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Considerations for Office Automation



  Are 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 process?

  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.

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, GoogleMSN, and 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.

If your employees are bored and daydreaming, it can lead to human error.

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.

Having to train new employees may be a deciding factor in whether to automate.

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

Office Automation will free your skilled employess to work with prospects or service customer accounts.

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.


Contact Us

Contact us to help identify business processes where Office Automation can benefit your company or organization.  If we do not feel we can undertake the project - we will make that clear.  If we do not feel the project is justified - we will make that clear also.