Intelligent Software, not electronic paper

The lull between Christmas and new year is often a time for reflection, especially when you hold a position of responsibility. I met up with a friend recently who runs a very similar business to ours, in the sense that they sell software that can radically alter the way a business operates.

In this case their software manages data from energy meters, sensors and controllers in buildings – the reporting and visibility delivers significant savings by better management and monitoring, and it enables new ways of working. Senior management get to know what’s going on and an opportunity to change things. The software adds a level of responsibility and intelligence to an existing company, just as we do at Enterprise Study for the training sphere. Take a look at http://www.kaldien.com/ if you are interested, I’ll wait.

This is the world of enterprise software and it’s getting more sophisticated every year.

It seems that both companies face similar challenges.

You see the problem is most people working outside the technology industry do not yet grasp the potential of using the right software for the job. I’ve spoken to several people recently and they all tell the same story, businesses and even the military, manage several key processes using nothing more than Microsoft Excel. We’ve seen the same thing in training companies as well. This is not that much different from using a paper based system, just because you are using IT doesn’t mean that it is efficient. You need to be using the right software to go with it.

Now Excel is a good general purpose tool, but if you are using Excel to manage your business then you are likely to be missing a trick.

Intelligent Training Administration

How can we sell our software when most businesses don’t think they need us? They don’t know what software is capable of, so Excel (or their in house Access database) seems like the optimal solution, or they are so busy manually moving numbers around to keep the spreadsheets in sync that they don’t have time to look up.

Let me try and explain what I mean by intelligent software with a contrived example.

You take a call and enter a confirmed training course booking into your system (it doesn’t have to be Excel either). Then what happens? You reach for a clean sheet of paper and your quill, you pick up some ink and you write a letter to confirm the place. You fold the paper and place it in an envelope, then you post it. Now wait, that’s silly. Technology has moved on, this is what really happens.

You reach for a clean sheet of paper and put it in your typewriter. You then type out a neat letter. You fold the paper and place it in an envelope, then you post it. Now wait, that’s silly too. Let’s try again.

You open up a letter template in Word and edit it. You print it out. You fold the paper and place it in an envelope, then you post it.

Getting better? Well you used a computer, but the computer can do so much more. This is where the intelligence comes in. Your training administration software that you entered the booking into, that should have all the information it needs to generate the letter for you. Print it and post it.

Let us go further, if the software has the users email address then it can send them an email automatically. It can attach pre-reading material appropriate for the course, it can attach a map to the training location because you gave it one.

Why would you want to do this manually? There are far more important things that you could be doing.

That’s just one step in the process. What about automating evaluation forms and reminders? What about seeking authorisation and sign off automatically?

There’s more too. Since the information is now in a database and not a spreadsheet you can report on it easier.

Software can and should do more than just replace paper.

Change management

This is all good stuff, but there are other side effects to implementing a real training administration system to automate business processes – you’ve got to have business processes, and you must be able to describe them.

For example if you have a cancellation charging policy, then sure you can automate it. But if you are always overruling it then do you really have a policy at all, or is the policy not to charge? These are important conversations that often don’t happen until you start implementing a system. You also start to think more clearly about what your ‘blue sky’ process is, which can be automated, and how you can minimise the manual interventions that cost you money. You get clarity too. Is everyone following the same policies?

There are downsides of course, a software system won’t be as flexible as a spreadsheet, but the benefits of automation and consistency will always outweigh that.

Change is rarely easy, but it is ultimately rewarding.

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