The Repair Shop

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About 20 years ago one of our local councils created a fantastic job, time and project management system using Microsoft Access 97

At the time this was state of the art and connected to a SQL Server backend database and several third-party add-ins to provide functionality that was at the time not natively available in Microsoft Access it performed wonderfully.

This included functionality for creating PDF files emailing documents creating Excel spreadsheets and Word documents as well as sophisticated screen handling.

The system provided unparalleled facilities for the council to monitor costs at multiple levels across many different cost codes and across various geographical areas.  Additionally, the labour timesheets met all the needs of the council’s unique flexitime rules.

Another developer created the system and with Microsoft Access 97 the system ran well on Microsoft XP and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. At the time this was the best option available as packages to provide this detailed level of functionality simply did not exist.

After a number of years, the council had to upgrade the operating system and also the SQL Server database platform and this caused a number of issues. In addition, the third-party add-ins became unsupported and unable to run in the newer technology.

Other things were happening as well such as a gradual change in the way we name our files,  the system was built to accommodate short folder names and short simple file names.  There was now a need to use URLs on both network servers and the cloud to reference documents.  Additionally, the system screens were designed to use the small low resolution monitors of the day (1024 x 768) and now the system sits in a small cramped window cramped in a large desktop of available spare screen real estate

The system was successfully upgraded by the council sometime ago to access 2007 and this provided many more new years of life to the system.  However, when they introduced the Windows 7 operating systems, and 64 bit technologies as well as thin clients it was required to update the system to at least Microsoft Access 2010. This caused a specific problem as that version of Access no longer supported of the use of Microsoft SQL server Stored Procedures using the data providers built into the System.

Furthermore, as the system was originally built the “On Error Resume” setting the system would simply pass over runtime errors.  Skipping critical process points and providing variable results.

With the system becoming less reliable the council started creating spreadsheets to replace some of the functions and reports. This resulted in more staff time being wasted having to make up for the shortfalls in the system.

Just like the popular program The Repair Shop on the BBC we were called in to see what we could do to renovate this old system. We carefully worked through every screen and report and replaced all the original third-party routines with native functionality now available in the latest version of Microsoft Access.

We replaced the calls to all the store procedures using the views and hardcoded SQL. We updated the connectivity. We embedded libraries of the current Microsoft Office suite So we could automate Microsoft Office methods to create process and manipulate both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel documents.  We also re-wrote all the file handling subroutines so they could adapt to new file naming conventions.

To improve general performance and reliability we provided additional error-checking to ensure simple things like before you for going to open a file let’s see if it exists first and if it doesn’t let’s put out a sensible meaningful error message rather than just doing nothing.

Just like in the BBC TV programme The Repair Shop, we came to the point where we showed our clients the newly renovated system. They were absolutely delighted with it and thrilled to see a faster, fresher looking system with smarter screens virtually everything working first time and for the first time in many years reports coming out of the system automatically without the need to create spreadsheets saving a lot of time and stress.

After showing the clients the renovated legacy system that day I sat down at home and watched the an expert in The Repair Shop renovate an old penny arcade game taking it all to bits applying a lot of love and care to every single part and then rebuilding it all bit by bit.  It’s at that point I realised we just did that in software :-)

PS we also create new state of the art database systems for running on PC’s, mobile devices and browsers.

 

 

Why you can’t rely on Spreadsheets

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News broke on the weekend of 16,000 COVID-19 cases being missed due to an IT glitch, pretty serious right? As I’m sure many of you are aware, IT glitches are part and parcel of working in an industry that relies so heavily on data input. Anything from updates to network dropouts, these are all pretty common glitches that we all face on a weekly/monthly basis. Losing a couple of files may not be as important as 16,000 Coronavirus cases being missed but it’s still pretty annoying.

Some of you reading this may be wondering “well what has the government losing 16,000 cases got to do with spreadsheet reliability?” The answer: – the positive results are kept in a spreadsheet meaning those 16,000 positive cases were missed because an Excel spreadsheet had reached its maximum capacity and had not updated. According to the Daily Mail, the reason behind 16,000 people not knowing they’d tested positive for COVID-19 and potentially passing the virus on to many others, is because the lab in question is still using spreadsheets to house their data. Again, pretty serious.

Surely the Government have now realised the need for a more secure way of tracking and tracing positive COVID-19 tests? You’d like to think so, but no. In the same Daily Mail article, they quote “The technical issue has now been resolved by splitting the Excel files into batches”. This opens up a whole new worry as not only is the data STILL being stored in an unreliable spreadsheet, there are now batches of spreadsheets that again could easily become a victim of an unsuspected “IT Glitch”!

