"Use technology solution ‘X’ to free up your resources to do more value-added work!"
You’ve probably seen this claim on every website (and yes, we’re as guilty as the next technology business) and in every solution proposal or sales spiel you’ve heard.
And the problem with it?
If you automate, streamline, and remove previously manual tasks, that’s wonderful. But what exactly are these ‘value-added tasks’ that you and your team will be free to do? Does it mean you will be able to take longer lunches? Will you need to stretch out your day to fill those now empty spaces in your calendar when a task that took two weeks is reduced to mere minutes? Or will you upskill yourself and study business process optimisation between your other tasks? Or start looking for another job because you feel redundant and it’s hard to look busy?
So, what do our experts say? What are they thinking when they offer up ‘free time’ as a business benefit so glibly and without detail?
1. Doing more of what you were hired to do!
At the risk of being too pragmatic and blunt, this answer hits the nail on the head.
Put it this way - if you’re a customer service person, you have more time to focus on your role’s core purpose, versus the tools you need for your role. For example, an account manager can spend more time connecting with customers instead of being obsessed with admin, i.e., updating the CRM – or even spreadsheets, updating Customer Service people, manually converting quotes into orders, and more.
Likewise, free time for an account manager will mean more time to deeply engage with and service customers, versus spending your time on 'busy" (but non-value add) administration.
And you can see how this same premise would apply to other roles throughout the business. From your IT to finance to HR teams and more. Even your C-suite will love spending less time chasing other people for reports and data and getting on with their core jobs.
2. It’s the thought that counts.
Another spot-on answer. When you’re constantly busy with the small stuff, it’s usually at the expense of your creativity. Free time means having space to think more deeply and strategically about what you’re doing - so you can focus on innovative outcomes that make a difference to the business.
For example, if you produce the information your business stakeholders rely on for critical decision-making (no pressure!), then having reporting and analytics 'available' vs having to compile the data, will not only slash the physical time needed to do the consolidation and formatting, but deliver more accurate and dependable outcomes. You claw back time to focus on influencing change and identifying opportunities, rather than waiting for data from all over the business to back up your assumptions and ideas. And given that in this day and age simply ‘handing over the data’ for someone else is not good enough, business leaders and decision-makers want insights (not info they need to interpret) you have the bandwidth to add real value. So – free time for you and your decision-makers translates to better quality thinking time.
3. Make firefighting a smaller part of BAU.
While in an ideal world, we are all focused on improving the efficiency of our businesses, the reality is that too much time is spent firefighting in order to maintain a business-as-usual state.
As an example, to enable our own ICT team to make our operations more efficient, we needed to free them up from the day-to-day demands of our own users. Jumping from building a seriously timesaving PowerApp one minute to helping restore a staff member’s laptop is distracting, to say the least. Not to mention the email ping-pong that led to longer wait times for solutions, and grumpier stakeholders. So, we streamlined – now every request is in one place, is tracked and auditable, and nothing gets dropped. Delivery times have improved, utilisation rates are much higher, stakeholders are happier and more productive, and the ICT Team have now found time to work on projects like upgrading systems and processes that benefit everyone, rather than spending all their time fixing the squeakiest wheels.
So, providing our – and your – team-at-large with efficient alternatives to human hands-on help is in everyone’s interest.
4. Doing what you do, but better!
Our last thought offering. If you look at current inefficiencies in your team, then letting go of the old ways means they can do more of the things they were already meant to be doing – but better.
For example, while an invoice approval system may not necessarily reduce the number of people in your payables processing team, it can give the time back needed to review invoices more thoroughly for correct coding, identifying issues like incorrect billing information, statement reconciliation, and more. All those things that save time and trouble downstream. Yes, you may expect your payables team to do this all as a matter of course, but when time poor, something always gives. And they’ll thank you for taking the monotonous work out of their day so they can actually do what they know will improve the AP process.