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Shifting Gears: Taking your business from manual to automated

(This is the second blog in the blog series, “What Keeps C-Level Execs Up at Night,” from Jeanette Prenger, president and CEO of ECCO Select)

The humble ATM traces its roots to the 1960s, believe it or not, with widespread use in the U.S. starting in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Nevertheless, it’s been called the “only useful innovation in banking,” and I couldn’t agree more. It managed to automate many of the manual banking transactions we’d all done for decades; no longer did our lives revolve around banking hours and long lines at the drive-through lane.

On the flip side of automation you have the dreaded auto attendant. Who among us hasn’t been tempted to throw our phone at the wall after repeatedly pressing “1” for customer service, only to be looped back to the first menu, or being forced to sum up the reason for your call into one of five command choices—none of which the robotic woman seems to understand. “I’m sorry,” she says, “please state your request again.”

Two examples of automation, two very different results.

Yet, as we partner with new clients to help them improve their business efficiencies, we always seem to find manual processes that could benefit from automation. The trick is knowing which ones are the ATMs in the bunch—and which ones still require human hands.

Easy ground to gain

The benefits of automating are fairly self-evident: cutting costs, saving time, reducing errors, allowing your people to focus on tasks that require intellectual skill. Yet, many companies are wasting precious amounts of both time and money with tasks better served by technology.

We recently worked with a bank that was wasting many hours every year by sending technicians and managers to physically inventory assets and asset tags, then manually comparing them to a master spreadsheet. On top of that, the company was losing even more time because the IT terminology didn’t match the purchasing system, which meant even more manual reconciliation.

We see this a lot. Thankfully, by revising the relationships and responsibilities of the various departments, standardizing naming conventions for hardware and software, creating standards around asset tags and inventory procedures, and then physically tagging all assets with barcodes, we were able to save time, decrease the likelihood of input errors, and increase accuracy.

Choose carefully

So, which processes are best served by automation? Our consultants first look for those manual functions that are time- and resource-intensive, prone to human error, and that can be completed more quickly through automation. Many times, automating these also improves revenue and/or decreases operational expenses. Mary Shacklett, president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm, explains in a recent article:

“Technology is the enabler of business process automation, and it can automate workflows to the point where human intervention is unnecessary … But not every business process is a good fit for automation, so it’s incumbent upon companies to determine which processes are best suited to automation and which ones are best handled by humans.”

Our consultants usually look for manual processes that fall into one of these categories:

Repetitive tasks – This could include everything from assembly work and software updates to shipping, billing or purchasing. Human error can cause big problems with these types of tasks, while technology can often ensure consistency and accuracy.

Employee self-service – Employees love the ability to personally manage things like their 401(k), online training, other HR elections—all without the need for HR staff or other employees to help facilitate the process. And just like our beloved ATMs, employees can access these items from the comfort of their homes at any time.

Document production and management – This is a big one for everyone from law firms to food manufacturers, and it’s a good example of the direct correlation between the efficiency of a process and profitability. Automation can help ensure incoming documents are routed to the right person as quickly as possible, remove the chance for human error from manually handling paper documents, increase back-office operations, and improve customer relationships by creating a more efficient process for receiving payment or product.

Technology is allowing us to automate so much of our daily lives, and even the ATM is quickly becoming outdated by apps like Venmo and PayPal (although cash will always be king). The bottom line is your business can’t be left behind, stuck in a Rolodex realm of manual processes. The CEOs we’ve worked with all say the same thing: “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Certain aspects of business will always need the human touch, but let us work on the rest so your best people can focus on those skills in which they really excel.

This is the second blog in the series, “What Keeps C-Level Execs Up at Night,” from Jeanette Hernandez Prenger, president and CEO of ECCO Select, a talent acquisition + advisory consulting company, specializing in people, process and technology solutions for our clients. ECCO’s experienced advisory consultants can help your organization with a variety of business challenges, many of which are caused by outdated manual processes. Learn more at, or let us know your thoughts on Facebook or on Twitter @ECCOSelectCORP.