Where do paper forms stand in 2020?

I just had to complete a long paper form in handwriting for an insurance
claim. Not only does this seem old fashioned, I realised how much has my handwriting deteriorated nophoto-1521791055366-0d553872125fw that everything is electronic.

I was so embarrassed about my handwriting, I had to put a post-it note on the
form with my phone number asking them to call me if they couldn’t read
anything.

Would it not have been so much simpler if this company would’ve just been
able to email me a link to fill the form in electronically via a web
browser? I could’ve easily corrected any errors, double checked it, printed
a copy for my own purposes and sent it off.

The form would then arrive electronically in the offices instantly with no
need for the information to be re-entered manually. The form could also
ensure that simple errors are correct it prior to the form being sent back.

Are you still asking your clients/suppliers to fill-in paper forms?

If so contact us directly to find out how cost-effective and straight-forward it is
to collect data electronically and put it straight into a company database!

How Workplace Automation Can Change Your Business

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Machines and revolutionary computer programs are changing the future of work for the better. Workplace automation is allowing companies to operate more productively and efficiently, creating more time for staff members to work on other tasks.

Businesses that don’t use digital means for data management are starting to notice that they are falling behind. In this article, we will try to inspire you to implement these solutions into your existing business processes.

What is Workplace Automation?

Workplace automation is essentially a large network of systems which work together in order to create automated workflows. These systems can then be used to make repetitive tasks happen without the need for a physical person to be present.

Data is collected within these workflows, then processed and stored in order to share with the rest of a team. If you’re a business owner who still needs to hire staff to run mundane tasks, you aren’t achieving the best work efficiency possible. The right Automated System saves time and money, as it performs tasks without the need for any human intervention.

Staff Accessibility

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The smartest automation systems can prevent your staff from having to dig through massive amounts of data to find the important information you need.

Automated Data Processing systems are a breath of fresh air for those who seek to break down limitations found in older database systems. Our database systems, for example, can be made to run on one or a combination of platforms:

  • PC Desktop
  • MAC
  • Mobile Devices
  • Web Browsers

This allows for a more accessible approach to data processing, as managing these systems could be done from anywhere at any given time. This helps to reduce possible downtime and gives your employees more time for other things, minimising any wasted time.

Improving Team Spirit

All of the most productive workforces in the world achieve success by securing a positive atmosphere. If you can maintain high staff retention by removing tasks like data inputting, people will feel more engaged and motivated.

You must make sure that you can balance out automated tasks, however. Automating the wrong areas could cause your team to feel like their job roles are at risk (see more in our blog Automation will not destroy jobs). Employee productivity should always be at the forefront for both employers and staff. Improving efficiency can help to keep workers performing at their best in deadlines, which is why automation is a useful tool for any company.

HR Automation

HR team in meeting discussing automated systems for business efficiency

Your Human Resources department is a good example of an area which deals with huge amounts of administrative tasks. These tasks are where automated systems can thrive in improving business efficiency and accuracy. Some of these processes might include:

  • Timesheets
  • Holiday Records
  • Employee Data Management
  • Payrolls

Removing as much repetitive administration as possible can give Human Resources the time to focus on providing proper training and measuring staff production. Automation tools can help to relieve this.

Feeling Inspired?

The possibilities that workplace automation offers are endless – hopefully we’ve managed to inspire you to start using automated processes. Remember that software automation can be a working process. Software developers around the world are constantly creating unique ways to use these systems, changing business models for the better.

Contact us to schedule a free of charge consultation. We’re here to help to improve business efficiency and ensure that your business is effective as you move forward.

Growing your business: Efficiency vs Effectiveness

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In our minds, a business is moving in one of two directions; either forwards or backwards.

The urge to grow a business helps to ensure increased strength and protection against events beyond the control of company leaders. In theory, the more diverse and evolved an organisation is, the greater likelihood is that it will not just survive any number of unforeseen events, but will thrive ‘no matter what’.

To develop a strong business, we’ll consider efficiency, and effectiveness.

By efficiency, we simply mean to do things in the best possible way to ensure consistent and quick results.

By effectiveness, we mean executing actions that will deliver the results you want.

Efficiency is vital when it comes to the overall profitability of a business. Effectiveness is vital to ensure growth. As business owners, we’re always searching for ways to increase profitability. Best practice dictates that we document all processes and systems, and work closely with teams to come up with new ideas. For years, businesses have worked with us to do exactly that.

Computerisation acts as the additional support team to implement new systems and ways of working that will drive your business forward.

