This text does not intend to make theories, but to propose actions for very practical business matters. I would like it to be short, as advised by experts, but it’s not. In the real world, big problems do not have short answers. So, thanks in advance for being patient.
We can devise a solution for Business Automation if we understand why it fails. And it will stop failing if we understand what Business Automation really is. So, let’s try to define what Business Automations is, and all our inefficiencies will start to emerge before our eyes. Afterwards we can proceed to the required actions.
Defining Business Automation
Business automation is a “human/equipment engine” that works in real time. This engine’s operation is predictable, controllable and changeable, also in real time. But the expression “human engine” is a bad one! So let’s replace it with the term “company team”. The need that leads to this “company team”, which works predictably, controllably and changeably in real time, will define the key factors that are imperative to coexist.
The need for automation is driven by the market competition. Companies are led to the top because they offer products and services of high quality at a low cost. Companies are also led to the top because they differentiate from the competition. We should point out this “differentiation”, because it affects not only the “low cost” and “high quality”, but also the company-knowhow. Simply, successful companies know how to do it! Apparently they have optimized their critical processes. But let’s continue the analysis of the key factors “high quality” and “low cost”. This will lead us to the final and decisive perspective on the business automation key factors.
What is needed in order to produce high quality products?
Well, a high quality product should have:
- well defined specification accompanied by a lot of numbers and descriptions
- Bill of Materials, which is also a chunk of numbers and descriptions
- list of suppliers accompanied with prices and descriptions
- production machines standards and regulations that are numbers and descriptions
- storage positions defined as numbers and descriptions
- list of customers accompanied with pricing policies and descriptions
- usage and handling leaflets or booklets as documents
We refer to all those numbers, prices, descriptions and documents as “data”.
So, in order to produce high quality products we need first to produce high quality data. In reality every first class product needs a lot of high quality data during its path to the market. And where are these data produced?
In order to produce data the company needs “white collar” workers. The “white collar” workers “consume” – they actually “read” or “hear” - data and then input on forms, documents or data sheets the product of their effort i.e. new data! In reality the increasing ratio of “white collar” workers to “blue collar” ones, reflects the growing importance of mass data production in our economy. Until here we have established, I hope, a grounded knowledge that high quality products need a lot of high quality data. Let’s examine now the factor “low cost”.
What is needed in order to keep the cost low?
Well, a high quality product can be produced in low cost when, among others:
- there is in time delivery from the suppliers in order to gain storage space
- products are delivered as soon as possible in order to reduce lead times
- post production quality tests finish as soon as possible in order to gain workshop floor time
- cost estimation for customized products is delivered as soon as possible to production
- the supply chain evolves fast in order to gain time
- the order-production-delivery chain evolves fast in order to gain time
- market research is exhaustive, in order to find lower prices (data) for materials and components with the same specification
- R&D is innovative enough, in order to device BOMs (data) using less raw material, but with the required properties
Most of the above lead to time gains, but all of them need more data again.
So, in order to achieve low cost it’s necessary to run the show at a higher speed. This is obvious because there are many business costs that are fixed over time. The higher speed is required not only for the materials production and transferring from position to position, but also for data production and transferring. Naturally time is gained if the activity itself, in any position, is executed faster. Summarizing time is gained – and cost is lowered – when data move fast from position to position. Additionally the on-activities staying time must be measured in order to be optimized (minimized!).
Understanding Business Automation
From the above we conclude that:
A Company produces high quality products at low cost in order to excel in market competition. This is achieved when the company consumes large amounts of data, produces large amounts of data and transfers these data effectively. And all this is done at high speeds. As long as the above are met we say that the company is automated. In an automated company all the workers - blue and white collars alike – are aligned in “data production” lines.
These data production lines should be changeable in real time, so that the company stays versatile and is able to adjust to market requests. The changeability in real time is another important measure of company’s automation.
Last, but not least, factor of a successful automation is to run those “data production” lines respecting the company’s reality. There must not be any compromising on the implementation of the actual processes that take place.
