Automating summer staff gaps: Business Process Improvement Cycle

Well, it’s that time of year. January brings good weather, new business opportunities and… staff leave. Teetering the fine line between being an excellent, accommodating employer who approves a summer vacation for all three full-time staff members at once means that—yay!—you’re going to heaven, but all of those goals you wanted to meet at the start of the New Year go straight out of the window as you take on the duties of your vacationing staff.

Implementing systems and processes well ahead of time can you save a world of trouble for the future and leave your headache for the EOFY instead. Which is, lets face it, going to be an inevitable headache.

Completing a quick SWOT analysis and reassessment of your business process improvement cycle can reveal some issues, which always have solutions.

There are the 5 business process improvement questions to ask yourself:

  • What in the process is broken?
  • Which steps in the process create roadblocks?
  • Which step require the most time and delays?
  • Are there steps that cause costs to go up?
  • Are there steps that cause quality to go down?

Identifying specific opportunities for improvement:

Repetitive tasks: is it something that needs to be booked repetitively? A customer booking that needs to be logged? Grab yourself an online booking form integrated with your existing software that stores the customer details.

Human resources: Automated staff payroll software is all the rage, and rightly so. Get employees (or whoever is left) to log in and log out, with access to their pay slips at all times.

Communication: Turn your many daily calls between staff members into one location for all communication on a mobile device. Not only will it cut down your phone bill, but depending on the option you go for, can allow greater transparency between team members in real time, and can be accessed later.

Chatbots: Using AI on your website can eliminate the need for human resources. Generally customers will have a pattern in the enquiries they make through chat. A chat bot can provide answers to regular questions, and default to a contact form or email.

Eliminate paper: This one might set you back in equipment initially, but eliminating the need for manual and paper filing and archiving will save you hundreds of hours in labour time, and leaves a time-saving (not actually) paper trail. And a marketable approach to sustainability and environmentalism.

 

With the technology available that we have at our disposal, when there is a process issues, there is a process solution. And where you have specific industry issues, there are competitors who are automating them.

All the best for 2018, and make the most of it!

Adapting to automation in your industry

In the Industrial Revolution people foresaw doom and gloom for employment as it was. Machines were going to take over their manual labouring positions and replace their livelihoods with destitution and unemployment. And to a large degree the industrial revolution had a negative impact initially on the lives of workers, as factory cities became crowded, unclean and allowed disease and sickness to flourish untampered.

Over time, the industrial revolution has paved the way for the age of automation. People who made the machines needed to enter information into the machines which within itself can now be automated.

Once a role is automated, it will never be the same. The duties within that position never return. Competitors will adapt the automation in order to maintain competitive footing and keep their labour costs down.

If you are an employer and your reading this, you’re in for a treat.

And if you are an employee reading this, you are also in for a treat.

Automation is actually best for everyone; fear not, the robots are not going to take your jobs. Rather than shuffle papers around one at a time and waste valuable skill sets on autonomous and tedious tasks, by having elements of automation incorporated into your role, your job will only get better and you will have a great deal more time to spend on revenue generating tasks. The scope of your role as an employee is expanded to things like data and trend analysis, data matching and being able to work faster with the tedious component of the work already completed.

Google predicts that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to reach human levels by 2029. IT firm Gartner estimates that one-third of jobs as we know them now will be replaced by robots and machine-learning devices by 2025.

Rather than these existing jobs disappear, new jobs will arise in their place. These jobs are likely to be less labour intensive, safer and require a higher level of skills than previously.

Here’s the low down on the industries most likely to be affected by automation.

1. Healthcare

The power of automation in the healthcare industry is limitless. In a profession requiring perfect accuracy in procedures and the assessment of symptoms, machines and AI can do a much better job at a much-lower cost. Healthcare professionals will never be totally replaced, but they will be able to spend time on patients problems that require a more human interpretation that are a little less labour intensive.