Often, we encounter businesses that have built a good level of efficiency around a process that actually should have been removed altogether. You want a plan to help improve how your people work together on the same information set on excel? We say, stop working with excel wherever possible and move activity onto a shared custom database.

HOW WE RECOMMEND THAT YOU WORK TO ENSURE EFFICIENCY:

A great way to ensure maximum efficiency is to evaluate all processes and systems. Employees can be a great help with this. Engage your team to start to document, measure, and evaluate every critical process in your organisation. As you become more efficient you will discover new capacity for production and profitability.

Remember that a truly efficient employee is one that is supported with proper automation so they’re free to dedicate brain power where it will really pay off. Proper process management will help to ensure that anything that can be improved is clear to see. Inefficient processes will have nowhere to hide when a business shows proper commitment to identifying them.

HOW TO IMPROVE BUSINESS EFFECTIVENESS

The best way to improve effectiveness is for company leaders to consistently take the time to evaluate, plan, and focus the wider team on the overall goals of the business. An effective employee is one that has a clear understanding of the wider goals of a business, and understands their place to support those goals.

How efficient or effective is your business?

What are you doing to improve efficiency? What are you doing to improve effectiveness? By freeing up resources through automation, you can put more minds to work on achieving your company’s goals.

Contact us to schedule a no-obligation consultation help improve business efficiency to ensure that your business is effective as you move forward.

No, Automation Will Not Destroy Jobs.

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Automation is happening in nearly every area of industry. For many, this creates concern that there will be a massive reduction in employment as machines and automated processes take over.

What people often forget is that automation of manual tasks has been carried out for centuries, and as companies reach a ‘new normal’ of efficiency, business leaders choose to invest in people to take their product or service delivery to a new level.

Certainly over the last 150 years, many have predicted that automation is going to cause massive unemployment and render humans obsolete. We see claims by CEOs of major companies that the impact of AI and widespread automation will lead to the removal of people from the equation.

The key question is this: who are these processes being carried out for?

No matter how evolved AI becomes, the work done by it will be valued by how it drives revenue from consumers. If EVERY company has worked with a business like ours to automate as much as possible – then the competitive edge will still need to be found. This edge comes from the redeployment of people in new and innovative ways. Delivering a more attentive and personal level of service for example.

For the most part, automation in the last few hundred years took routine, monotonous, and physically dangerous or demanding tasks away from people. Despite the fact that a large amount of manufacturing was becoming automated, the number of workers grew, because the increase in productivity led to a decrease in the cost of cloth, making it more affordable for people to own several pieces of clothing, which then led to more demand and the need for… more workers.

So automation seems to have created more wealth and opportunity by increasing the productivity of humans. In the farming industry, farms produce more in less time due to automation – and there is still phenomenal demand for people in farming; demand that first world countries still struggle to meet.

Cash machines, word processors, auto cad software, self checkout machines and countless other innovations were all thought to be the harbinger of mass unemployment. The truth is that you refine automation and innovate to strengthen your company and reduce cost. This efficiency gives you the opportunity for people to do what they do best; give you the edge when working to build and grow.

To learn how automation can help your business, get in touch for a no-obligation consultation.

7 Important Reasons to Automate Business Processes

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7 Important Reasons to Automate Business Processes

We believe that great people make for a great business. Especially when they work hard, are easy to deal with and are efficient at what they do. Automated data can be the key to success in an increasingly competitive business world.

Great people, however are not, and will never be as quick, accurate or cost effective as an automated process. Having a great and effective workforce is still crucial to nearly all manufacturers for example, but when it comes to some of the more dangerous or lightning-fast processes… it’s a good idea for the machines and computers to take over.

In order to help your people do great things, we believe that you should bring in automation wherever it is practical to do so.

But why? What are the tangible business benefits of automation?

Businesses are increasingly required to carry out complex and labour-intensive tasks. We believe that by delivering automation, companies will gain a competitive edge and significant cost-reduction by automating as many manual processes as they can.

Below, we go into detail about what we believe are the seven key reasons for automation:

1. CONSISTENCY & QUALITY:

For your business to thrive, everything you deliver or create should be of the highest standard. Delivering high quality products and the best possible customer service results in happier, long-term customers.

Consistency:

If you automate customer service follow-up processes for example, customers will all receive the same level of service from your business in this area no matter when they join or who they’ve dealt with. This allows you to set an optimal process in place, and have peace of mind that the delivery of this experience is not at risk of someone having an ‘off day’ or subject to human error.

Quality:

Automation ensures that every action is performed identically – resulting in high quality, reliable results. Think about a key area of your business, and consider the wider benefit to you or your customers if you could guarantee uniform performance day in, day out.

