Automate the Things You Can, Help the Things You Can’t

There are three types of innovations that affect jobs and capital:
empowering innovations, sustaining innovations and efficiency innovations.

Clayton M. Christensen

When you’re running the IT operation of a growing business, you aren’t just making choices for today. You’re also making choices that will shape the company’s future — laying the technological foundations for continued success. It’s both life-changing and career shaping at the same time.

Of course, this level of responsibility calls for the kind of deep thinking you may not have time for – but is critical and increasingly common. Nearly 1 of every 2 small businesses makes improving operational efficiency a top priority, according to CompTIA’s Enabling SMBs with Technology.  These decisions can’t be taken lightly. So it helps to think about choices around automation in terms of the things you can automate and the things you really don’t want to.

Because within any process there are two kinds of essential actions: those that depend on real human intelligence and experience – and those that don’t. Use automation to get rid of the inefficiencies in the latter, and you’ll empower the former. 

Here’s an example:

The process of transmitting invoices to accounts payable. On the surface, it may look like a finance process. But its success depends on how well you handle and distribute documents.

What you don’t want to automate: The hawk-eyed scrutiny and expertise of your bookkeepers and accounts managers. They know what qualifies as a legitimate and accurate invoice and can spot fraud and inaccuracies better than anyone.

What you can automate: Scanning, collecting, recording, archiving and entering into ledgers – crucial but tedious steps that eat up time and account for so many errors.

When you automate these steps, you mitigate those errors, ensure the documents are stored securely and speed up the whole process.

But more importantly, you give your team quicker visibility into how much cash is owed. Which means they can spend more time choosing the right projects to direct cash flow to. Those are crucial moments, because in selecting what to pursue and what to set aside, you strengthen and strategically empower your business.

Knowing what to grow and what to shrink

Wasted Time Printing
(Click to see the full infographic.)

To that end, it makes sense to think of how processes scale. Because when companies grow, processes become more important than ever. They hold the group together and make sure everyone’s pulling in the same direction. But growth can also magnify the inefficiencies.

Those inefficiencies may not have mattered much when the company was small, but when it’s growing they can make a huge impact. For instance, the average American worker with access to a shared central printer spends three extra minutes a day waiting for their documents to print.

That may not sound like much. But in a company with 500 employees, that adds up to 6,500 lost man-hours a year!

If we go back to our previous example – it may not have mattered if it took twelve steps to go from invoice to accounts payable when you only managed a hundred invoices a month. But scale that up to 500 invoices and suddenly your accounts people are in big trouble.

Now you’ve got a choice. You can throw more scanners and people at the problem, effectively hiring more people to do more tedious things they don’t want to do.

Or you can zoom in on those tedious things and automate them – helping the accounts people you already have to get more done. They’ll be grateful, and you’ll all share in the rewards from making smart choices about what needs to be automated, and what shouldn’t.

The challenge: figure out what needs to be automated and what really shouldn’t.

Find out what to automate

Our managed print services can help growing businesses turn slow-paper based processes into automated, digital ones. So if you’re looking for smart ways to drive efficiency and scale your processes, this is a great way to start.

See how it works

To learn more about automation:

How to Automate Your Business for Fast Growth, Inc. magazine, 2013
5 Free Tools that Automate Your Business, American Express Open Forum

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