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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
The supply chain evolves fast in order to gain time
The 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 Email 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 Email 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 .
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 Mykosmos/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 Mykosmos/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 Mykosmos/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 attach files to forms
User can schedule assigned Activities
Contains a standard database, which is expandable
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 Email 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 Email Management
Incorporates Activity Based Costing (ABC),
Metrics and Targets,
Balanced Scorecards (BSC)
You don't need a separate ERP, CRM, PPC, Document Management, Email 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 variou. And all of that without any compromise to real business life!
Don’t throw away years of your Business knowhow build up!
Every Company has built special software applications and spreadsheets in order to service various business needs. Those needs maybe never found a way to the company’s central management but they covered locally by skilled and ambitious employees. Others have built as a central management decision, but because they solve always a specific problem, they never got the attention for global business integration that in reality was required. All those years of knowhow build up, via application and spreadsheet programming, is a living reality into every company.
But this business knowhow build up comes at a ‘price’. There are problems concerning the coordination of activities and unification of data. Those deficiencies are ‘covered’ by the everyday effort of company employees. Some times this situation is not considered as a problem but rather as a pretty normal business necessity. Another serious problem arouses from the fact that this business knowhow build up is scattered and so very poorly utilized for further developments.
So we have an existent situation (1) where “There are applications and spreadsheets that ‘cooperate’ with the employees and make the company a living and prosperous organization.”
We need to go to an objective situation (2) where “There would be activities coordination and data unification throughout the company that will embody all the knowhow that is now embodied into the various applications and spreadsheets. There is need this to be happen in the near future, the transition have to be the smoothest possible and the cost must be reasonable.”
Here we propose a safe path to this objective because we have the proper tools and the proper methodology.
Keep applications databases as they are, if are modern SQL ones.
Transfer applications databases to an SQL one if they are not SQL enabled.
Rewrite the application Forms as lookalike Mykosmos forms.
Pass spreadsheet data to Database Tables where necessary.
Pass spreadsheet data to lookalike Mykosmos forms.
Pass spreadsheet formula calculations as in-form AutoScript.
Reveal Business Processes and implement Activities in the unified Mykosmos application.
Compile automatically the Developer’s Manual for the Mykosmos application.
Compile automatically the Company’s Operations Manual.
We can transfer all your knowledge ‘compiled’ to you, in order your Mykosmos team can improve it and change it further (but being now BPM enabled and Data Unified).
No need for extensive meetings to transfer knowhow. Database, Code and Spreadsheets contain most.
Reveal Business Processes one by one and automate previously ‘static’ data forms.
Get Usage of nearly all existing reporting.
Unify all your applications and spreadsheets in one business-wide application.
Get BPM out of the old data processing, by automate processes one by one.