A guarantee of quality and consistency coupled with time and efficiency savings allows you to innovate in other areas, building higher quality and more feature-filled products or services with minimal increase in production time or other costs.

2. TIME SAVING

Manual processes have to be performed in a consistent and linear way by humans – who can be prone to errors or are sometimes unable to consistently perform to an exact standard in the same way that a machine could. Time is money – so it’s wise to save time wherever possible by removing human intervention.

Automation tools could vastly reduce the number of tasks that would normally need to be carried out manually. The free time that you create can be used to do work that creates genuine value to your company. It really can’t be understated that removing menial or repetitive tasks can provide a giant boost to colleague morale, energy and motivation.

3. QUICK AND EASY VISIBILITY OF KEY METRICS

Continual success in business is dependant on building and implementing a superior strategy – based wherever possible on ‘data driven’ decision making.

Once you have an advantage, it’s crucial that you effectively monitor, evaluate and modify your strategy in real time – all of which requires you to act based on timely and accurate business data.

Automated systems are managed by workflows as you define them – which are consistently operated in an accurate way, and within your defined timeline.

Automation provides a wide range of benefits over manual systems that will give you the edge.

Whether you’ve opted to automate financial, billing, collections, sales or other data, all required key metrics can be recorded and reported on to provide you with the information you need as often as you need it.

4. A BOOST TO OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY

Efficiency by definition describes the extent to which time, effort and cost is effectively applied for the intended task or purpose.

Process automation reduces the time it takes to achieve a task, the effort required to undertake it and the cost of completing it successfully.

Automation not only ensures systems run smoothly and efficiently, but that errors are eliminated and that your best practices are constantly leveraged.

We obviously respect that people need to take time off for various reasons. It’s a great feeling to know that no matter who’s in the office, your automated tasks will continue to run and support your business. No sick leave or holidays required.

5. GOVERNANCE & RELIABILITY

The consistency of automated processes gives peace of mind that your business processes are operating effectively and that you can offer real reliability to your customers and maintain a competitive advantage.

The reliability of workflow automation ensures that processes essential for corporate governance are accurately carried out 100% of the time in accordance with set requirements.

6. IMPROVED TURNAROUND TIMES

Workflow automation allows companies to define and streamline their business processes. Eliminate unnecessary tasks and realign process steps to optimise the flow of information throughout your production, service, billing and collection departments.

This adjustment of processes distils operational performance and reduces the turnaround times for both staff and external customers. Reduced data entry will help you to deliver projects or tasks much more quickly. Time spent inputting data can be dedicated to more mentally challenging work.

7. COST REDUCTION

Manual tasks, given that they are performed one-at-a-time and at a slower rate than an automated task, will cost more. Automation allows you to accomplish more by utilising fewer resources. The advantages of automation are clear. It’s time to get in touch to discuss how we can help to automate key areas of your business.

Why Move to Digital Data Collection

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Organisations have used paper for data collection for many years. However, we now have different approaches to collecting data which make your working day much easier and significantly improve the quality of data collection. This provides a much smaller area for error.

Data Quality

Digital collection doesn’t just reduce the possibility of error, but can also help you to automate any auditing that is required. By automating, you have a much faster and more efficient experience in catching errors and submitting data to other stakeholders with confidence in its accuracy.

A big issue with paper is that it can be misplaced and destroyed. This can later lead to problems if data needs to be accessed. If a fire were to take out various rooms and machines, would your data be safe?

Digital data can be easily managed and stored, helping to maintain duplicates. This helps to ensure it doesn’t get lost and can also help to be encrypted for a secure future access. This also improves the transparency of content, allowing for a reduction in data leaks.

Company Cost

Making the switch doesn’t just help financially, but also helps with ease of labour time. Electronic devices can cost more at the beginning of the transition but have a much rewarding payoff. When a company takes into consideration the amount of time and money spent on hiring, training and buying machines that support paper data entry, it is a much lower cost to invest in digital data collection. Making the move to paper creates more time for hard work and creates a much more efficient work environment.

Visibility and Tracking

most important shift from paper is real-time tracking. Paper process don’t immediately inform you of what’s being entered and can often create later issues. Digital has the added bonus of keeping track of what’s being entered, helping to make quick decisions and ensuring consistent accuracy.

The on-screen visibility provides great immediate strategy for data management. Analytics help to manage both people and assets, creating the best data management practices and outcomes.

Speed and Efficiency

Digital collection reduces both collection time and the time required to analyse and export the results. Paper can be difficult to work with, not only for workers but management who deal with forms. If changes are needed, it’s difficult to update and later distribute paper but for digital, it’s a real-time experience with editing with ease. With just a few clicks, digital forms can be sent off to all workers and clients therefore making the distribution process quicker.

