Are Applications the answer to Business Systemisation?

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is what the best IT application is to do a particular task or to solve a particular problem. My answer is always the same, forget the IT application, at least initially.  Instead, think about the customer, what you are trying to achieve, the problem that you are trying to solve and the process first.

 

To use an analogy, if you need to hit a nail, there is no point using a screwdriver. Similarly, if you don’t know what the IT application (the tool) needs to do then you run the risk of picking the wrong tool for the job and you’ll probably be hitting the nail with a screwdriver.

There Are Problems Starting with Applications

  1. Rubbish in, rubbish out – if the IT is not set up correctly to support the process then the application is unlikely to be operated as planned and therefore, much of the information held within the application will largely be useless which defeats the point of having the IT in the first place.

 

  1. Applications can hide problems with processes – simply put, if the process isn’t working without an IT application, then the same process will not work with an IT application, IT is not a magic wand that will fix your process. Furthermore, an IT application can cloud the real issues that often stem from poor process.

 

  1. Applications can drive cost into your business – sometimes a small change to an existing process may be all that is needed to deliver a significant performance improvement rather than investing in new IT.

 

You should always consider what it is that you want to achieve from using an application. Absolute clarity is needed regarding what it is you are trying to achieve, and this should be made specific and measurable.

 

Where do you start?

The starting point should always be to consider what you want to achieve through using an application. Normally, this will be expressed as the need to solve a problem in delivering a service or product or to save time by becoming more efficient.

 

Absolute clarity is required regarding what you are trying to achieve, and this should be made specific and measurable. For example, it wouldn’t be enough to say that you want to save time raising invoices as there would be no way to understanding if you are getting better. A much better target would be to say that you currently spend 14 hours per week raising and chasing customer invoices and this needs to be reduced by 50%. This is a clear target and a clear problem that can be addressed.

 

The next step is to identify what is actually causing the current issues with the processes. In my systemisation guide (go to www.time-scale.co.uk to sign up and download the guide for free) I’ve outlined a few methods for analysing your existing processes. These include ‘fishbone diagrams’, ‘the five whys’ and ‘start, stop and continue’ analysis, which are simple techniques to identify the root cause of issues within the processes.

 

Once you have a clear idea about current process issues the next stage is to create new and improved processes. The processes should clearly show who does which tasks and the flow of the work. Ideally, there should be as few handovers between teams as possible as that’s often where problems start (communication, rework and queuing leading to poor customer service). Again, in my systemisation guide there are tools and techniques to help you to create your processes and it really isn’t as scary as you think! Sometimes, creating a paper system based on your new processes can be a great place to start to see if the process works (assuming you and your teams are co-located). This helps to visualise the process and to actually see the work flow around your office. Using brightly coloured paper to show, in our example, new invoices being raised and chased, shows exactly how efficient the process is. Also, this gets you thinking about what you actually need the IT application to do, the information that it needs to store and who needs to use it. I know this sounds ‘old school’ but it really does work. I’ve been involved in lean projects and the first thing we often do is ‘process stapling’ whereby work is taken out of the IT and followed around the office to witness the process in action, waiting times and all. It’s often quite scary how many handovers and how much rework is built into processes over time and this is hidden in the IT. If you aren’t located with your team then then a good place to start is to write on the processes the information captured and stored at each stage of the process and the type of IT application that may be needed. Once again, there are exercises for this in my systemisation guide.

 

When should applications be used?

Finally, when you are absolutely clear about the processes then the IT application can be selected based on which one(s) best support the business process. And again, have a look at my systemisation guide about how to do this. Basically, the least number of IT applications should be used where possible, those selected must be able to store the data that you need to make the processes work and the IT application should not mean that you need to change your processes to use it. In terms of actually implementing the IT application, most application providers have free training materials to get you started.

 

Today, there are some minimum requirements for IT applications that you should consider:

  • The application should be web based
  • The application should allow a business user to customise it simply
  • The ability to talk to other IT applications is becoming essential (e.g. via Zapier or IFTTT)
  • The application should have a mobile application

When rolling out any IT it’s always best to start small. My top tip is to train a couple of people in your team and to pick a few trial cases to run through the new processes and IT applications to make sure everything works as planned.

Final Thoughts

IT applications are part of the answer to improving business performance, but they aren’t THE answer. When combined with clear goals and objectives and great processes, IT applications can deliver massive improvements and can help you to automate the work in order to save you time and to deliver the foundations to enable you to scale your business.

 

In order to do this, you need to:

  1. Start with the end in mind and be clear on the improvement you are seeking to achieve
  2. Understand your current processes and what needs to be improved
  3. Create new processes
  4. Select the right IT applicationImplement – start small and scale quickly

 

If you’d like to have a chat about how processes and IT can provide the foundations for you to scale your business, drop me a line at james@time-scale.co.uk

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