In order to deepen this “company team” understanding we recapitalize:
People are acting perfectly if they have the right data at the right time. White collars, in order to negotiate with suppliers efficiently, need the right data at the right time. Blue collars, to handle materials optimally, need the right data at the right time. Blue collars, in order to handle machines optimally and safely, need the right data at the right time. Manufacturing of quality products needs a lot of quality data at the right time. Excellent service to customers needs a lot of quality data at the right time.
It is all about high speed, great quality and low cost “data production”!
This engine must not display time delays, loss of data, spare data and inefficient data moves. This engine has not only to work in a predictable and controllable manner, but must also be changeable. Any engine changes should occur in real time. In order for the engine to operate at high speeds, uniformity and continuity must be present all over it. Breaking the engine’s continuity we break the “data production” lines and insert time delays. All these data production lines are inter-departmental, crossing more than one of the company’s departments.
So, we need one continuous all over the company fast “data production” engine.
What we did wrong
Having now a reasoned understanding of what company automation is, let’s judge our previous efforts toward this target.
What breaks the “data production” lines?
A lot of software applications are running in the company:
- The Production Management is a separate application.
- There is a separate CRM application.
- Some applications are hired as “Software as a Service”.
- The Mail Management is supported by a separate application.
- The Document Manager is a different application.
And to support the above list, which shouldn’t be considered as exhaustive, a lot of data sheets are used to fill in data.
What lowers speed, bringing thus time delays?
There is no control on when data are stored and forwarded by the users.
Contacts and Businesses correspondence are difficult to trace and follow.
What hurts uniformity and continuity?
The mail files are spread in directories on user computers.
The data are stored in more than one database.
In-company custom applications are using other separate databases.
Applications are not process oriented.
What makes the machine unchangeable in real time?
Applications are monolithic having no way to be customized.
Any custom programming has to be implemented by hard coding standard programming tools.
Applications forms are part of the executable program.
Applications upgrades require client software installation to all users.
Major system changes are accompanied by business life disturbance and often steps back.
Changes required by business demands require long time in programming and/or client software change.
Applications are outsourced and delivered after months failing to follow requirements
Thus, any developing team into the company cannot overpass the ever changing business demand.
What makes the machine uncontrollable?
Company’s organization is not supported by the running applications.
There is no meaning of business administration in the company’s applications.
User activities are not related to roles into the company.
What compromises real processes?
Processes can only be designed with compromises against real business life.
In order to recapitalize our understanding on wrong practices, let’s try to put some critical questions. Is it possible for a company to achieve automation by:
- Stop on Friday as non-automated and start on Monday as an automated one?
- Using an already implemented automation from another company?
- Install the automation over one night?
- Stop working until the automation is implemented?
- Assigning to a software company to do the automation? How will the knowhow be passed?
- Letting every department choose their “specialized” software?
- Letting some departments hire Software as a Service solution?
- Letting every department manager “draw” its “own” processes in a modern process design tool?
- Letting users keep their data sheets for data storage?
- Letting users store and forward data whenever is appropriate for them?
Based on our automation definition and understanding, to all those questions the answer is no!
The Right path to implement Business Automation
According to the Bible, even mighty God needed six days to create the World. So we must be patient. Our business automation building is a long lasting transformation process and not a spontaneous company metamorphosis! Here we take as given that our company is existent and that is already in operation, in a non-automated mode. Now let’s define our task force.
The automation task force
A capable manager, who has the role of Chief Process Officer, leads one or more developers. It would be better if the CPO and the team of developers come from within the company. This is because in each company, a widely acceptable vocabulary that corresponds to certain meanings is already used. That means that our automation team already knows or feels the everyday life in the company. So, all the needed communication to define the processes and the data stays at a minimum. Another good reason to be from within the company is that they would not be considered as a threat, from their fellow associates.
The automation task need not be the sole job assignment for our team. We can build the automation at our pace. So, there is no excuse for small companies, which cannot have the luxury for a dedicated team, to not automate.
In case there is no programmer available, it wouldn’t be a problem as soon as there is a power user with a sound understanding of querying databases. As long as this individual has a strong attitude to learn and build new things, it’s ok! He is the right candidate for the platform we will introduce later. After all, to know how to program is one thing, but to know what to program is another. And our interest is focused on the second.
