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How and When to Automate Your Small Business

Part One in a new series

Everyone talks about using software to automate their business, but few actually are doing it. Even fewer are doing it well.

The problem is that automating processes with software seems like a daunting task. Not only do you have to dive into the details of your business process, but someone has to become an expert in enabling technologies and then bridge the two disciplines.

My opinion is that organizations rarely push software automation more than 20 percent of the way into their process. They trudge forward doing things the way they've always been done or applying stopgap measures as a need arises. In the end, the employees dutifully perform their double entry, the managers work without the information that could enable them to work more efficiently and the decision makers feel disaffected by technology and as though they have to constantly compromise their expectations.

Don't take my word for it, just look around.

How many things in your office are double entered?

How often does a customer call seeking information that exists "somewhere else" in the organization?

How much time is a sales person spending creating a quote substantially similar to the last one they created?

If there were a clearer way to identify a believable cost saving or revenue growth opportunity as a result of software, then business value for the project could clearly be established, and those problems would disappear.

The trigger for any automation project needs to be ROI, return on investment. If the project leads to a bigger bottom line -- with a consideration for project risk -- then the project should be undertaken. If the ROI isn't clear, then there's no reason to do it.

There are many vendors who will happily provide you the cost side of the ROI formula. The issue arises in assessing a true monetary that results from the project.

If you knew for an absolute fact that as a result of an automation project your salespeople would become 20 percent more productive and therefore increase their sales by even just 5 percent, what is that worth to you? However, most organizations find it difficult to put a dollar figure on the benefit potential of software automation, making it very hard to justify.

This series of articles will walk through the business cycle, beginning with sales then moving through operations, inventory and ultimately billing. For each area of the cycle, I'll look at common signs and symptoms that suggest particular business processes may benefit from a software makeover. I'll talk about the types of automation forward-thinking organizations commonly enjoy within that business function. Finally, I'll discuss some mental calculations you can make when trying to determine ROI.

The end result should be that you can look at your processes with a higher level of confidence about whether they represent something that may benefit from software automation.

This was originally posted on the Central Penn Business Journal's Gadget Cube Blog.

More Stories By Treff LaPlante

Treff LaPlante has been involved with technology for nearly 20 years. At WorkXpress, he passionately drives the vision of making customized enterprise software easy, fast, and affordable.

Prior to joining WorkXpress, Treff was director of operations for eBay's HomesDirect. While there, he created strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and national broker networks and began his foray into the development of flexible workflow software technologies. He served on the management team that sold HomesDirect to eBay.

During his time at Vivendi-Universal Interactive, Treff was director of strategy. In addition to M&A activities, Treff broadly applied quantitative management principles to sales, marketing, and product line functions. Treff served as the point person for the management team that sold Cendant Software to Vivendi-Universal. Earlier positions included product management and national sales trainer for Energy Design Systems, an engineering software company. Treff began his professional career as a metals trader for Randall Trading Corp, a commodities firm that specialized in bartering and transporting various metals and coal from the then-dissolving Soviet Union.

Treff received his MBA from Pepperdine University and a BS in chemical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.workxpress.com

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