Considerations for Office Automation
the processes involved repetitive?
Is the process important to the function of the company?
Will it be necessary to hire and train new people to perform the
Are there programs commercially available without custom programming?
Can the project be done? Is it feasible?
Does it save you money?
Do you understand your
business processes well enough to consider automation?
What is Office Automation?
Office automation means different things to different people. Using
search engines on the information super highway proves this point. Search
for the term "office automation" and each of three major search engines,
Yahoo return different results. It definitely takes an information
super highway to return all the variations.
Our search establishes many usages for the term office
automation. It's commonly used to refer to multi-function office machines
that copy, fax, print and scan from the same machine. These are indeed
cool but expensive products that may very well have a place in your office!
There are definitions referring to using word processors, spreadsheets and
databases as office automation products. Compared to file cabinets and
typewriters, they are wonderful. Templates for standard forms that can be
used over and over are wonderful! An e-mail client can be considered
office automation because it can be set to check your e-mail automatically
without your having to click a button to do so.
At FM Net Design, we define office automation as application
programming to automate repetitive processes. Eliminating a
repetitive process frees your employees for other tasks like dealing
with valuable prospects or servicing accounts. Repetitive
processes are boring and boredom leads to mistakes,
human errors. In another life while working as a
manufacturing engineer, the accepted human error rate from a
well-trained employee was considered one mistake per thousand
operations. Getting down to operations is interesting because a
keystroke on a keyboard is an operation, opening a program involves
several operations. Putting paper in a printer involves several
operations. It doesn't take long to build up to 1000 operations.
Human error is one of those things that happen. Human error
doesn’t imply incompetence it implies employees are human.
When approached about an office automation project, our first
response is to evaluate the
business process and the benefits to automation. We evaluate the
frequency of repetition, the importance of the process to the client, and the
necessity of hiring new people without the project. There are many things
that make up a justification for the project.
The frequency at which an event occurs can be the most important
factor especially if it requires skilled people to perform the project. If
the skill levels could be applied to other areas that require human decision and
human intervention then the project should be strongly considered.
How important is the process to the client? In this case
the process could be an infrequent occurrence but when it does occur, it needs
to be done quickly and accurately. Important processes infrequently
performed may be problematic in having to remember how it was done the last
time. It may be the process can simply be documented for future reference
without automation. If it's complex enough that each occurrence results in
a great deal of time to relearn and recreate, automation may be a solution.
At FM Net Design, we support keeping Americans employed and jobs
in the United States. That said if there's not a skilled labor pool for a
job, it's necessary to select people with the highest qualifications and train
for the process. If the training takes a lot of time and the job might not
be stable then it's best for the employer and potential employee to look at
other means for performing the process.
The first thing to do after identifying the goals of a project would be to
evaluate the software market and see if there are any products already
on the market that can meet the goals of the project. There's even
some free stuff that helps, even though old adages say you get what you
pay for, a lot of it works. The next step would be to evaluate the
available products and verify their functionality and adaptability
toward the goals of the automation project.
If custom programming is the solution, generating a set of
specifications, a preliminary program design and estimate is in order.
Examples are gathered and programming begins. Finally tests, tests, and
more tests are involved to assure the specified service is being provided.
Once programming is completed and implemented, copies of the source code is
provided to the client. The client may not understand the program but
another programmer will in the event the original programmer is not available.
Office Automation Example
A good example of a successful automation project is with our favorite insurance
marketer. A client has a blanket insurance policy administered by our
marketer. The blanket policy allows the client to provide sports insurance
coverage to teams that join the client organization. Team representatives
join and apply for the insurance on-line. A formatted e-mail is
automatically sent to the insurance marketer to notify them a team needs a
certificate of insurance. The expected savings receiving this e-mail and
processing it is approximately $17,000 (8.5 x the cost of the program).
The manual process was to receive the e-mail, read it and
manually enter the data into a database through a data entry screen. The
data was sent through a formatted report to print on a form that was faxed to
the team representative. The labor estimate to process an e-mail if there
wasn't a problem with the request was $10.00. A problem resulting from
incomplete data could take much longer to resolve.
FM Net Design developed a program to read the e-mail from the
Microsoft Outlook e-mail client inbox based on a unique subject for the
e-mail. The data is parsed from the formatted e-mail fields and
written to a database. The program uses the received data to
retrieve additional data from other database tables. The data is then
written to a PDF form that is both saved to a hard drive and e-mailed to
the appropriate persons needing the insurance certification. The
process takes 22 seconds from time of receipt until the finished form is
sent out. Once processed, the e-mail is moved to a processed
folder on the e-mail client. If there is a problem with the
received e-mail, i.e., missing/incomplete data, it's marked as unread
and moved to a problem folder. The time to resolve the problem
e-mails hasn't decreased but they are the minority of e-mails received.
Other projects are underway with this client performing similar
functions allowing them to take on more business without having to hire more
people. Other than the one time cost of the program, their cost for
additional business is static.
This company would prefer to hire as few new people as possible
because employees that can just step in and start producing are not readily
available. Hiring new people always involves a long training process.