Business efficiency: Curating repetitive tasks

 

Last month we talked about how technology can bring the benefits of self service to the B2B world. Our topic this month is about using technology to curate repetitive tasks.  Now this might sound as mundane as technology gets, but you’d be surprised by how many processes we carry out every day, that are the result of many years if not decades of evolution. And over time, these processes can become like “weedy gardens.”

A distribution business comes to mind that was established over sixty years ago. Pricing and order taking are one of its core business processes carried out dozens of times every week. However, over those sixty-odd years, various sales people, sales clerks and even the directors had come up with their own variations to match their own circumstances and preferences.

These variations were taught to new staff over the years in an ad hoc fashion. It turned out that over a dozen variations existed and no single staff member knew more than half of them.

Technology can help to streamline the situation, preventing ad hoc variations from springing up, eliminating surprises and making it easy to bring new staff on board with minimal training.

Another distribution business has seen the number of costly errors fall considerably since they implemented a custom software inventory control system that suited their industry specific requirements. Technology has transformed stock control and inventory management.  Technology can be used to enforce good practices, requiring staff to check items in and out of storage, automatically checking purchase orders against consignment notes, and packing slips and finally requiring delivery notes to be signed off.  

There was a contracting business that used to have significant inconsistencies in the profitability of its jobs and they realized that the source of variation primarily came from the way they did their quotations.  Each engineer was using a different method for estimating labor for each job. By developing a quotation system tailored to their products, services and industry they were able to reduce the number of loss-making projects and saw an overall improvement to their bottom line.

If these problems resonate with you, then we recommend that you:

  1. Start documenting your internal business process.
  2. Gain broad agreement on what the “correct” process should be.
  3. Identify whether there is a problem.
  4. Assess whether technology is the right solution.

Business processes are like a garden.  Without good systems, training and discipline, new variations can sprout like weeds.

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