By Ian M. Marlow
August 21, 2014
We’ve all heard the stories before—a company buys and installs the latest software to run a system and streamline operations, only to discover it’s not working “the way it’s supposed to” and is a waste of money and time. But was the tool properly selected and implemented to begin with and do your employees understand it?
All too often, management assumes that all software is simply “plug and play” – just install it and go. This scenario generally happens when a company goes straight to the software provider, who makes cookie cutter applications for a broad base of users. However, applications require proper setup, training and testing to see how they will work with your existing infrastructure. What’s more, by signing on with the software provider, you are probably now stuck with something that does not serve your needs.
The better approach—and the way to ensure your technology investment pays off in better operational efficiencies—is to 1) first have an IT solutions provider assess your particular needs, 2) recommend the appropriate applications to develop more productivity and improve operations, and 3) implement customized solutions tailored to your existing systems.
Let’s break it down.
1. Evaluate Before You Implement
A professional IT company with business process and best practice expertise will come in and assess your organization’s work flow and evaluate your processes. They should ask you questions about employees’ functions and optimal work flow, if your team interfaces electronically or manually with outside partners, and how internal departments communicate and work together.
A thorough analysis of your systems may uncover some common concerns about productivity and accountability: too many people controlling the same process, a lack of financial checks and balances, or too many steps to process accounts payables or receivables. These can cost you time and money.
For example, the cost in man hours applied to antiquated processes is better allocated to systems that create operational (and cost) efficiencies over the short and long term. With today’s IT capabilities, it’s silly to spend money on duplication of effort over menial tasks or paperwork distribution, when email or cloud-based file storage alerts do it all much faster?
2. Customize Available Solutions
After evaluating your processes and operation, your IT firm should not only recommend the tech tools that make the most sense for your particular needs, but also be able to configure the out-of-the-box software applications available on the market. You might need specific modules from one software provider or have modules from several software providers that must be integrated in proprietary seamless ways that achieve your goals of data collection, automation, redundancy elimination and productivity improvements.
3. Deploy, Train, Test
A careful process of installation, staff training and software testing must take place before declaring your launch a total success. Many times, what results from that off-the-shelf deployment is that employees don’t understand the technology, training was nil or inadequate, or the company purchased the wrong product to begin with. It all adds up to a lot of frustration on the part of staff and management, and money down the drain.
Now let’s look at some ways office technology can improve productivity and reduce costs in the real estate and corporate sectors.
Fully integrated (paperless) accounting and procurement systems.
These systems should all integrate with your email. Consider these examples in property management:
Does a superintendent who must purchase tools for building repairs have emergency authority to spend over a certain threshold? How is this approval process managed?
The old way requires the item to be requisitioned and ordered. The invoice is forwarded to the property manager who then mails it to the office employee. The office person types it into the system and then sends it to accounts payable to match with the purchase order.
Today’s digital tools streamline and automate your internal accounting procedures. In this example, the invoice would go into a paperless accounts payable (AP) system which interfaces with the procurement system. The purchase order is matched with the invoice automatically. The AP voucher imports into your accounting system and the information is readily accessible via your dashboard. Programs can be set up to create spending thresholds and approval chains, with email or text alerts for quick online approvals.
Rent checks also pass more quickly through the system when scanned and stored digitally (on your server or in the cloud) without multiple people typing the same information multiple times into different files before making the deposit.
In short, a few keystrokes can accomplish what once took a few weeks.
General ledger/corporate accounting controls.
An annual audit may uncover serious deficits in a company’s financial controls. For example, there might be too many people executing the same processes or going through too many steps, which balloon the company’s expenses and slow things down needlessly. Or a major gap in corporate checks and balances may be discovered when only one manager or principal has access to every aspect of the company, without controls over that. By updating your general ledger system with today’s business technology tools, and implementing the modules you need, you can fully integrate how the information is routed and reported. The result is a higher degree of financial control and a lower impact on your work force (less paperwork).
Charts of accounts in generic accounting programs can also pose a problem. Many manufacturing firms or companies that offer route services launch their systems using what was in the box, but later discover this was a costly oversight because it doesn’t align with how their businesses actually run. The smarter course of action is to evaluate the chart against their true needs. Advance planning and custom configuration will ensure all reporting is accurate and that line items are properly classified throughout the year (especially for expenses and sales taxes) before it’s too late. This is more cost-effective than having to re-launch the system after the fact.
There is also the matter of financial restatement for financial institutions and/or government agencies. Trying to save dollars on the IT implementation consultant can cost many times those presumed “savings” when the system has to be fixed, re-implemented and a full restatement of financials must be completed.
Consolidated communications for multiple devices.
These tools provide the ability to segregate and communicate to mass volumes of people in multiple ways, simultaneously and are excellent in times of emergency or for a mobile workforce.
In the old days, a commercial property manager was limited to a public address system or telephone chain to announce an evacuation was underway. Today, Internet telephony and communications apps enable a combination of email, text, and voice on a segregated basis, meaning you can communicate with different occupants as needed—and reach them anywhere. People on the notification list will receive messages and updates on multiple platforms since email, voice and text are all consolidated. Remote employees will also receive notifications on their devices so everyone knows what’s happening at the same time.
It’s not just about building emergencies. Companies may do the same for their offices and mobile workers any time that information must be broadcast to different users. An ad agency that occupies several floors of an office building or a small business that uses telecommuters may need to communicate efficiently with employees scattered in different spaces and places. They can do so via consolidated communications.
Push notifications to phones.
These alerts deliver up-to-the-minute instructions on where to go or what to do, to everyone’s mobile phone, all at the same time. This instant communication allows your people to respond (“I’m OK,” “I’m in the stairwell,” “I’m out of the building”) and be accounted for during an emergency. The system automatically logs the responses for you—there’s no need to have to be able to see everyone or speak to everyone on your team.
These applications are especially useful in multi-building campuses such as office parks and universities. Managers can handle the emergency, deal with the first responders and ensure the safety of all occupants while the communications interface handles the notifications and call/text logs on a widespread scale. The information reports back to the system interface (a hosted solution); reports can be then opened on a mobile device as a downloaded document or by email.
Let’s make a deal.
This same push notification technology can be used for some fun “internal” mobile marketing by landlords or businesses. Apps are available to send text or email notices of exclusive retail deals and special offers you procure in the area for your tenants, employees or clients. You can deliver a fun experience for them—and generate greater loyalty and stronger relationships—based on your buying power.
Long story short: business technology can greatly improve productivity among your staff and improve efficiencies between departments when it’s done right … and can really hurt when it’s not properly sourced and deployed. What kinds of tech tools are you using to create more streamlined operations in your organization? Share them here in the comments.