Driving Operational Excellence: To Automate or Not To Automate

We’re all slowly getting back to business, but resuming business-as-usual is something we may never achieve again.

COVID-19 revenue losses have been extensive, prompting massive furloughs and layoffs, but on the road to recovery, publishers will be looking for ways to keep costs low without further reducing staff. Now is a prime time to get focused on improving process and workflow efficiency to reach a new level of operational excellence. As demand returns, employees across the organization will need to elevate their responsibilities and delegate tasks.

Understanding when to use automation by leveraging available technology to handle repetitive and routine tasks is an effective way to build a more scalable and sustainable operation.

WITH THE SUPPORT OF MediaMint
MediaMint provides strategic, operational and technical support that drives performance and delivers outstanding results.

Business might be slow due to a lack of revenue opportunities right now, but the businesses that are going to survive and thrive are taking a step back to work on process improvement projects that may have been on the back burner for a really long time. These types of projects can significantly improve a team’s overall capacity and quality, thereby improving operational efficiency.

Many business leaders are also thinking ahead to what business will look like once things start ramping up again. However, resource availability and other product priorities for your in-house development team may limit your ability to tackle some valuable continuous improvement opportunities. 

Maybe you’re thinking it’s time you brought on a partner who can take over some of the operational and technical load, and possibly even drive the execution of those continuous improvement projects you’ve been waiting months, or even years, to complete.

When Automation Goes Right

Automation works better in some use cases than others.

Say there’s a function or task that requires 45 minutes for one person on your team to complete. It’s a repetitive but necessary task that is a low-level operation. The impact is the loss of time your team member could be working on a higher-level and more engaging task. 

What if you could work with a partner, who could not only handle that task for you but who also had the insight and ability to help you reduce time-to-completion for that task by identifying some basic automation tools and flows that would cut 30 minutes from that task, resulting in a 66% process improvement? That sounds like it would be a major win, doesn’t it?

That is what leveraging a strategic outsourcing partner could help you achieve. Along with harnessing the collective knowledge of an experienced team, a partner has the capability to quickly customize teams and flexibly ramp up or down the broad base of talent required to support each initiative. Understanding your challenge and then applying the right technical solutions to automate where feasible and reasonable will reduce the time and headcount required to operate and scale your business, which will save your company money and improve the bottom line.

Here’s another example for you to consider. When business does begin ramping back up and your client work starts to grow again, you might not be in a position to hire the staff to support that growth immediately. At that time you may be daunted by the prospect of having to scale up resources quickly. Let’s complicate this plot further and imagine this is a story about a team that has been entering data manually across two or three systems with double checks just to make sure the systems are operating correctly. Can you picture it now? How about we throw in an engineering team that’s limited on time and personnel. They are so backed up that getting an ETA from them on how long it will take to build the tools you need to get your systems communicating is next to impossible.

What if you could find a partner who could set up a few APIs to get your systems to communicate and have the entire solution up-and-running in about three weeks? What about if that partner could improve your team’s capacity by 10x? Sounds like another substantial win, doesn’t it?

By improving operational efficiencies and reducing costs significantly, the companies in the aforementioned scenarios (yes, those were real stories) were in a position to spend less time chasing revenue because they improved the value of their company overall.

“I fundamentally believe that companies should spend their time focused on their core product, strategy, and growth. Outsourcing appropriate functions and operational tool development to an experienced partner with a deep talent base can help them increase efficiency fast,” says Jason Riback, president at MediaMint.

 When Not to Automate

 Automation is great, especially when you can leverage technology that’s already out there or build small customized solutions. The scalability and repeatable process quality feel like magic.

But automation isn’t right for everything.

If you have processes and workflows that are going to remain relatively unchanged, automation makes perfect sense. However, in cases where the processes or flows are constantly shifting, it won’t be the best solution. In such cases, it is a lot simpler and less costly to retrain people than to redesign and build a new, automated solution every time.

For example, if you build a platform for a specific use and then the use case changes, you’ll find yourself scrambling to retool the tech to fit each new situation. At the end of the day, there are definitely times you’re going to want to automate processes and workflows and other times you won’t.

Let’s consider the work required in reporting and analytics. 

Automation is very efficient for standard reports and standard output, but less so for cases when you have unique data requests or customized data sets. Sometimes the requests that come through don’t have enough detail, and you will need team members to communicate with the client to better understand exactly what they’re looking for and why. Building a tool to solve for each unique situation will take a lot longer and cost substantially more than just having the right talent in place. 

“By all means, if you can solve 80% of your inbound requests through a set of customized automated reports, go for it,” says Riback, “However, don’t ignore the fact that that solution doesn’t solve 100% of your problem. For the other 20%, you’ll want to have a white-glove managed service that can handle those custom requests.”

How Do I Know If Automation Is Right for Me?

There are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you think about implementing automation to drive operational excellence.

  • What is the frequency of this process?
  • How much time does this process take?
  • Will the process itself change frequently?
  • How big is the risk of automation failure due to a process change?
  • Will the overall value to my business from automating be worth more than the cost?

“If the process time and frequency are high, then automation is immediately going to lower costs through speed and consistent quality. However, if the process is constantly changing or the end product is highly customized, an over-engineered, automated system may suffer from frequent breakdowns or potentially more impactful quality errors,” says Riback. “While human variability and errors exist, the ability to roll out a change in a manual process quickly and maintain consistent quality can be more cost-effective and still be an operational advantage.”

Economic downturns that disrupt businesses are not uncommon. Taking advantage of these downturns to strengthen your business through automation and flexible staffing models in anticipation of recovery can help accelerate growth and increase market share. A potential second wave of the current pandemic is a real risk for which we must all prepare. With the right partner and the implementation of the right technology, you can ensure your business and operation are agile and ready to respond to the next crisis. 

Efficiency is more crucial now than ever.