider new processes for your department, and possibly, for your company. If the automation doesn’t result in cost savings and improved efficiency, you shouldn’t do it. There are too many other important projects you could be working on. But when you find a tool that reduces costs and streamlines important processes — you’ll know the effort was worth it.

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Bob La Loggia
Bob La Loggia is the founder and CEO of AppointmentPlus, a fast-growing SaaS business based in Scottsdale, Arizona. His company has won a number of awards, including CareerBuilder’s Best Places to Work award. Bob is a serial entrepreneur who’s passionate about his business and helping Arizona develop a world-class startup ecosystem.