One major consideration for startups today is to keep the operational costs at the lowest for an improved ROI. An office automation system not only helps by reducing the need of manpower for handling some regular and mundane tasks, but it also improves the overall efficiency and productivity by involving the automation process into various tasks.
For once, believe a friend who advised you against installing an all-digital and cloud-based Office Automation System (OAS) for faster and seamless processing of the various tasks in your startup – for some unclear fear of data theft or something. Now, you can imagine the consequences you’ll have to face at your office and for your business in the absence of a digitized and automated solution for tracking and managing every required but mundane task, such as:
- Keeping track of payables, receivables, and leases for owned or rented property.
- Scheduling and carrying out maintenance of on-site equipment and tracking their progress.
- Having to move physical copies from place to place instead of simply sending digital official copies by mail.
- Tracking space utilization from requisition to blocking and scheduling to allocation.
- Raising trackable tickets for pending jobs and problems.
And other important tasks like:
- Producing outgoing documents (Word, spreadsheet, and PowerPoint presentation).
- Storage and retrieval of those documents.
- Communication needs of office managers within the company and with external entities such as vendors, investors, etc.
- Scheduling and booking conference rooms, meeting rooms, or lecture halls, etc.
That’s essentially why startups today are including an office automation system in their business setup. This helps them eliminate the day-to-day hassles at their workplace and allows all management related tasks to function seamlessly. Because OAS brings efficiency and speed in every task in an office, it also helps by lowering your operational cost thereby improving your return on investment down the line.
What Exactly Is an Office Automation System?
Office automation system is like an integrated process that consists of hardware, software, and networking, all working in tandem to accomplish different office tasks, such as inventory management, facility management, accounting, email, and word processing. The system works by collecting, storing, manipulating, and relaying office information and data digitally, to accomplish basic tasks and goals.
Perhaps, the most common form of an office automation system could be the Microsoft Office Suite which consists of almost all types of document processing tools such as Word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentation, database managing application, etc. However, this is the most simple function-related work domain of an OAS and was more popular in the 90s.
Today OAS has become more sophisticated and has integrated with various front-office and back-end tasks of a workplace to establish itself as a more broad solution for problems related to every aspect like inter-office communication, data storage, and management, etc.
The best example of today’s office automation system could be a facility management software that allows to manage and automate various operations related to your workplace. These could be tracking payables, receivables, and leases for owned and rented properties, or maintenance of on-site equipment, managing space utilization, and much more.
Important Characteristics of an Office Automation System
- Sophisticated process that consists of electronic equipment and communication systems.
- Involves and integrates people, procedure, and technology.
- Involves the use of computers, in conjunction with other electronic equipment.
- Consists of word processors and other essential documenting and presentation designing software connected to one another through means of a local area network or cloud drive.
- Designed as a multi-function information system to provide executives some decision support tools.
- Supports a large number of software packages working by integrating with each other.
Utility of an Office Automation System or Tool in Your Startup
An office automation system can be useful for your startup or SME in many ways. Not just startups or SMEs, even your old office with a more traditional business processing setup can also start benefiting through a completely automated overhaul to start being more productive.
Here are some most important ways an OAS helps in your company’s growth:
- Data Storage and Manipulation: Your office has to deal with all sorts of documents and records for the everyday functioning. All these documents need to be stored safely. When stored in a digital format, these become easy to be created and manipulated. It also provides the facility to prepare, edit, and send these data in many formats such as textual data, or images. OAS with right data applications like a Word processing software and desktop presentation packages facilitates this creation and manipulation of data.
- Data Management: Apart from creation and manipulation of data, OAS also helps by letting your organization monitor and control various projects and activities within the office through an electronic data management system. You can easily delegate a project to a person or department, monitor and track their performance and deadline, and also give remarks and recommendations for further improvement. This kind of program system, tickler systems or reminder systems, and task management are some of the features of OAS data management module which empowers to keep a hawk’s eye on all business processes without any hassle.
- Data Exchange: Electronic transfer module of OAS lets you exchange all types of data with your colleagues within an organization or with other parties out of the organization. Emails and other communication applications like Skype lets you share all types of content, including text documents, image files, spreadsheets, or video files on a real-time basis, through a network connection.
- Inventory Management: Office automation system’s inventory management module lets you track inventory levels, orders, sales, and deliveries. It basically provides a tool to organize inventory data digitally so that you never run out of any product or spend too much capital in the inventory.
