3 Automation Initiatives to Boost Corporate Productivity

Mark J

Updated · Apr 25, 2016

By Dave Wright, ServiceNow

With mobile phones, instant messaging and more accelerating the speed at which we are able to get information in the workplace, why are we spending so much time on getting work done? 

The answer is that even when we’re using the latest and greatest mobile devices, we cannot get away from using email and other technologies that haven’t been revolutionary since their introduction 20 years ago. In fact, today email and similar tools can actually hurt our productivity.

We can end up wasting people's time by over communicating. A reliance on manual tools such as email, spreadsheets, phone calls and in-person meetings is killing corporate productivity and costing organizations billions of dollars annually.

The good news: IT can lead three key initiatives IT to improve employee productivity and demonstrate IT's value to the entire business. All three share a common thread of leveraging automation technologies to move away from complex, time-consuming and error-prone manual processes and streamline internal business processes.

Productivity Tools: Numbers Don't Lie

ServiceNow recently surveyed nearly 2,000 managers in five countries to understand the effectiveness of the tools and processes in their corporate environments. We wanted to learn more about how those tools and processes impact their individual and team effectiveness. The results were consistent – and discouraging – across all demographics.

Nine in 10 managers, regardless of company size or team function, told us they spent time on administrative tasks outside their core job function. Providing status updates, filling out forms, requesting support and updating spreadsheets consume on average more than 15 hours a week. As a result, half of those surveyed said they do not have time for more strategic initiatives.

More than 80 percent of those surveyed rely on inefficient, manual tools such as email, telephone calls and personal visits to get work done. Nearly half agree that using email and spreadsheets for managing work hurts their productivity.

Fewer than one in 10 use automation to improve the efficiency of these repetitive tasks. Even larger organizations and more technology-aware functions like IT still use the same manual tools.

The impact this loss of productivity can have on any organization is exponential. In an organization with 5,000 employees, these unnecessary tasks and inefficient processes can take up four million hours per year; that's the equivalent of 2,000 full-time employees! Collectively across the United States, companies are spending $575 billion a year, or 3.3 percent of the GDP, on these unnecessary tasks and inefficiencies.

Productivity Killers: Email and Spreadsheets

Email is a communication vehicle, not a document management tool or workflow management platform. But its ubiquity on all employees' computers, laptops and mobile devices too often trumps productivity and efficiency. Consider that our survey respondents cited email as the top method used for opening a purchase order (53 percent) and onboarding a new employee (46 percent).

The spreadsheet is another enemy of productivity. There is nothing more tedious and time consuming than manually entering data into a spreadsheet; the process becomes even more frustrating and error prone when multiple people make updates and create new versions.

Leveraging Automation

We embrace automation in our personal lives. Consider how you shop on your favorite e-commerce website. When you search for an item, you are automatically presented with other products the system believes will be of interest to you. Your credit card numbers and multiple mailing addresses are stored, and when you select a payment and delivery option, the order is placed, you receive confirmation emails, and your product moves from the warehouse to your door with minimal human oversight.

You spend as little or as much time on the retailer's e-commerce site or mobile app as you like before moving on to whatever is next on your agenda.

Contrast this with work, with its aforementioned reliance on outdated, labor and time-intensive manual processes. Supplying employees with the latest mobile devices or collaboration and file management applications won't necessarily boost productivity if the work processes are convoluted.

Organizations can easily streamline and automate their internal business services today to get back this wasted time. If a company can whiteboard a process from request to approvals to fulfillment, they can build – and automate – practically any process across all business units.

Automation Initiatives

Here are three initiatives that leverage automation to improve productivity for all employees, whether they're working in the office, or remotely and while traveling:

  • Use one portal to rule them all. IT can create one portal accessible online via PCs and mobile devices for all services-oriented functions across the enterprise, including managing 401K plans, requesting help from IT or making travel arrangements. Meanwhile, by eliminating the constant need to manage administrative tasks, departments can focus on addressing the strategic priorities of the business.
  • Replace manual processes with automated workflows. Automation is particularly important with today's mobile workforce. Factors such as a distributed workforce, human error, communication breakdowns, wasted trips and lost paperwork can all combine to hamper productivity. Automation technologies can ensure that work orders are assigned to the right person, with the right inventory and tools, at the right time.
  • Stop using email as a project management tool. There's no such thing as an “email killer” application, and that’s fine because email remains an excellent communications tool. However, it is a very poor records management and collaboration tool. Look for packaged apps that enable IT organizations to automate many tasks their users must perform manually and speed the move away from email.

These are just recommendations, not rules, and you may have other priorities. The key is to identify areas where adopting service management software and practices can enable you to replace emails, phone calls and spreadsheets with automated workflows that are as simple as the consumer services they use at home.

Projects and Priorities

Organizations gain much-improved visibility and accountability. Automating the processes takes those tasks out of employees' hands so they can focus on their work, and virtually eliminates errors that can result in an unhappy customer.

If you do not know what your priorities are, then that should be, well, your first priority. In order to deliver innovative new services, applications and infrastructure for your business, you need to be able to effectively manage the demand for such projects. Implement a system that provides you with a real-time view into prioritized demand across the enterprise to ensure you are delivering projects that meet business needs.

As chief strategy officer at ServiceNow, Dave Wright is the company's evangelist for how to improve workplace productivity. He enables ServiceNow customers to eliminate their reliance on email, spreadsheets and other manual processes so their employees can work smarter, not harder. Prior to joining ServiceNow in December 2011, he spent more than six years with VMware as vice president of Technical Services for EMEA. From 2003 to 2005, he headed up the technical division for Northern and Southern Europe at Mercury Interactive. Prior to that he spent six years at Peregrine Systems, where he held a variety of senior technical and marketing positions.

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