The Automation Experience

August 1, 2019

Automation is great. We know that. It saves you lots of time so that you can spend more time doing more valuable work… we’ve heard that before. What about the actual ‘doing of it’? What’s it like to automate a process?We’ve asked a few of our customers what it’s like to automate a process.

First off, what processes do we try to automate? We try to automate those processes that are repetitive, predictably repetitive. Anything that you do over-and-over again, without variables and takes a long time to do… that process is a prime candidate for automation.

Which one are you?

Automation is here and so everybody is doing it. Right? Everybody’s the same right? :]. We all learn differently. You’ll probably have heard of the term early/late adopters. Below is the much-loved chart that maps how different people adopt new technology.

Technology Adoption Curve

Innovators & Early Adopters. These people are usually techy people. They read about new tools on websites, their techy friends will talk to them about new software at parties. They might take on new tech that is still in Beta. They will have considered automating processes that don’t necessarily need automating in order to save mere minutes a week, often automating tasks in their private lives (Eg. Shopping lists etc).

Early Majority. When a new product starts building awareness, this cohort will catch on quickly and will take to the new technology like ducks to water. They are very comfortable with tech and will implement it without much fuss into their processes.

Late Majority. A similar number of us fit into this category. This group are not technophobes, they might be happy enough with how they do things currently. It will often get to the point where they are hearing about the technology in a number of places… once they buy in to the benefits, they will investigate the tool and sign up then.

Laggards. Laggards usually wait until their current process/tool is no longer doing the things that they need it to do. They often need to be forced to adopt new technology.

What are the steps (and barriers) to implementing automation?

Below is a very simplistic view of the steps that most of us go through when trying out/adopting a new piece of technology.

Steps taken (by most people) when automating a process (using software)

At each step there is a potential barrier. For example, you might realise that you have a problem (step1) but you might not have time to look for a tool. You might instead just work that bit harder to get the job done. Or you might have taken a trial of a product and you aren’t sure if it does the thing you want it to do, and you just haven’t contacted support.

The working day often gets in the way for those that aren’t driven to adopt new technology.

 

 

Some Automation stories from our customers

We spoke to some bookkeepers and accountants about the experience of automating a process. This is what they said.

 

Michael Smith - Greensand Bookkeeping (@greensandbook)

Michael, very generously, tweeted about AutoEntry recently that he had done a day's processing in under an hour. We thought he would be a good person to ask about automation!

Michael offers a professional & personal accounting service from the sunny south east of the country. And after talking to him for a few minutes that professional and personal comes across in the way he talks about his clients. He works predominantly with mid-size clients but is quick to mention that he has a number of smaller clients that are important to him. His range of clients have differing requirements, all with one task in common… they all need their data entered into their accounting software. Some of his clients are tech savvy and will work online exclusively, others will send over the proverbial box of receipts and invoices.

It sounds like marketing speak, but Michael really does work with the client on their terms. Most are happy to use automation but some clients prefer the older processes; “It’s not an aversion to technology, some of my clients are just more comfortable with running things the way they are and do not have an appetite to change this”.

 

Why did he decide to use automation?

Michaels motivation to automate his data entry was the classic one... time. “I was spending a day and a half each week on data entry tasks”. There wasn’t an over-night need to start automating, it was simply a matter of the time and effort that data entry was taking became an obvious issue for him.

A lot of his clients email him their documents and so he knew that introducing automation, providing it does what it wanted it to do, would be worth the effort.

He also understood that this time saving would mean that his clients would be getting more for their hourly rate. “I wouldn’t have to spend the time on data entry, and they would have to pay me to do that work… it would be a win-win”.

 

Getting started

Michael learned about the options with regards to Data Entry Automation tools at the ICB Inspire Tours in both 2018 & 2019. He was in a position to give some time to learning about the tools in the market and chose AutoEntry. “It did all of the things that I needed it to do”.

We asked him about those very first steps [I asked him if he was nervous, he said “no”].  “I signed up for a trial and I started by uploading my own invoices. I uploaded about ten invoices and everything seemed to work nicely. I wanted to try it out with my own documents”.

 

Introducing his clients to automation

He spoke to each client before using AutoEntry on their account. He told us how he approached the introduction of the new process; “I will talk to my clients about AutoEntry. I will show them what it does, and I will then ask them if they would prefer that I used this tool or continue with manual data entry”. The vast majority of Michael clients see the benefits and are happy for him to use the software.

