Waiting for the robots? You could be more productive

Published on August 28, 2018 by Tim Misson

Posted in Business

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No doubt, the robots are coming: AI and automation will change the business environment beyond recognition. Until then we face human problems, many of which can be fixed.

There’s a lot of talk about how the robots are coming for our jobs. Depending on your perspective that could be a great thing, or a dystopian novel come true. Either way, for most of us it’s some way off, and in the meantime it’s not like we’ve sorted out all our messy human problems. Because people are random, and even finely tuned machines aren’t anything like finely tuned machines.

In a typical business, inefficient human processes and behaviours have a productivity cost that can be the difference between success or failure. If the average business focused on productivity – really chasing down and removing inefficiencies in its processes – the result would be lower costs, increased profitability, and a competitive advantage that could deliver growth and ensure stability.

In some applications, robots can already be part of that – they can shift pallets around and help build cars or ink cartridges – but we’re still many years away from AI that can be trusted to deal with the highly bespoke structure, processes and demands of the majority of administrative tasks currently performed by humans within business.

Working outside the system

For at least the medium-term future, the biggest potential for increasing productivity in most businesses lies in removing clutter and inefficiencies from human processes, and for that, software is our most powerful tool. It’s a rare business these days that operates without software systems, but it’s astonishing how often they’re a source of frustration and inefficiency, rather than a frictionless, enabling platform.

In our work we see a lot of business software gone wrong: off-the-shelf packages that don’t match how a business actually works, custom software that’s been outgrown, or just old systems in desperate need of being updated and secured (or binned altogether). The results are usually the same: humans are resourceful, and when their tools are blunted they’ll invent workarounds and kludges to get the job done.

What am I talking about? We’ve seen ad-hoc, manually updated spreadsheets. People running between departments with sheaves of paper because they can’t share an original. Documents saved – then lost – in network folders. Warehouse staff making paper notes because it’s easier, and companies losing track of their bottom line because their quotations are hopelessly reliant on iterative, manual work.

These workarounds aren’t just inefficient and error prone: the business loses track of employees working outside the system, so visibility, analytics and management information all suffer. In other words, your staff are wasting time implementing poor solutions to bad software, and you might not even see it.

Unleashing productivity

We find these kinds of problems even in streamlined, agile businesses – look closely enough and they’re almost always there, sapping energy and undermining productivity. Maybe you recognise similar issues in your own organisation: wouldn’t it be great to fix some of this stuff now, rather than in 10 years, and for much less than it’ll cost to bring in a bunch of Daleks?

Modern, custom-built software can be a transformative tool to a business. Whether it’s a self-contained system dealing with a specific aspect like warehousing or scheduling, or a complete line-of-business solution designed to integrate, support and streamline processes across the organisation. Beyond the quest to improve efficiency and productivity, better tools let staff refocus their creativity, boosting morale, and helping them and the business achieve more.

When it comes to choosing software, many businesses assume that that an off-the-shelf solution is a ‘safe bet’ which will do everything they need. Sometimes it will, but the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach won’t always scratch all of your itches and you’re likely to end up paying for a whole raft of features and functionality you never use (and wishing there were others that you could). Often it will look like it does, but that may only be a subset of what’s possible with software written specifically to enable your business.

There’s also the question of cost. Off-the-shelf solutions can often appear cheaper at first glance, but add in ongoing licensing, support and the inevitable implementation consultancy and customisation requirements and sometimes they’re not – we’ve delivered custom systems for around half the price of the industry-leading off-the-shelf solution.

Returning to the point, fixing productivity in your business isn’t a case of waiting for the robots. There are tangible and significant productivity gains hiding in the processes of any business, and many years before AI can solve them. That’s a lot of time in which to reap the benefit of investing in streamlined, capable and flexible software systems, designed precisely for how your business works – for a fraction of the cost.

If you’re wasting time working outside of your systems, struggling to fit an industry-standard solution to your non-standard enterprise, or simply need software experts to help deliver a vision, get in touch.

photo credit: asvensson REEM Robot via photopin (license)