7 Step Guide To Automating Your Business
Methodical, formulaic approaches to automating your business and achieving your process automation goals are often the most successful, so if you’re trying to implement, or increase, the level of process automation in your business then this 7-step guide to automating your business is a good place to start.
Identify the parts of your business that would benefit the most from functional improvement, or that you think have the potential to be partially or fully automated.
You may decide this is a good time to focus on a single area, as once you collate the functional areas of your business that could be automated or would benefit from improved automation, then you will realise how big this project could be.
Review and evaluate each area identified by defining the current processes. You are looking for processes that are prone to human error or that involve unnecessary activities, as well as where administrative bottlenecks or holdups exist.
Some simple examples of processes that are good candidates for automation in many businesses are;
- Stock Replenishment
- Sending Client Invoices
- Late payment reminders
- Generating and distributing internal reports
As you review your business and talk to employees about their issues you may find that there are some exciting possible candidates, or automation opportunities, for your first automation project that can help you reduce costs, improve payments times, or increase sales opportunities.
2. Automating Your Business Means Tidying Up
You can’t automate something if the current state of that something is a mess. You need to ensure there is an existing process for all the things you want to automate. To explain this using a really specific example; imagine you’re trying to automate steps in your inventory management process, but your warehouse has empty boxes lying around, some full ones on shelves, some half full ones of the same stock on some other shelves, nothing is labelled or put away properly…you don’t know where stock is and then it turns up stacked in the corner.
If your existing processes and warehouse management are not well defined and hygienic then your automation efforts will fail.
Business Automation: A Business Leaders Guide
Webinar: An Executive Guide To Automating Your Business
In this recorded session, Rob explains in plain English what business automation is all about. He also provides detail about how you can decide which processes to automate and where to start.
3. Repetition Is A Key Component Of Automating Your Business
I repeat, find the repetition.
Are your staff doing the same activity again and again and again? For example – are they frequently managing intercompany invoicing? Intercompany invoicing is a time consuming and often complex task, yet the steps taken each time are practically the same.
There are some ERP systems such as JD Edwards that can automate the entire task in all its complexity, while other systems might be capable of automating parts of the task with a human pushing it through the next phases.
The result is better accuracy and time saved. This of course is the desired outcome for automation.
Another simpler example would be stock replenishment. Each time stock needs to be replenished there are a series of steps in the process, from noticing stock needs replenishment, to sending off the purchase order/ stock order, to receiving and putting away the order, to paying the invoice.
Each stage of this process has the potential for some or a lot of automation to be put in place.
Once you’d identified the areas of your business that would gain the most benefit from automation, and identified the processes you could be automating, it’s a simple matter of prioritising.
- Which project will make the biggest difference to your business?
- Which project will give you the quickest win?
- Which project can be implemented the fastest?
- Clearly if you’re new to automation start with the smallest, simplest, or easiest project first. Make sure it works as intended and then consider your next project.
If this is a dedicated project team, it may be that there is a broader business goal that the team are working towards, such as to improve scalability or to cut the costs in a specific area of the business.
It may also make sense to focus on automating a single type of process across the company, but the best approach will be what’s best for your business.
5. Reduce Risk and Improve Your Success Rate With Careful Planning
Your business process automation plans should always consider what else is going on around the task you’re planning to automate.
Implementing an automation strategy requires some investment, so you need to consider what else is going on in your business. If you’re implementing automation strategies for your finance department but planning to switch to an ERP system, such as NetSuite, in a few months, then it is likely you will be wasting effort.
There are also other processes in your business going on in parallel to whatever you’re planning to automate. For example, if you are automating a process that currently uses data from a spreadsheet and then sends that spreadsheet on to another department – but you’re doing away with the spreadsheet, you’re going to cause disruption and problems for another department.
You might also think that you’re automating a role, without considering that this is a trained employee whose knowledge of the company and skills could be successfully deployed elsewhere in the business.
You also need to de-risk your automation project by considering what would happen if your automation doesn’t work as expected. Things go wrong sometimes, a supplier may go out of business, or you may have a negative impact to another part of the business with your actions that you didn’t foresee. Make sure you have a backout or back up plan.
6. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
This goes beyond your automation project, but through to what happens after the automation is in place. Many automations are partial – for example, you may not be able to automate the entire process of stock replenishment, but instead you automate stages of the process with a human – or several humans – in the process who’s job it is to push things to the next stage, such as manually checking goods when they arrive.
At the same time, once automation is in place, the people who were doing a job beforehand won’t have the same job. The process for their original job has not changed. People need to be brought on the journey with you and you’ll need to reassign people while also ensuring there is effective management for exception or error handling and dealing with outputs.
7. ERP Software Can Support Your Business Automation Goals
Systems like NetSuite have built-in automation capabilities, already baked into the software, so you start saving time and money from day 1. This is one of they key advantages of an ERP system, with its single source of data which is pulled together from across your entire business with functionally rich business applications, such as CRM, Financial management, inventory, manufacturing, and HR.
Because ERP software also integrates your data across processes, geographies, and functional areas, you can implement your own automation projects faster, while also having on hand the data needed for forecasting, diagnostics and predictive business analytics. Automation within an ERP system can also improve your security and reduce your business risk from repeated errors or fraud.
Get Started With Business Automation
By now you should have an idea of where to start on your business automation journey, however many businesses we speak to still find they want help and advice.
Ndevr can assist in many ways; from ERP Selection and finding a system that is the right fit for your business, to business process mapping and improvement services, to project management of your automation and systems projects. Our team are highly experienced and recognised for their skills across a wide range of industries, having worked with many of Australia’s largest corporations in the implementation of their business transformation.