It doesn’t just stop there, however. Mobile health care apps are on a meteoric rise, and for good reason. With people from all backgrounds, locations and health literacy levels able to now submit and assess their own health issues to remote doctors and through AI driven phone apps, diagnosis can come much quicker, more accurate and non-discriminatively.

2. Manufacturing

Manufacturing has already experience a significant change over the last 200 years. First with the industrial revolution and the ability to mass-produce using human-driven and operated equipment, and more recently with humans moving away from the manufacturing entirely and employing completely robot operated production lines. Within the automotive industry the change has been massive. The introduction of “arms” with six degrees of movement revolutionised the way that cars were put together. Nowadays, automotive robots can work somewhat autonomously and can interact with a changing environment working alongside humans.

3. Transportation

Ever used a train? This year Rio Tinto sent their first driverless heavy haulage train 100km across the Pilbara, the first of its kind. Driverless cars are now statistically safer than those driven by humans.

Uber is not a transport company; it’s a tech company. They have an excellent automated app that requires only a small amount of interaction. Imagine a world where you request your uber, and a driverless car arrives at your door.

4. Customer Service

Have you been into McDonalds lately and built your own burger? Aside from the customer service operator handing you the meal, there is very limited human interaction in an environment which previously would have required a pen, a paper and a good set of ears. You can now order coffee online and pick it up, or use the Dominoes app to have an order arrive with no customer interactions. Chatbots are now employed by most major online companies and respond to your enquiries so well, you may not know you are interacting with a bot at all.

5. Law

100,000 jobs within the legal sector are set to be automated. That is not to say that they will be disappear, but the way that lawyers interact with clients, offer value for money and compete with chat bots that can deliver fast, free and accurate information faster than real lawyers means that a level of adaptability by the industry will need to be employed. Legal secretaries roles are set for massive change, so stay tuned.

6. Finance

Massive amounts of financial data mean that companies are looking to AI in order to automate reports, data match and discover trends. Though humans can do this with a good deal of accuracy, employing humans to interpret the data in a real world way is a much better use of labour time. Chat bots are now able to dispense a good amount of financial advice with excellent accuracy, and to provide information to customers on budgeting measures.

Though fear of automation is fairly widespread, with many experts weighing in on what it means for industries, for workers, for wages and cost of living, one thing has been apparent over time, through both the industrial revolution and the new age of automation; life for humans has got better. And it will only continue to do so.

Automation in your Food Business

This is a really important topic, and as a former hospitality worker, I can’t express persuasively enough the crucial need for hospitality employers to get a move on into the future.

Please, throw away your waiters and waitresses dockets, and get an application on a tablet instead.

A scenario: You are the owner of a moderately large sized establishment. You frequently cater for upwards of 300 guests. You employ 9 wait staff at a rate of $24-ish an hour (without superannuation) to take the drink and food orders of your customers.

After writing down the drink order and food order, the waitstaff then duck into the kitchen and place the docket on the order bar for the chefs and cooks to get to work on. Your waitstaff then go and make the drink orders and take these to the table.

In this current system, the waitstaff’s use of hours is hardly effective, tasks are not easily delegated, communication can be difficult, paper orders are hard to track, and worst of all, this is the system for a great deal of restaurants, both new and old.

Here is another scenario.

You approach a software development company about developing an application that wait staff can use on tablets. This application has the ability to print food dockets in the kitchen for the chefs to start working on and the ability to print drink dockets off to the bar.

Rather than have your one waitstaff look after both food and drinks per table, you now have one person responsible for the bar who can start the drinks immediately as soon as they are ordered.

Your waitstaff now have more time to take orders and provide service to other patrons, your customers receive their orders quicker and you are able to employ less front of house staff as a result of the lightened work load.

And this is just one scenario.

Imagine if patrons could order their meal 20 minutes before their booking? The meals now come out straight away, you can turnover more customers and essentially double your income per sitting.

