What does it mean to Eliminate Manual Operations in Business?
About 25 or 30 years ago, people in offices used to take printouts of reports and documents as a part of their routine work. The use of printouts is still prevalent if the situation calls for it. But today, that practice stands significantly replaced with the usage of digital communication platforms like emails, messengers, and workflow applications. Taking printouts and ensuring the physical transmission of the papers to the destination desks is a typical manual operation if the role of the printer could be ignored. Eliminating manual operations means that the reliance on manual efforts or intervention is reduced by the use of digital applications or hardware automation solutions. It could be for anyone in the value chain including customers. But are digitisation and automation powerful enough to make practically significant differences to the extent of providing scope for business scalability?
How Automation leads to Enhanced capabilities for Scale?
The physical barrier is a big challenge when it comes to starting a new office or a new branch in a new location. It is a smaller version of starting the business again. Then there are challenges of remotely overseeing the operations in such new locations. With automation and digitisation, businesses can think of expanding their operations to new market regions with the conviction that it can be done with planned control. A good example of this is how international brands manage their franchises overseas. The owners and the top management remain in absolute sight and control of the brand’s performance.
Tech companies like Alphabet and Meta have evolved to be what they are today, undoubtedly, because of their marketing acumen. But data continues to play a big role in their appetite for developing new products and improvising the existing portfolio. Because these companies are inherently technology-driven, they could reap the benefits of having digital oceans of information. The same applies to other businesses when they start using software applications. Suddenly, they get access to better insights into their own business and its environment. Better products are forged when their development is based on research and analytics provided by data science and systems. This leads to the extension of the product line and eventually, the possibility for more business.
Needless to say that automation and digitisation have helped organisations skyrocket the efficiency and effectiveness of their business processes. This is a fallout of shifting from manual operations to a tech-driven operational framework. With analytics and insights, the processes could be further improved over time. And once the existing processes mature to a state of near-about perfection, they could be replicated elsewhere with higher conviction. Implementing planned and proven processes help businesses quickly normalise their operations in new locations.
Enhanced accuracy in process performance helps businesses win the delight of customers, clients, shareholders, suppliers, service providers, regulatory bodies, and other entities having a working relationship with such businesses. And when such consistency in performance is maintained, it begins to speak for the brand. It gives businesses an edge on the negotiation tables.
Automation and digitisation also enhance the ability of an organisation to handle more business volume. It entitles them to go striving for a larger market share or grab bigger contracts. Quite the contrary happens when a business continues to remain glued to manual operations. With competitively lower process efficiency and effectiveness, they cannot fathom going for growth and expansion.
By eliminating manual operations, businesses can also chip away resources earlier invested in such operations. For instance, by adopting automated checkout in stores, retail brands can reduce the strength of sales staff. The services of these employees could be used in a new store that is intended to remain reliant on manual operations for some time. Experienced employees could be promoted to higher roles and responsibilities like business development or operations management. There may not be any immediate monetary gains from adopting automation as it is a long-term score. But it enables businesses to internally arrange the resources to fuel their growth and expansion projects.
Delegation eases the burden of the superiors. From top to bottom, this applies to an entire organisation structure except a task can no longer be delegated. Further, digitisation and automation solutions empower organisations to be efficient at delegation. With greater surety and certainty about the execution of business operations as per planning, the executives in the top management are at greater convenience to focus on the bigger goals and provide direction to the business. If a business enterprise does not upgrade and embrace technologies for its operations, it will remain held back by the operational challenges emanating from manual execution. This makes delegation less effective with the frequent need for the intervention of the superiors. And top management cannot remain unaffected by such hiccups for much longer.
Five business cases of automation
Online payment has become so commonplace that it is hardly remembered as automation or digitisation of an important part of the customer journey. But it still is based on technology and rightly qualifies as automation or digitisation. While digitisation may sound like an apt word for online payment, the latter also fits into the class of automation. For example, many OTT platforms nowadays offer an automatic deduction of subscription charges from customers’ bank accounts. Of course, customers have to share their bank account details and give prior approval for such periodical automatic deductions. By offering such features, companies are making it convenient for customers by not having to repeat the payment process for subsequent subscriptions.
As the recruitment process progresses, the volume of work also goes down. One of the bulkiest tasks early in the process is screening resumes and applications. Whether it is a mass drive or a one-off activity, the load of resume screening does not go off. The use of digital applications makes this process entirely automated. Organisations that do this task manually end up taking much longer in completing the hiring process. This could also prove to be a strategic disadvantage to them as they might lose out on better candidates.
Migration of legacy data
Business software technologies change in such quick intervals that no business could stick to one environment for too long. Either a complete overhaul or major upgradation becomes unavoidable. And when companies shift between software applications, a lot of data migration takes place from the older systems to the new ones. Today, most of the popular ERP products available in the market come with data migration as a default feature. There is a possibility of doing this manually but that comes at the cost of a lot of time and rigorous human efforts that could delay the upgradation process and hamper business operations.
Data science and analytics have completely changed how businesses perceive customers and respond to them. With better insights into consumer behaviour, businesses can develop better products, improvise services, focus on the touchpoints, and redefine the overall customer journey. Today, a departmental store using any store management software could tell with a few clicks what share of their daily revenue comes from online payments or which particular SKUs of a particular product type sell more. Manually, deriving such insights is dependent on judgement and guesswork and still with little or no chance of being backed up with data to support it.
Insurance companies are often judged on claim settlement ratios maintained by them. This ratio being higher is considered better. But the accuracy of claim settlement is also an important factor. A company might have a track record of 100% claim settlement. But what if 20% are inaccurately processed claims that will eventually show up in the company’s profit and loss statement and audit reports? Here, technology has helped insurance companies carry out tedious paperwork and documentation, complex calculations, data migration, report generation, etc.
SOP as the Groundwork for Automation and digitisation
While the benefits of moving from manual operations to automated processes are immense, the immediate solution is not finding and implementing IT solutions to eliminate manual processes. Also, there is no universal consensus on steps to automate a manual process. But it is ideal to start with establishing what exactly technology/ software application is required to deliver in operations. For instance, is the HRMS software also required to cover the recruitment process? If yes, is it going to be the entire recruitment process or just selected operations like resume screening and sending automated emails to selected candidates? To know what the software is required to deliver requires a detailed understanding of the business process in question. It is the process that determines how the process software will function. This information and understanding come from well-planned, well-defined, and well-documented processes. Processes are mapped and defined using the concept of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Developing SOPs is a critical requirement when going for manual process automation. These SOPs constitute the blueprint of software specifications.
- Staying heavily dependent on manual operations proves to be disadvantageous in business. Not only does it limit businesses in striving for growth but it also makes them less efficient, less competitive, and less customer-oriented.
- One of the best ways to come out of this shell is to automate manual processes using technology solutions that suit and serve the business. There is no dearth of examples to show that shifting from manual process to automated process brings positive results. In every department or function, technology is capable of bringing operational excellence.
- The pertinent question is how to automate a manual process or adopt automation at the enterprise level. And the answer lies in becoming process-oriented with the use of SOPs.
Chief Strategy Officer
Dr. Rupal’s “Everything is possible” attitude helps achieve the impossible. Dr. Rupal Agarwal has worked with 300+ companies from various sectors, since 2012, to custom-build SOPs, push their limits and improve performance efficiency. Rupal & her team have remarkable success stories of helping companies scale 10X with business process standardization.