Harry Mowat, UK MD of Greentree
With business growth comes greater complexity. The number of personnel and suppliers on the books will rise, your supply chain becomes more involved and your business processes more complex. All of this contributes to unwanted administrative tedium that can hurt the business. This is why operational intelligence is increasingly on the agenda of rapidly growing companies.
Not to be confused with Business Intelligence (BI), Operational Intelligence (OI) harnesses data to streamline data delivery and automate key processes. In contrast, BI analyses data to help organisations forecast and plan for the future. OI automatically connects the dots, helping you work smarter and improve the efficiency of your business.
From speaking to financial directors and CEOs in mid-sized businesses across a range of industries, there are five main pain points they experience where OI can help:
- You’re trapped by administrative tedium
Very few of us want to spend our days performing dull, repetitive tasks or seemingly pointless administration. OI enables the automation of much of this, so the system connects the dots in your processes, without the need for human intervention and diminishing the risk of human error. Alerts can then be built-in so that any irregularities are highlighted to key staff, flagging issues immediately and reducing the impact they might otherwise have had.
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For example, in a warehouse, the system monitors the incoming orders and automatically calculates the pick-and-pack rate based upon stock reduction as orders are dispatched. Thanks to OI, the manager’s dashboard immediately alerts them on when the incoming orders outstrip the ability of the current team shift to fulfil them. They then either need to somehow increase the work rate, add extra resources to the shift, consider running into overtime or signal to customer service that some orders may be delayed. What’s more, with an OI enabled system the manager would have the information to hand to actually see which is the best choice, based on staff availability, the cost of overtime and the factory’s current rate of productivity.
- Different teams are using different versions of the same data
Organisations sometimes find it hard to see the wood for the trees when they get bogged down by multiple information streams. When OI is delivered across a fully integrated ERP system it provides a live view of what’s relevant to each individual in your business, giving them the data they need, when they need it.
For example, the warehouse manager, procurement manager and sales manager can all immediately see when stock levels are low. The warehouse manager knows to double check the orders committed against available stock; the procurement manager checks that a reorder has been put in place and the sales team see the limitations around the stock they can sell.
- People are making mistakes transcribing data between systems
Having an integrated system delivers one world view of the organisation, so that all departments share the same data. Information is only entered into the system once, allowing for a single version of the truth, vastly reducing errors.
OI can then flag if a piece of data exceeds certain criteria. For example, a sales person entering an excessive discount rate or a service engineer entering more hours worked than scheduled in a day. It may not pick up every error, but it vastly reduces the risk of their occurrence. Once data is entered, the information can then be repurposed. Nobody has to re-enter the data and if sign-off is required, this is built into the system, so data isn’t transferred until appropriate confirmation has been obtained. Any delay in sign off also results in an alert. This means the timesheet entry by the worker assigned to the job can be signed off by a manager and immediately transferred to a job sheet, which is then also automatically added to the customer invoice – with no rekeying required.
- Your finance team still relies on paper
Having to deal with a paper trail is frustrating for many finance teams. Even with electronic invoicing and job sheets, many organisations still print copies of invoices or purchase orders for manual sign off. It may sound like a small problem, but one of our customers spent £8,000 a quarter printing and couriering invoices between branch locations. Digitising and automating this through OI had a significant and immediate impact on their bottom line.
OI also vastly improves the timeliness and visibility of reporting through automation. Data is accumulated and presented in real time so that the finance team isn’t tied up chasing various departments for input, and managers can monitor sales patterns and probabilities continuously. Combine this with BI and you have 20/20 vision of your organisation’s performance.
- You don’t have enough time to innovate and evolve your business
By automating everyday tasks, you create opportunities for you and your staff to work more closely with customers and suppliers, and dedicate more time to planning and innovating.
It also embeds your intellectual property into your business, meaning you are not so vulnerable to key staff leaving and your platform for innovation is stronger. Essentially, it makes change a lot easier to deliver. Being able to automate and build alerts around a new business process means it can be executed as you want it from day one, minimising staff training and allowing for real-time performance monitoring.
Ultimately, too much complexity can blunt a company’s competitive edge, causing needless errors and damaging customer relationships. An intelligent use of data allows a business to streamline everyday functions and provide the right people with the right information, at the right time. Operational intelligence is something that any organisation in any industry can benefit from – and it’s not something that needs to be bought, just implemented. Ultimately, it will lead to smarter decisions and a stronger business.