Moving Walkways: Who Modified the Location of My Aged Dairy Product – And How Can I Track It Without Chasing It?
Business has always been about finding ways to create value in ways that reap tangible benefits.
Successful businesses create the value (and resulting benefits/cash flow) with more efficiency than the rate at which they must spend money to STAY in business. Businesses that survive in the long run know how to anticipate change, prepare for change proactively, and fully implement proper feedback mechanisms:
Moving Walkways as a Metaphor for Automating Processes
- Economics: To be effective, a moving walkway consumes power and must be in motion before a user steps onto it. As a result, during low congestion periods, moving walkways (including escalators) are often shut down to conserve energy. The problems solved by the solution must outweigh the effort required to solve them, so sometimes a manual process is preferable or necessary.
- Maintenance: Deploying moving walkways on a large scale would prove vastly expensive to initially build, but maintenance would be a nightmare. Experts must be employed and deployed. Raw materials and supply parts must be inventoried, distributed, and managed.
- Risk: Moving walkways carry inherent risks including accidents, breakdowns, or mechanical failures.
Life hacks have become popular in recent years. Life hacks are usually ways to approach ordinary situations that overcome some of the obstacles mentioned above. Life hacks are often good examples of the kinds of creative things we can also do in our businesses, careers, and relationships to improve our quality of life and results.
Automation – A Change Management Strategy
Although automation can sound scary, with the right team and the right tools, automating processes can be fun and rewarding.
Automation usually comes at a cost. Costs can be managed. Costs can be financed. Costs can be planned and budgeted. Costs shouldn’t be scary. This message isn’t about managing costs, however—it’s about wisely allocating costs. It’s more important to understand the benefits of a good automation:
- Automation can leverage the reliability of computer processes to eliminate human mistakes.
- Automation can screen for predictable problems and proactively fix, interrupt, tattle, validate, or otherwise require manual intervention.
- Schedule repetitive tasks with error reporting.
- Enhanced employee productivity
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Lower overall and direct costs
- Fewer quality control issues
- Better information and reporting for decision making
- Revenues can grow faster than the need for new employees with automation. Automation can enable existing employees to leverage their knowledge and skills in ways that so that new hires may not be necessary during extreme growth periods.
While some of these positive results might be abstract and difficult to monetize, automations often relieve pressure from employees and let them focus their attention on more productive, more interesting, and more fulfilling activities and tasks.
As automation is implemented in an organization, the maintenance of systems can be problematic if not managed properly. Some things that help with reducing maintenance costs:
- Use technology that’s widely available and popular. (Try to stay away from hardware or operating systems that aren’t supported by a large population base.) Technology with wide support will offer lower-cost maintenance options.
- Cheaper isn’t necessarily better on the purchase. A quality product will behave better/longer/more reliably than a cheap one.
- Documentation is important—using collaboration tools like Trello, SharePoint, OneNote, DropBox, etc. in a consistent and organized way eliminates many headaches. Document system configurations, user procedures, and system requirements.
- Error Handling—anticipate and build speed bumps, ladders, jaws of life, sledgehammers, or any other tool that would help to identify, evade, eliminate, avoid, or destroy problems.
- Continuous refinement—don’t be afraid to improve and adjust. Make feedback mechanisms and proper refinements in an agile manner.
- The available talent to create the automation might not be able to complete the project on time/on budget.
- There might be new problems caused by the automation that NEVER would have happened using manual processes.
- The people who created the automation might not be available in the future to help if something goes wrong.
- The automation might expose us to a legal risk.
In most reality-based situations, much of the perceived risk of automating isn’t ACTUALLY additional risk—the risk ALSO exists in the manual process (although often in a slightly different form). The real problem is often that the fear of the unknown (automation) is greater than the fear of the known (manual). It’s easy to downplay the risks of doing things the same old way. It’s easy to exaggerate the fear from the risks of creating an automation.
A good strategy for understanding the real impact of risk is a simple cost-benefit analysis of both the existing manual processes and the proposed automation. By evaluating both scenarios against the same risk factors, incorrect (fear-based) analysis can be avoided.
Let’s face it. Technology is a big part of our lives. Our customers rely on it. Our co-workers rely on it. We trust it.
Is a $50,000 investment in warehouse management equipment too much? (If inventory is enough to require $50,000 to automate, then yes—there will be benefits from optimizing inventory costs, removing supply outages, eliminating shipping mistakes, etc.)
Is $10,000 in financial or management reports too much to invest in better information? (A single report could easily and permanently eliminate supply chain problems that could cause $10,000 per day in inefficiencies.)
Is a $2,000 to $3,000 per month subscription to a cloud-based business operating system too much? (It’s a weird mental transition, but there’s a strong chance you’re ALREADY paying close to that in maintenance fees on your OLD system that you had to front $100K+ for 5 years ago… It feels weird to not own the new software outright, but if you look at your old software’s license, you didn’t really own it either—you just probably paid extra up front for the privilege of paying yearly maintenance fees to use a license.)
Moving Walkways and Automation
Automation doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s easy to automate small tasks. As you find and eliminate small problems, your processes will take on a different feel.
Instead of having a “break and replace” feel, good feedback mechanisms (through automation) will start to bring new life into your processes. It often starts subtly, but a new life and enthusiasm can occur within teams that will naturally cause process refinement.
Why? People’s jobs get easier, and they start looking for ways to make it easier. Once they understand processes CAN be improved (and they’ve been given hope that it’s possible for them to EFFECT change), people LIKE to be part of a successful team.
Many organizations have found that implementing new systems (automation) all at once can be traumatic. When a gradual approach to change CAN be implemented, a higher-overall project success rate will naturally occur. Good planning is key to rolling out changes in logical, actionable waves.
Rather than ALL AT ONCE:
- Implement an out-of-the-box, industry-standard solution. This replaces current functionality, and any gaps between old system and new are handled manually in the short term. Certain setups are required (like invoice layouts), but process modifications are kept to mission-critical items only.
- Once stability has been achieved and tested in the new system, repair functionality gaps in the new system. Often these are integrations with EDI (that users have been faithfully entering manually through a website), integrations with a payroll system, credit card integrations, BI analysis tools, or specialized reports.
- Begin to utilize the additional, innovative technology features the new systems provide. This is where many organizations fall short—by investing in new technology, new features are available. If things are done EXACTLY the same way they were before the change, we’re failing to take FULL advantage of our investment.
- Once the new software is fully understood, find ways to optimize processes. Allow your creativity to take over and find new ways to leverage the software to improve your business processes. Talk to your vendors and customers and see if there are new options for tighter collaboration. Enable key employees to design their own data tools to help their job functions—develop a culture of “continuous improvement” driven by users—not by management or IT.
- Utilize experts to customize and integrate your system. There are people who have “seen it all before”. Hundreds or thousands of times—they can help. (Hint—find a Contact link on this page…)
- Later Add Richard’s famous “F7” key functionality he’s never been able to live without (since Visicalc). This gives Richard a chance to use the new software and fully understand its core purposes. Often Richard’s “F7” key falls to the side because newer technology allows for a much more honed solution that he wouldn’t have previously comprehended.