The upfront cost and fear of integration seem to be the primary things that hold employers from embracing it with open arms. But it’s not so scary.

Get ahead of the rest, and please your former waitstaff (guilty) by integrating automation in to your kitchen.

Custom Software Development- Not so scary

Custom Aoftware DevelopmentEvery business owner does it at least once. You purchase software for your business that seems reasonably relevant, is kind-of cheap, it integrates with your existing software (sort of) but over time you wish that it had particular features; ultimately the software makes you yearn for the days before you never used it.

Custom software vs. Generic software

Generic software is designed for a much wider audience who have a particular set of needs in common, ie Outlook integration, customer database, etc.

Custom software development is the process of commissioning, developing and releasing software applications with one business and all of their operations in mind.

And whilst the cost of custom software for your business is certainly going to be higher than that of generic software made for a larger audience, the improvements that these changes make to productivity is positively endless and a fantastic long-term investment. Custom software that accurately reflects the nuanced needs of your business, your staff, your operations, and one that accommodates for future development will unlock hours of time wasted which can be automated, accommodate for unexpected growth and will both securely and reliably support the infrastructure of you business.

But it’s not actually that big of a deal to get custom software integrated. A software company (well, a good one) will employ a systemic user centered design approach to tailor the development, design and integration with your business needs.

So, get excited about custom software development!

At Loop Foundry we know what we’re doing, we love working with local businesses and we love finding solutions to your infrastructure needs.

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Starting a business? Get it online with these steps

So, you’re starting a business. The initial steps you need to take can often feel like a chicken-before-the-egg scenario. What comes first? Where do you start?

Setting up your online infrastructure well before you need it will save you time and money down the track. And though it may not appear to be the best possible use of your time, you will only be able to get so far with your business before you start hitting brick walls preventing you from achieving the growth of your competitors.

Build it, and they will come.

We’ve compiled a list of things (and how to integrate them) to help get you started.

  1. Website
  2. Domain Name
  3. Hosting
  4. Email
  5. Social Media
  6. Software

1. Website

You need to be able to communicate your Unique Selling Points (USP’s), convince buyers that you are worth investing in. An effective way to communicate this information is through a purposeful website.

There are a number of ways to get your website up and online. You can use a Content Management System (CMS) yourself, though you need to be well versed in behaviour flow, design, targeted content, and it really helps if you are very tech savvy.

You also need to make sure that whichever avenue you take for your website delivers a brilliant user experience on their mobile. According to official Google statements, more than 50 percent of search queries globally now come from mobile devices

If you want to go down the CMS lane, you will need a domain name. Which brings us to….

2. Domain Name

Your domain name is your business’s address, ie www.yourbusiness.example

You can register a domain name through registrars such as GoDaddy or Net Registry; most web hosting providers also provide domain names (we do!). You will need to re-purchase these domains after they expire– and make sure you hit renew!– because if it expires, and someone else purchases it (they will and do), it’s gone forever.

Your domain name and website will need to be hosted on a server. So, on to…

3. Hosting

Websites are hosted, or stored, on special computers called servers. When you visit a website, you are connecting to that websites server, which delivers you the web pages through your browser.

It’s important to have solid hosting, particularly if you are like the author here (Jacquie) who didn’t know what that was until this year.

4. Email

We all see the odd business getting away with yourbusiness@gmail.com. But it looks unprofessional and will only be a pain to change later on down the track when you do get an email that matches your domain name. If you own a domain name, you should have an email service on that domain name, and will need to sign up for an email hosting service. There is a couple of ways to do this. You can go through email hosting companies, or have this managed by an IT professional. However, if you have an issues with the server through a hosting company, it can be difficult to resolve. Getting in touch with someone local and trustworthy will ensure that you are always online, and that your servers a well managed.

5. Social Media

Start generating interest in your products or services by advertising on social media. Research which platform generate the most interest, and start there. Get your friends and family to like the page to begin with, and then consider Pay Per Click (PPC) to generate more interest in the page by paying for clicks from your target audience.

