Every story has two sides. For every time you hear how great the latest gizmo or business practice is, you are likely to hear from someone else why it's a huge mistake. Automation in business and industry has long been a favorite subject in this debate.
A Cautionary Tale
Automation has been one of the more powerful products of the human mind in history, and one that continues to be divisive in nature. Arguments on both sides of the debate are passionate. Detractors worry that human workers will be replaced by machines (see if a machine will be doing your job in the future). Supporters preach the benefits of using automation for efficiency gains.
In Kurt Vonnegut's debut novel "Player Piano" (originally published under the name "Utopia 14"), the author explores the rise of automation in the industrial society. The story goes back and forth between the merits and dangers of the technology to life on earth.
The Dangers of Automation
What Vonnegut was getting at in his book is that complete automation in industry would lead to a dystopian future. And while we may not be living in the Hunger Games today, there are warning signs you should watch for to ensure your business does not become so automated you lose touch with reality:
- Losing the Personal Touch: sending mass emails to homeowners in the communities you manage can be a wonderful tool; but if it makes community members feel like they are just a face in a crowd, their ties to your management company become loose as well.
- Lack of Oversight: Automatically printing checks and reconciling your bank accounts can be a massive timesaver, but you want to make sure that you still review the transactions you are processing as a fraud prevention measure. Failure to pay attention could be costly and treacherous.
- Automation Has No Empathy: Take the case of the little girl whose Make a Wish request was to have a playhouse in her family's yard. By automatically following the CC&Rs without considering the extenuating circumstances, the HOA came out smelling not so sweet. Only when the board stepped in and evaluated the issue as a special case was fair and reasonable action taken.
While these dangers are real, I believe there are lessons to be learned on how to embrace automation and increase the profitability of your business without sacrificing the personal, human touch that manual operations bring.
For community association management businesses (or any business, for that matter), a complete lack of automation is a clear warning sign that you need to optimize your processes and performances. Keeping with Vonnegut's warnings, though, it will always be important to approach these matters in a balanced fashion, and not tip over into the realm of extreme automation.
The Right Way to Automate
Your CAM business can benefit from automation, but only when used in a supportive and intelligent fashion. Let's dive a bit deeper into the broader concepts involved in leveraging automation.
The first step toward correcting a problem is recognizing and admitting that there is a problem in the first place, right? SilkRoad Research released a study reported in Yahoo! News earlier this year that found nearly three-quarters of employees studied believe that their own performances, and those of their employers, are not optimal specifically due to a lack of automation.
IPsoft found that common tasks such as running diagnostics, risk management, permissions and service delivery can all be hindered by a lack of automated solutions and processes in place. This firm's assertion was not directed at an individual business or sector, but rather pertains to all industries and entities.
Let's take a look at some of the clearest signs that you are suffering from a lack of automation:
- Repetitive Tasks: If you or your colleagues are still handling tedious, repetitive tasks manually, including financials and reporting, you are wasting time and resources. Automation can replace manpower for these types of responsibilities, freeing up employees for high-level tasks.
- Data Control: Every business is driven by information in one way or another, and if you do not have strong, streamlined control over your data, chances are you need to automate as soon as possible. Tools can improve data accuracy, efficiency and security in one fell swoop.
- Crushing Overhead: One of automation's greatest powers is the ability to reduce overhead. If you are spending too much on work hours, outside management support or otherwise, you ought to look into how automation software can reduce the overhead and boost your bottom line.
Virtually any time you see one of these issues in your business, chances are you can eliminate the problem through the use of the right automation process or software.
The Benefits of Smart Automation
- Engagement: Eliminating tedious manual tasks from your team's 'to do' list frees them up to be more involved, more creative, and more focused on the core function of their positions instead of being bogged down in drudgery.
- Efficiency: Optimal efficiency means the strongest use of resources and assets at all time, with no waste created. Not to say that humans are weak, but machines are better at optimizing efficiency of processes. (Don't worry, we created the machines, so we have some value as well!)
- Agility: When your CAM business is working like a well-oiled machine, you will be far better positioned to take major change and other stresses in stride. Just like preventive maintenance is the key to a well-run community, the secret to an agile business is implementing the right automation tools for your business before everything starts to fall apart.
Be honest with yourself, and try to understand whether you are suffering from too much automation, not enough, or simply not the right kind. If you are, get moving on research to identify and deploy the right automation solutions for your organization, and watch how quickly performances in the financial and operational segments of measurement improve. Vonnegut would be proud.