Every business has yet to automate some part of their business. These tend to be less critical but still have an impact on the business – if only in the fact that it takes more time than it should. Some of the more common manual processes include:
- Time sheets and expense reimbursement
- Sales commission calculations
- Product and service quotes and estimates
- Non-stock inventory management
- Purchase Order requisitions
- Vacation or time off requests and approvals
- Maintenance and help desk requests
- Budgeting and business planning
- Forecasting and demand planning
- Asset tracking and depreciation
- Employee and resource scheduling
A good way to identify manual processes that haven’t been automated is to look for spreadsheets. They’re a tell-tale sign that you’re managing something manually. Sometimes the data in the spreadsheet comes from a live business application (which is great) and other times the spreadsheet is simply used to analyze the results of data from a live business application (which can also be acceptable). The problem is where you have spreadsheets or documents that are static – they aren’t connected to any other data source and the information in them is entered manually and never imported into another system.
There could very good reasons for managing a process manually rather than through an automated system. It could be cost-prohibitive or there may not be enough downside to continuing with the manual process. This is fine and very acceptable as we don’t have to automate everything in our lives or in our businesses – only those things that make sense. But there will be some processes that could easily be automated given the technologies you already own or products available on the market that cost very little to acquire and to use.
For example, there are many very good applications on the market for expense management. Some of these applications cost as little as pennies per transaction and integrate directly to your accounting software. They allow employees to take photos of receipts, add notes, and upload the receipts directly via their smart phones to your accounting software for review. Seems like a nice way to automate manual processes – especially for companies with a lot of employees or a lot of reimbursable employee expenses.
Another great example is in the area of accounts payable. There again are several systems on the market that cost very little to setup and then a small fee for every vendor invoice that is processed through the application. These systems capture the incoming vendor invoice, code them to the correct general ledger account, and route them for internal approval for vouchering and payment inside your accounting software. This is one area where many companies really need to automate the process since payables is such a paper-intensive process.
One last example is for accounts receivable. Many small companies rely on their accounting systems to create invoices but still print and mail invoices to customers via the mail (or potentially via email). This lengthens the time it takes for customers to receive their bill and forces them to enter the information into their system to process it for payment – typically via check which prolongs the process even further. There are many great automation products on the market today like Anytime Collect which sync invoices from your accounting system, send them automatically to customers, and include a link that the customer can click to pay their bills online safely and securely via ACH or credit card. Some can even send out reminders when invoices are coming due as well as late notices and prioritized call lists for accounts receivable professionals when invoices start to age.
Technology is moving faster than ever. If you don’t think there’s a way to automate something and there wasn’t just a few years ago – there probably is a better way today. You may have a hard time finding it but talk to your software vendors and ask peers in your industry and you’re going to find a lot of new technologies that can make your life so much easier.