Mobile phone screen with social media icons.

You can schedule posts to appear on your page at times when users are most likely to engage with the material. The best times to post content on Facebook are between 1-4pm on weekdays, with Wednesday at 3pm the absolute best time to post from the whole week. Advertisements that appear before 8am and after 8pm on weekends perform the worst.

 

Do competitor research. How often do your competitors post? What is their material? What is their angle? Do they have any strategies to increase engagement, likes or comments? Plan, plan and plan.

6. Software

Now we are on to the fun stuff! What do you need to operate your business? Do you have Point of Service needs, integrated calendar needs, a booking form requirement, staff to pay?

Laptop with custom software being written.Though the upfront cost to your business might feel substantial– especially when you are starting out– the investment in your business long term will be immeasurable. If you are taking over the phone bookings when your competitors have an integrated calendar and booking form, it is time to start automating, or face being left behind very quickly. Consumers are more and more turning to businesses that operate efficiently online, provide a good user experience and can provide information quickly without hassle. Having software to improve your processes saves labour time for you, improves the user experience, generates increased revenue and leaves you and your staff with more time to work on the actual service work.

You may find that a time management or customer relationship management (CRM) software are going to be beneficial to the way your business is organised. There are many, many options out there available for this. We have some information here on the difference between custom software vs off the shelf. 

Hopefully by this stage you are starting to develop ideas about how to approach starting your new business. Though every business is different, and might require the 6 areas in a different order, at different times, they are almost always required by all businesses in the early stage of business development.

We can provide solutions to each of these needs. Get in touch!

What is User Centred Design

User Centred design (UCD), also known as user-driven development is the process of gaining a deep understanding of the product at the heart of it’s design for achieving goals, performing tasks,  usability, function and addressing the user-experience as a whole with the user at the core of the development.

This is very important, as we can see below.

The consequence of not employing the user at the centre of design is clear.

For web design, software development and general every day design of products to be functional, the developer and designer needs to be able to address each issue and potential issue from the stand point of a first-time user.

The ultimate goal of the Use Centred Design philosophy is to optimize the product to the tastes, preference and desires of the product as opposed to forcing change on part of the user to accommodate the product.

The general phases of the User Centred Design are:

  1. Specifying context of use: Identification of primary product users, use, requirements and environment of use.
  2. Specify requirements: After identifying context, approaching the smaller details by use of storyboards, behaviour flow charts and important goals works to develop a more successful product.
  3. Create design solutions and development: Based on the goals, requirement and context, starting the process of design and development
  4. Evaluation: Performing usability testing, gathering feedback and discovering any usability and function issues which may be prevalent.

 

The three overreaching elements that are taken into consideration in the process are:

Audience: demographic, ethnicity, gender, education, etc

Purpose: The function of the product, the goal.

Context: The situation prompting the need.

We keep the user at the centre of our design process. Creating a solution to a need by incorporating the phases and elements of UCD in the design and development stage will ensure that the product will be fit for purpose, accessible and targeted.

We hope this has given you a small insight into the way User Centred Design is used, particularly within the field of software development and web design.

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What is business automation?

What is business automation?

If you don’t know software, it can be very hard to identify the need for software. But more or less, if you have a repetitive task, it can likely be automated. It’s that simple. And though it might seem like a big leap for your business, we can identify where you might need improvements in your processes and opportunities for better resource allocation.

Some examples of every day automation that we don’t even think about:

  • Point of Service tills and software
  • Electronic Funds Transfer
  • Thermostats
  • Espresso makers (guilty!)

Some ways you might be able to automate processes:

  • Payroll
  • Sales (move online!)
  • Customer enquiries
  • Personnel management (the days of the white board are well and truly over)
  • Employee productivity (automate those internal tasks and save on labour costs)

Getting in touch with a business automation expert is well worth your time. Even if you run a successful and fruitful business, maintaining efficiency where your competitors are—or better yet staying ahead—is one of the best investments of your time you can make as a business owner.

