In any business, the ability to efficiently collect and analyse data is acknowledged as key to its success. It's Business Management 101.
But incredibly, the widespread use of spreadsheets for data manipulation and storage is alive and kicking. Reports are delivered with much effort and often collated from data that let’s face it, is old.
I took an enquiry recently from someone. How could they better manage their costs in a firm of 40 staff. She started by saying their team of 10 full time admin and accounts people, “do everything for us”.
Since many of our clients run at ratios of 10:1 or 8:1 billable to non-billable staff I was staggered to hear of a ratio of 3:1. Upon further discussion it became clear.
Every week a spreadsheet of jobs is emailed to staff. Each person enters time into their copy and emails it back. Someone rekeys the returned spreadsheets into the time billing system. It’s a well-known commercial system. But it's old.
Invoices are also done (you guessed it) in another 'system'. Wow! There’s one file per job per month. The numbers are keyed back into the time billing system to net off WIP and also rekeyed into the accounting system.
With 80+ invoices per month and templates everywhere, I was feeling really sorry for this caller. So I asked “Why are you rekeying so much data”. I then thought I’d blown it because she didn’t say anything.
Was I missing something? Maybe everyone was simply doing their best. Or was this business being taken for a ride by an admin manager who has built themselves a self-aggrandising empire of busy bees.
While times are good, nobody takes time to review the decisions nor the time being wasted, because it isn’t perceived as an issue.
But current economic forecasts and our 'New Normal' demands that we all review our cost structures. In businesses selling only their time and expertise, that means applying the blow torch to every process.
With minimal cross-over effort this business could have significantly streamlined processes, and reduced its costs as it still may need to do.
I asked her to imagine one single source of truth, eliminating a haphazard collection of reports that have to be pieced together to create something useful every time anyone wants something up to date. I told her invoices could be going out the door faster, payroll could be driven directly from each employee’s timesheets. And they'd be filling out their own on-line. There would be no reduction in the quality of the business critical information, and the admin team could probably be cut in half.
Decisions based on manually collated data can become a heavy drag on the inner workings of any company, often costing valuable time and revenue, not to mention profit.
Therefore, it’s vital that the data you’re using to generate essential reports is easily obtained, based on a single source of truth.
The result will be significant time savings, a higher level of confidence in the reliability of the reports you’re reviewing, and it'll be real time information.
Let's face it, who wants to go home each night having gone through one file, rekeyed the salient numbers into another, double checked and fixed mistakes then presented already out of date information to its recipient. Hardly morale boosting.
And all those admin staff? Talk about an unnecessary drag on the productivity and profitability of any business!
Food for thought? How efficient are the systems your business is using?
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