As the past year has taught us, now more than ever, businesses need to be adaptable and able to change operations on a dime; finding new ways to be effective in remote environments and create operating efficiencies by automating ordinary day-to-day business functions. From the flexibility of what once could only be found at Silicon Valley type businesses, being able to work from anywhere and run an effective business remotely has had to become the norm for all types of businesses due to the Pandemic. For many businesses that were stuck in their traditional ways, this was truly an intimidating task, but it does not have to be. The main point is that automation does not need to be, nor should be, complicated to be effective. Complicated systems require more maintenance, more staff training, and more manpower to run. This could result in more breakdowns which can discourage and un-motivate you and your team to continue to explore automation. Start simple and build momentum, this will naturally begin creating a culture within your company that embraces increased automation. Small milestones and successes in the beginning will snowball and become infectious among team members.
So where do you start? Effective brainstorming to identify areas where automation may be most beneficial within your organization. First identify your major business functions/cycles such as service delivery, payroll, sales/revenue, accounts payable cycle, reporting, information tracking, communications, CRM, marketing, etc. Carefully look at each step in the functions/cycles you identified and look for problems or breakdowns that are occurring. For instance: Is there repetition in any of these areas that can be eliminated? Are there very labor-intensive components that can be streamlined? Is key decision-making information not available or not appropriately tracked? Is information not readily available to staff working off-site? Are you creating workarounds in Excel or some other application? Make sure when you hold your brainstorming sessions, all stakeholders are present. Too often we see brainstorming sessions not include lower level staff that are in the trenches who can be invaluable in pointing our where potential problems and bottlenecks are occurring.
Ultimately, your goal is to see where you can automate in each system. Here are some ideas in three of the core fiscal systems.
Times have changed. The old punch in and out systems have been replaced with new technology and mobile solutions where employees can be geo-fenced to clock in and out directly from their own mobile device within a certain geographical area (this is very important for employees that do not report to a centralized office every day). For additional security a physical unit such as a bio-metric system, where a simple palm print, fingerprint, or even a retinal scan can be used to identify employees and ensure no one is clocking in and out of your business for someone else. Time management systems are more sophisticated these days to break down information by department, by employee job codes (if employee has multiple job titles), and are even able to handle PTO requests. Many times, this information is being tracked using spreadsheets, which are not only susceptible to human error but also add additional time and energy to ensure their accuracy. Time management systems can now be set up to handle all this information where employees can request their PTO in a single place, an automatic notification is sent to their direct supervisor, in real time, requiring review and approval and it is then logged and tracked. This is a huge time saver as the whole process is now in a single location, no paperwork to worry about, and it is stored in a central location. In addition, in many cases, management systems can be integrated with most payroll providers so that all information can be transferred directly to payroll records, resulting in a much more streamlined payroll process. Furthermore, most payroll providers can integrate directly with various accounting systems allowing for a seamless recordkeeping and recording of payroll. These are only some of the many examples of how the payroll process can be automated to save your company time and money and increase overall accuracy.
Businesses can vary greatly as to the type and number of revenue transactions that are booked into their accounting records, however they all need to ensure that these transactions are properly recorded in such a way as to afford management the information necessary to make appropriate operational decisions and to ensure that proper information is available for appropriate financial reporting. Most accounting software has the ability to track this information, but often it takes extra staff time to do so. What if, you were now able to automate that process, importing the information directly from your billing software into your accounting system, resulting in a shorter close out period and better data with which to perform financial analysis. As most billing migrates from paper to paperless billing portals, it is likely that the billing system is able to generate a useful report that can be formatted to feed either directly or via a bridge into your accounting system. This may sound complicated but there are many consultants out there that can create interfaces for different applications that will allow them to seamlessly push information from your front-end software to your accounting software. Streamlining tasks like this can increase the analyses that can be performed giving management more insight to make timely decisions based upon more meaningful and up-to-date data.
Tired of opening mail/e-mail, sorting what is junk and what is necessary, then having to go through the process of entering invoices into your accounting software? Some businesses take weeks to process accounts payable as they need to perform a myriad of checks and balances (e.g. Were the goods ordered received? What department should the expense be charged to? etc.). This is another prime area for automation. Cloud-based resources exist whereby vendors can email their invoices to the cloud-based resource which will identify the invoice and record all the important information and then send an automatic notification to your payables administrator that invoices are ready for review and approval. Sound like fantasy? Resources such as Bill.com and Certify AP, to name a couple, do exactly that. Once you begin processing your AP through these resources, the system can automatically identify the types of purchases you are making from a vendor, code them to the appropriate GL account, and generate a periodic report that you can import directly into your accounting software. Think about the efficiencies that can be created by being able to validate transactions electronically and then automatically have them post within your accounting records.
The functions/cycles and automation ideas that were presented are only a few of the many ways that technology and automation solutions can streamline your organization. As unique as your organization is, so are the resources that are out there to help you. By investing the time and money into brainstorming, identifying, and training, you will be able to create quicker, more cost-effective, and more accurate information than you currently have. Take your time and consider seeking outsourced assistance in coming up with an effective plan for automating your business functions/cycles. An outsider prospective can lend fresh ideas, focus, and knowledge to your internal team. Remember, start simple and build upon the ideas, complicated systems will lead to discouragement and breakdown. Find solutions that appear to be the best fit for your Company and then make sure you align yourself with the right technology partners to help identify and implement the best solution for you.
Albert Borghese, CPA
Albert is a member of Cerini & Associates’ audit and consulting practice where he focuses on serving the firm’s special education and nonprofit clients. Albert is also involved in the marketing and development of the firm, and frequently participates in recruiting efforts, and research.