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Our predictions for business in Tasmania

Skyscrapers.

With new STEM infrastructure bubbling in Hobart, the future for Australia’s most southern state looks promising. The University of Tasmania’s $400-million science and technology precinct which would be home to 3000 students and 700 staff will no doubt attract some big names, big tenders and new influx of work for local businesses.

Add to the mix the very nature of Tasmania’s being small in size and easier to make improvements to (hint: optic fibre), cheap on building rent and family friendly, investors are beginning to look to Hobart as a cost-effective place to start up digital spaces and online businesses.

As face-to-face business moves to online businesses aided by increasing internet speeds, communication softwares and big data, geography is set to become less important than where you place in the search engine.

So what does this mean for you as a small business?

It’s time to get on board in the digital realm… And quickly. A CBD shopfront is set to become less important over time than your online shopfront. With business process automation taking over, and you can now wake up to sales made overnight, maximising your time and throwing away the old 9-5.

Loop Foundry are optimistic about what we can contribute to the future of business in Tasmania. If you want to get your business up to speed, get in touch with us today and have a chat about what we can do for you.

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Position Filled: Administrative Assistant

The position has been filled for the role of Administrative Assistant. We would like to thank all applicants for their applications, and welcome you to keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook for any upcoming vacancies.

Loop Foundry, a software development consultancy based in Hobart, is looking for a casual administrative assistant to join their small team.

Tasks

We provide custom software and web development, and eCommerce software solutions to our primarily Tasmanian clients. To help us achieve this, you’ll need to:

  • Edit (and contribute to) documents such as software documentation, project proposals, website blog posts, and operations manuals.
  • Answer phone calls and respond to emails on behalf of other staff members.
  • Perform software usability testing (if you think you’d be terrible at this because you know nothing about software testing, you’re exactly the person we’re after).
  • Pester staff members (mostly your boss) to get the work they promised to clients done.
  • Follow up with clients via phone and email to ensure they also do what they said they’d do.
  • Perform Internet research and write summaries of findings.
  • Other duties as required.

Basically, we want you to help us provide excellent service to our clients.

Qualities

We absolutely don’t expect you to be able to effortlessly tick off every item above as something you can do, training will of course be provided. However, there are a few qualities we’d like you to have:

  • Excellent written and verbal English communication skills.
  • Excellent general computer skills (experience in Word, Excel and PowerPoint is a must).
  • The ability to learn quickly and follow directions.
  • The ability to work unsupervised.
  • Attention to detail and pride in your work.

Benefits

Lunch Room and Ping Pong Table
The lunch room (including ping pong table)!
  • Total working hours will start around 8 hours per week. Your hours can be negotiable in order to fit around other commitments you might have.
  • You’ll be paid $24.30 per hour ($19.44 plus casual loading) as well as superannuation guarantee contributions of 9.5%.
  • We have a lovely dog-friendly office space in central Hobart (with table tennis table and large kitchen).
  • You can work from home occasionally if needed (though you’re expected to be in the office most of the time).

Applying

To apply to be our new administrative assistant, please email your CV (or a link to your LinkedIn profile) to jack.scott@loopfoundry.com.au. Cover letters are welcome and encouraged, but you will be disqualified if you attach the cover letter as a Word or PDF document rather than put it in the email body.

Applications will close on the 15th of September. Applicants will be notified via email within two weeks as to whether they have an interview.

August Service Changes

Ha Long Bay

One of our project managers, Jack, is going on holiday between the 29th of July and the 13th of August, and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whether you’re the one spending two weeks lying on beaches in Vietnam) he will be unavailable to respond to any urgent support queries.

Whilst he’s away, you will still be able to reach other members of the team by emailing info@loopfoundry.com.au (for non-urgent matters), or by calling (03) 6287 6964.