 

Plans for the extra time gained from automating

Automating his data entry has saved Michael a full day per week. This is significant. With very little up-front investment (time mostly), Michael has a new opportunity open up to him. “I’m planning to offer an additional service to my smaller clients to submit final accounts”.

This is great to hear! We wrote a blog recently about time savings from automation being used to offer higher value services.

 

Tips for colleagues that haven’t yet embraced automation

1. Look at automation from your clients perspective… what’s in it for them? We often make the mistake of looking at processes from our own perspectives. In real terms, our clients are paying bookkeepers/accountants to perform data entry tasks. “This doesn’t seem like the best use of my time and their money. It’s a no brainer”.

2. Be flexible. “Some clients want things kept the way they are”. Automation is about improving processes and about freeing up time to offer higher value services, if your client doesn’t see the benefits don’t try to force it on them.

Nicki Paddy – Nicki Paddy & Co

(@nickipaddy)

Nicki Paddy & Co Ltd is an independent practice which offers bookkeeping, and international trade accounting services for small and medium sized businesses.

After more than 20 years of working ‘client side’ Nicki wanted a change.  Nicki has spent most of her career in commercial organisations running the finances and managing import and export. Nicki Paddy & Co Ltd was formed in 2011 to provide SMEs with as high a quality of service as possible for a reasonable price.

As the business grew, it faced increasing administrative challenges and time constraints relating to the manual data entry of financial documents.

MOVING TO THE CLOUD  In 2015, as part of its ongoing IT strategy, Nicki Paddy & Co decided to migrate to the cloud initially with Xero accounting software and then adding a range of accounting software to best suit each client. As well as automating routine tasks such as invoicing, the company wanted real time visibility of its financial records, as well as remote access to its files anywhere, and from any device.

Nicki Paddy Director at Nicki Paddy & Co comments, “We’re a forward-looking practice and understand that in order to drive efficiencies, reduce paperwork and enhance customer experiences, moving to the cloud and automating back once functions through technology is essential”.

Our business ethos is to provide high quality services to our customers at competitive rates, and with manual data entry demanding our attention; we wanted to deploy a solution to automate this function so we could focus more on providing exactly that.

 

Why did she decide to use automation?

A member of the Nicki Paddy team left late in 2014, which put a strain on the admin side of the business, especially the data entry function. The team pulled together and got through the silly season that is Christmas/New Year. Repetitive tasks like data entry are ideal for automating, so when she had some time, Nicki went about finding software to help automate that.

 

Getting started

Nicki had first heard about the tools available at the ICB Conference the previous year. She visited XeroCon that year with one of her goals being to learn more about the options in the market. She met Brendan Woods (AutoEntry CEO) at the AutoEntry stand and got a demo of the software.

After the event Nicki signed up for a trial and started playing around with the tool. She tells us that she had a lot of contact with her account manager. “Ashley reached out to me quite a lot in those early days, making sure I was getting the most out of the software”.

Like most of the people we speak to, Nicki started testing the software by uploading her own financial documents. She then tested the integrations with her accounting software, first Xero then QuickBooks.

Something we were particularly impressed with was that Nicki would not consider herself to be a “Techy” person but that did not stop her from taking on a completely new technology. A technology that would manage critically important customer data.

For the sake of this blog we asked her if she was hesitant about implementing a new software into her process and she said “not at all. It’s a lot like being at a networking event if you are shy. If you want to improve your network and win business… you don’t really have a choice but to talk to people. We’re a small practice (but If I didn’t automate a process that was repetitive and taking up a lot of resources (time) I would be left behind.”

 

Introducing her clients to automation

When Nicki was happy with the software and it’s benefits, she introduced it to her clients. The majority of her clients were submitting their documents in paper format and so the introduction of software was also new for them.

This stage of the implementation is very important and is something that Nicki puts a lot of time into. “Once I’m happy with the software and I decide to offer it to my clients as a new way of doing things, I will set up a meeting with them to outline the benefits of the software, to give them a demo of how the software works and how it will help them. It’s really an education exercise at this point”.

 

Tips for colleagues that haven’t yet embraced automation

1. Embrace the automation with a data capture product that links into your software, as it will save you so much time, either enabling you to have more free time or to grow and take on more clients.

2. Once you have taken on one product, then look to take on others and enhance other areas of the services you can offer.  Taking little steps, each when you are ready to move to the next stage and if you are like me, you will find that you never look back.

3. We now have our entire practice running so that we can all work from anywhere at the hours that suit us.