Can the System do….X

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The other day I was asked to liaise with a representative of an accounts package with the aim of transferring data from the custom system I had created to their system. The system I had created had many specific features that produced the very detailed information the client needed to have appear on the invoice.. compliance data, specific product codes etc.

As the meeting progressed I asked a series of questions about the ability of the off the shelf package to receive data in various formats to meet the client’s requirements. The answer time and again was: “No – we can’t do that”. Could it be done if they modified the system? Again – “No – we can’t do that”.

In the end I did a bit of work at my end and we were able to produce what was needed by presenting the other system with the data pre-formatted as required.

This got me thinking…. Is it better to ask if a system can do a certain task and be told “No” or to ask the same question and receive the answer – “No! But it could do”.

If the system could be modified within days, sometimes hours, to meet the new requirement would that not be useful?

I often see clients develop coping mechanisms when their systems cannot do what they need it to. This starts a proliferation of spreadsheets and sub-systems and a whole new task of cross checking is created. (Since, in the process of transferring data to the sub-system errors creep in…)

This is a business owner’s nightmare from day one.

Now of course I would say that being able to modify the system is preferable – but then as I was writing this very piece – the phone rang.

So for the next hour I will be making a change to a system that will save the client (and in turn their client) an hour a week per staff member.

Let me refer you back to my previous article…daft figures…

daft figures

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A client asked me to have a look at a task that their staff have to carry out every week. It takes them 1 hour to do. It cost them just £120 for me to make a change that removed the need to do the task – at all.

When I had completed the coding work I was throwing out my junk mail and noticed an offer for a high interest bank account offering…

1.36%.

Instead of my client dropping £120 into a bank account the client had handed it to me and in turn I had removed the need to spend an hour every week doing a very boring task. The staff are estimated to be worth at least £100 per hour. so they had just saved £5,200 a year on this staff member – but there were 20 staff carrying out this task. That is £104,000 a year that they no longer had to spend… for a cost of £120. The return on investment =

86,666%

Imagine if they had had to spend an hour a day (instead of a week) or had more staff carrying out the task.

The coding was good for all of time – so this saving will be taking place every year.

What if the task had taken longer or there had been more staff?

Improving your data processing functions saves money. Lots of it. Start with a system that can respond to your specific needs and which can let you make changes quickly.

What tasks do you have that take a long time, frequently that could be automated? Sometimes clients are so used to having the task carried out they have not questioned if a human needs to be involved at all.

What could you do with the time that the removal of this task would give you back?

More changes…

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“Then the client may phone up and change their mind, then we find out that the last one in stock is damaged so we have to change it again, then we might find that the truck driver is ill, then we might find that the consignment needs to be moved to another truck run, then the client might not be at home or rejects the delivery….”

All of this can be handled and contingencies put in place by a good system and this is fine. But why do the changes take place?  What are the changes taking place, how often do they happen and which of them can be predicted and avoided or reduced?

If your system could start alerting you to the likelihood of changes being needed and if it could give you feedback on the numbers of points of failure and nature of failure would that be useful?

This process of improvement never stops and it is both necessary and beneficial. It also applies to all types of business and data management.

What data are you processing needlessly?

Well, ok, just one more tweak….

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This chart represents just 4 figures 30%, 30%, 30% and 10% and can be produced in a variety of ways. The user can create the chart and enter the four figures. Or, if the system is a bit smarter, the data can be drawn down from a database where the live figures are being recorded.

So apart from the time spent creating the chart and getting the look right your staff could be spending a lot of time collecting the data to ensure that the slices are right. What if the system did this for you as well?

We recently produced a report where for each active design project the project managers wanted to know at what stage the procurement was for several different categories of product (lighting, furniture etc.) With over 10 projects running at any time this could have meant days of work and the whole thing could have been out of date before it had been assembled.

The system we created required automatically produced the reports and emails for each project were sent to the relevant project managers giving them an up to date report. Wherever they were on the planet.

It could be that simple.

Just insert this….

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You have a tried and tested process – but legislation changes, or office policy changes, or you just want to see if things could be done better. To do this you need a new step in your system. How quickly can you get it implemented, indeed, can you get it implemented without having to resort to an external system.

I often see companies that have had such a change and as a result they have multiple systems – some that do part A, C and D but, part B – the system could not do, so they do it in Excel – that wonderful catch all.

Except…. to get part B to work, data has to come out of the main system (cue endless checks and cross checks) then it has to go back in for parts C and D (more checks).

After a few years the system is no longer a system. It is a nightmarish collection of applications and Excel spreadsheets and usually there is one person (only one) who knows how it all works.

The right kind of custom solution could make the nightmares stop. Find a system developer to help.

Just one more tweak…

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It took me 3 minutes to produce this graphic using my Sharpies, 1 minute to scan it, 10 minutes to get it to be the right size for this post…. that is ok it is a one off. However I watch in horror as I see clients spending more time correcting data and formatting it for presentation than it took to assemble the data to start with. This would be acceptable if these were one off reports, they need time to digest and look right, but this is less acceptable if the document is produced regularly. Sometimes every hour or so. I am thinking of quotes and invoices being adjusted in Word and Excel. After the data entry and automated error checking – formatting could be a time waster that could be dropped. What would gaining a third of your time back save you? What would adding a further third by automated error checking do? If you watch your staff do this – or worse still are having to do it yourself – it may be time to get a system in place.