Here we have to say that the CPO must also have an understanding about data. We must remember that the automation is nothing else than fast data production. After all a process can be seen as a series of operations where data are produced!
Concluding, people from inside the company know and feel better the processes, unrevealed and un-automated initially. They know also better the company vocabulary and specific meaning of words and expressions. They learn company news faster and more accurately. If we provide them with the proper productive tool and guidance they will do it better.
The path towards automation
Right away! We believe that business automation has to be evolved by implementing a single process at a time. And why is this needed? Because we can see that this approach assures the smaller and safer changes in the company’s everyday life. The preferred path is to automate first the processes that stay in the periphery of the business and then proceed with the business core processes. The later ones require more diverse data in order to work, so implementing them at an early stage, may lead to dysfunctions and failures. This approach assures that the users get used and trained in less intensive activities, before they are exposed to more critical ones. The same is valid for the company’s developing team.
Initially, processes should be developed as they are implemented in the company. This assures an acceptance from the fellow associates. Optimizing by redeveloping could be done at a later stage, when the automation is accepted and more feedback is available. This is a relentless process that lasts as long as the company exists!
The path to differentiation
Only the creators of things can have complete knowledge of them. The company differentiation is nothing else but “pure knowledge” about how things are running. So our in-house team can discover the company during its transformation from non-automated to an automated one. And during this process they rewrite processes while their understanding deepens. This is the factor that leads to “differentiation” and to the top of the market.
The proper platform for implementing automation
Now, our team needs an appropriate and productive software platform in order to implement this high speed, controllable, but also changeable, data production engine. Do you remember our promise, that this message will not be a theoretical one? Well, here is the proof. We mean to offer you something useful. Let’s examine its features.
The kosmos/BOS, i.e. “Business Operating System”
What do we mean by “Business Operating System” and what is its purpose?
It’s a ready to use business infrastructure platform. This business infrastructure is designable and programmable in every aspect. It’s a business oriented software and not a generic programming tool. It’s a highly productive software platform, which can lead to company’s automation.
The heart of kosmos/BOS is an application server that is connected to the company’s database and contains all the business logic. Users are connected to the application server, over internet, by using very thin clients.
More specifically kosmos/BOS technology has the following features:
- Contains ready to use processes
- User can assign tasks from the first day the system is installed
- User can get/send mails
- User can attach files to forms
- User can schedule assigned Activities
- Contains a standard database, which is expandable
- Handles all mail and attached files as documents
- Has the Asterisk PBX telephony technology embedded
- Attaches any correspondence to Contacts and Businesses
- All basic business data can be imported from data sheets
- Administrator implements the CPO role in the company
- Can design and support the company’s organizational chart
- Developer can customize nearly everything
- Forms are designable
- Forms are not part of the executable file, so client upgrades are not necessary
- Processes can be scripted to follow real business life
- Processes workflows can be changed without user noticing
- Produces the operations manual of the company
- New processes can be added or modified by trained developers
- New entities can be added or existing expanded in order to cover the business needs
- Processes are recorded relative to Products, Employees, Customers, Vendors, Equipment and whatever new entity is added to the system
- Every Process can start as a child process over an open Activity (task)
- Every Activity can be scheduled (calendar)
- The scheduling of a big number of activities can be optimized against Resources (case of production)
- The incoming mails become documents and their attachments files become also documents
- The incoming mail can be characterized and new Processes can start on them
- Developers can be trained and reuse all existent code and designs
- Includes Report Designer
- Enterprise e-Mail Management
- Incorporates Activity Based Costing (ABC),
- Metrics and Targets,
- Balanced Scorecards (BSC)
You don't need a separate ERP, CRM, PPC, Document Management, Mail Manager or whatever (of the usual applications) in order to operate correctly your business.
Its mission is to make the data production, data transfer and data consumption in a company fully automated. Its minimal support team consists by an ambitious and capable Manager who can play the role of CPO and an open minded Developer. A team like this can automate fast and efficiently every process in the company. We can assure you that the developing team’s offered product will soon be overpassing the demand from the various departments. And all of that without any compromise to real business life!
Introduction of kosmos/BOS in your company can be financially attractive, as the software is paid on a monthly basis.
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