Deloitte partner advocates ‘meaningful’ business process automation

| October 9, 2012


The latest automation software not only saves time and money but can also give your business a considerable competitive advantage. Joshua Tanchel, Deloitte partner, highlights the fundamental metrics behind the results.

How can a ‘private’ business with limited administrative staff improve the provision of quality, flexible information without overhauling an existing operating and reporting model?

Substantially larger public companies partially resolve this issue through the purchase or development of a large data warehouse system or by outsourcing the work to a low cost environment.

However, data warehouse software and development can be capital intensive and requires significant ongoing maintenance to remain effective and relevant. Additional staff are required; existing staff need to develop new skills and the interim solution still requires configuration to provide meaningful, adaptable reports.

The answer may be achieved by helping existing staff become more effective using familiar tools they already employ, such as a spreadsheet. A great example is the automation of reports that are produced for management, clients and government or regulatory bodies and then enhancing the report output to communicate key messages and business trends.

The automation of reporting processes can be accomplished in a few ways.

One method is to develop macros within spreadsheet software that automates the work normally undertaken in a manual fashion. However, macros can quickly become complex and difficult to understand and maintain. Many spreadsheet users do not have the skills to develop macros or maintain them and if they do the business quickly develops a dependency on these individuals.

An alternative approach is to use one of the newer technologies that has recently emerged to provide automation of spreadsheet-based and other processes in a simpler and more easily understood manner. Such tools include web-based process automation systems.

These solutions are offered on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) basis with a monthly per user fee. These tools enable users to build their processes in a graphical fashion – just like creating an information production line using pre-built data manipulation robots.

The tools have the added advantages of not requiring programming skills, automatically documenting processes, communicating via email and SMS and controlling access rights. They also provide a complete audit trail of all changes made to the process and the underlying data files.

The days of agonising over the specifications for a lengthy, uncertain capital project will be over. These web-based process automated systems typically sets up automated processes in a few days.

Once established, the process can be run as frequently as required and normally only takes a few minutes to complete, thereby cutting hours or even days from the traditional series of manual tasks. The technology can also utilise and combine data from multiple data sources such as extracts from a general ledger, SQL databases, Excel workbooks and text files. No core systems within the company need to be replaced.

Automation via a Deloitte-introduced ‘SaaS’ basis will address the time and resource constraints inherent in most small and medium sized organisations. To be even more useful, the reports that are produced need to be forward-looking, draw out information on trends and present that information in a readily consumed fashion.

This may include the production of a single page showing key performance indicators and highlighting numbers that have moved out of predetermined ranges — or more impressively in a graphical format, in recognition of Frederick R. Barnard’s adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

This opinion piece was first published on Deloitte Private Matters and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.