Most organisations benefit from the switch to digital. If you need any additional information regarding data management or any of our other services, please contact us. We understand that it can be difficult to make the transition from paper, but we are here to help.

Custom Software: A Smart Investment

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If you’re trying to decide whether to go for off-the-shelf or custom software, you’re not alone. From tailor made suits to bespoke furniture, there is always a strong argument that these options actually provide better long-term value than their cheaper, mass-market counterparts.

A high quality, tailored suit will set you back well in excess of £1,000 whereas a high street, off-the-rail suit may cost well under £100. But the custom option will last a lifetime whereas the fast-fashion suit will be lucky to get through the year without loose threads. The same logic can be applied to software. While it may seem like an intimidating outlay, here are 6 reasons why custom database automation software is a smart investment for you.

1. Relationship

When you buy off-the shelf software, you are buying something that, by nature, is broad in its strokes. It is designed as a one-size-fits-all fix for the needs of every business. This implies that every business has the same generic needs. In reality, however, every business is unique and has its own unique requirements.

This is where building a relationship with a developer helps you go in depth and collaborate with an expert who understands what you are trying to achieve. You can help them make the best piece of software for your business by applying their knowledge to your situation, the only limit is… well, there isn’t one.

2. Growth 

Off-the-shelf software often has limitations and this can be a problem as your business grows. Custom software can be developed taking into account your projected growth, ensuring it can bear the weight of whatever the future may hold. It can be very difficult to predict the changes that await the business so software that can adapt and grow with you can be priceless.

3. Productivity

As your bespoke software is designed to do exactly what you need it to, there are no tricky workarounds to worry about. This can save masses of time and cost in training, not to mention the time saved by having an efficient, confident workforce using the right tools for the task.

4. Security

Because it is designed to your specification for use only by your company, custom software is far less vulnerable to external hacking than off-the-shelf software. Professional hackers spend time learning how to hack all of the mainstream software platforms and are experts at doing so. On the other hand they have no way of knowing what custom software products you have or how to attack them.

5. Support

Getting support and good customer service from a large software company can prove to be an exhausting task. You can count on either a very long wait on the phone or a support page with ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, none of which have anything to do with the issue you are having. With custom developed software, however, you have access to the exact team that designed and constructed your software. They know the ins and outs of your requirements and have an intimate knowledge of your bespoke software.

We at Computerisation want to provide you with the best software solutions possible and will support you every step of the way.

6. Long-term Cost

While there are initial costs to developing custom software due to starting at ground zero, there are long-term financial benefits. When considering the costs of upgrades and add ons for off-the-shelf software as well as additional hardware to run it and annual license renewals you actually skip a lot of the hidden costs when opting for custom developed software.

So if your company needs its databases automated with software that allows employees to work at their most efficient with the confidence of security and the support of developers who understand and care about your individual requirements, we can help! Enquire today and discuss your requirements with our knowledgeable team of software development professionals.

 

Leaving The Storm: How Efficiency Will Enable Post-COVID Recovery

Efficiency. Businesses recover from the storm of COVID-19

What a year we’ve had.

In January, the United States nearly entered a full conflict with Iran.

In February, wildfires raged across Australia causing devastation.

In March… COVID-19 sent us all into lockdown, and businesses began to furlough staff as they closed their doors. Thankfully, many companies had already reached the point where they have a good level of system automation in place, so fewer manual hands overseeing things was a situation that they could work with.

For other businesses though, certain processes or reports will have had to stop. Suddenly, the company is running with reduced human resource AND reduced output in key areas.

We don’t advocate automation to our clients to simply remove humans from the equation. We want your people to focus on more complex or ‘human centric’ tasks. While it’s true that automation will lower certain overheads and reduce cost, this is intended to extend the reach of your business and enable your people to carry out rewarding and valuable work in other areas.

It’s also crucial to have efficient processes in place before you grow your business. If you scale poor processes and have manual hands controlling your data, you’re probably heading for disaster.

As UK firms work to recover in the months and years ahead, some will have the advantage of total efficiency. Others will find they return to an even more competitive landscape without having the fundamentals in place.

Its not too late for your business to achieve efficiency.

We’re here to provide a no-obligation FREE consultation that will put decades of expertise at your disposal. We’ll help you understand the potential for improvement in your organisation, and lay out a roadmap for implementation, so that your business is fighting fit for future challenges.

Efficiency is the key. Let us work for you and show you how to streamline your business processes.