- Office Efficiency Management: Not just the data and inventory, a perfect OAS lets you take care of your office as a whole. By installing a complete suite of facility management applications, you can ensure full efficiency and productivity of your office space and your employees. For example, space management applications take care by optimizing your floor plans and allocation of space to boost productivity and bottom line results for your premises.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Office Automation
Office automation today is much more than just document producing, storage and retrieval. Electronic and digital information is the crux of modern office automation. It may include strictly internal computers, high-end management software, a worldwide digital network through the internet or off-site cloud storage. Implementing the new office automation system in your office comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
The Advantages are:
- Values Time and Company Resources: Your company’s most valuable assets are time and its resources. The good performance of your company starts with using these two effects. Office automation allows you to communicate with people via emails, chats, fax, etc., and send text, image, audio, and video files digitally to anyone inside the office or outside in any part of the world. This way you can also save your resources that otherwise would have been spent on travel to meet people for information or file sharing.
- Reduces Direct Involvement in Regular Works: It reduces your workload on regular office tasks such as creating reports and organizing all sorts of data. Spreadsheets allow you to enter, compile, and store bulk data for future reference. Spreadsheets also help reduce the workload and keep your office in order.
- Faster, and You Can Rely on Its Accuracy: Everything from creation, editing, and sharing of documents and all sorts of data is way faster with office automation. Also, machines and software combined together give results that are highly accurate. For example, you can add up numbers in spreadsheets and create budgets and it will always come up with accurate balance.
- Reduces Cost of Operation with Lesser Workforce: From ledger work to a more extensive task like managing company’s facilities inside or outside the office, office automation allows you to hire only a selected number of people to manage all sorts of work through its digital dashboards. It helps by lowering the cost of operation and increased dependency on manpower for even the pettiest of works.
Like any other system in the world, office automation system too has some issues however, they seem to be not-so-worrying to anyone who are using it. Let's have a look on the issues that exist with office automation.
- Chances of System Failure, But No Data Loss: Minor glitches are common, not in frequency but in the form of errors that are usually reported. A complete system failure is a rare phenomenon. Office automation technology isn’t new. It has already been through the time and testing for so long. By keeping up with the updates, and software and hardware meltdowns, you can easily avoid a shutdown. Also, even if a shutdown couldn’t be avoided, you still don’t need to worry about your company data. If you have installed a cloud-based technology, your data will be safe which you can re-access right after the system restart.
- First Time Installation Is Expensive: Obviously, if you are installing everything afresh, it has to cost you dearly. A professional office suite and machines, their installation, training for use, and fixing of the initial issues, are the areas where you have to dig your pocket. You should think about the long-term benefits your company will be drawing out from automation after this one-time expense.
Some people associate employees’ resistance to change among the pitfalls of office automation. But you don’t need to worry about that. For sure, technology will keep upgrading itself no matter you like it or not. But if you are having the right OAS vendor with you, they will provide training to your employees to level up their understanding and performance.
Office Automation Tips and Solutions That Are Feasible For Your Startup
Startups usually commit mistakes like buying instead of renting or choosing an OAS software or equipment without actualizing their needs. This goes into a list of unnecessary expenses defeating the very first purpose of installing an OAS into your business – to lower the operational cost for an increased ROI.
Here’s what you should consider while selecting an office automation system for your startup:
- Decide beforehand which tasks you should automate. For that, divide your tasks into two types of lists: first, the essential tasks like document producing, and storage and retrieval of those documents, transmission of messages, scheduling meetings, etc., which has to be automated anyway. In the second list, include items according to your specific needs and look for the systems within your budget that can perform that work.
- Consider a rental or lease, rather than a purchase. This will let you first try out the application in a real-world environment, and fully understand whether it’s supporting your business effectively or not. Because technology is continuously improving, trying beforehand will allow you to upgrade your system by replacing components as needed instead of selling out the old system as they turn out obsolete and again buying a new one.
- Find out what training and support policies your vendor offers. Before making a purchase, ask your vendor whether they are going to provide a training to your staff. If yes, how and when. Can they come to your place during your business hours to provide support and repair if the system goes down? Your staff and you will need some time to get settled into the system. A proper initial support and training on how the system should work will go down a long way to build an effective automation system for your business processes.
- Look if it lets you define the access privileges. A good office automation system will provide access privileges to everybody in the organization. But obviously, your manager or supervisor also gets the control over who gets access to what project. It means that you can define the access controls and approval privileges on every individual project. It allows you to have a better monitoring of every project in your organization.
- Ask if you can customize the software based on your future needs. Many of these office automation system software is custom designed. It means that you can get the desired control options, and even a completely new menu option/s added, based on the need of your business and its processes. Again, as mentioned earlier in this blog, the best example is a facility management software which allows the highest level of customization options available.
Amit Prasad is the founder and managing director of SatNav Technologies and has business interests in a wide range of IT products. SatNav Technologies is an IT products company focusing on cloud based map data products and a pioneer in GPS, FMS & LBS Technologies. The product suite includes SatTracx in-the-field location based solutions and A-mantra in-the-office facilities management solutions. QuickFMS from a-mantra is a cloud based facility management system which enhances organization’s efficiency.