When we use the word ‘automate’ what do you think of? Robotic arms moving parts around in a factory? An automatic gear stick instead of manual? Excel instead of a clipboard?
Wikipedia describes automation as “a wide range of technologies which reduce human intervention in processes.” IBM has a similar definition, “automation is the application of technology, programs, robotics or processes to achieve outcomes with minimal human input.”
When we think about automating in property management, there are the standard office tasks. A long time ago, humans would write with a quill and ink. Then some years later, we used a pen and paper and if we wanted to send information to someone else you placed it onto a machine that transmitted a copy to another machine in the recipient’s office. The fax machine provided a level of automation that was better than snail mail, but still required some human input. Now we type onto a keyboard and letters or symbols magically appear on a screen before our eyes. Normally, what happens next is we save, print or email what we’ve typed onto the screen – all an automated process requiring very little human intervention other than pressing buttons or a clicking a mouse.
This is a simple example of automation that we can all relate to. In property management there are so many processes, people and procedures that need to happen and many of them may as well still require a fax machine. Many clients still haven’t switched to email yet which means letters still need to be printed and posted. Many clients haven’t yet switched to online payment mechanisms – requiring manual payment methods that take up time. And of course, the repairs and maintenance process still requires a lot of human input.
When processes require human input at some or all stages of a process, time is wasted and mistakes tend to happen more often. So why then do we see reports that the property management industry is still dragging it’s foundations when it comes to automation?
One reason could be that the benefits to be gained from automating are still unclear. And of course, there is the resistance to change that always happens with new technology or processes – a perfectly normal human reaction.
The team at Blockworx have had a virtual brainstorm and we’ve come up with some answers to help debunk the myths about automation. Hopefully we can help clear up some of the cloudiness around the advantages and barriers to automating. Today we start with the why, what and where.
Why would we automate?
A better question would be, why would you not? Automation opens up the floodgates for more efficient processes, more effective teams, happier client relationships, better supplier relationships, less time wasting and more time gaining which all leads to a better bottom line.
What would we automate?
You might be surprised at what you could still automate in your business. Think about tasks that require spreadsheets. Tasks that need the phone. Not that we want you to stop speaking on the phone, but if the phone is being used to take bill payments, perhaps it’s time for a rethink of how your business manages bill payments. Because if you need to take a bill payment over the phone, there will be knock on tasks from that like opening up an account on the screen, ensuring it is entered into the client’s payment history. You might need to send a receipt – by email or by snail mail. Either way, unless you have a sophisticated telephone system that listens to your call and takes care of it all, all that other ‘stuff’ will be left to a member of the team to do.
Of course, you could also automate your repairs and maintenance processes. Swap the phone calls, emails, texts and disjointed communication methods for a single platform where everything is shown in one place. Upload and send quote requests at the push of a screen button.
Where do we start?
It doesn’t matter, as long as you start. Chances are no one’s sat with a quill and ink on their desk and you won’t have a fax machine beeping and burping away in the corner. Automation is already in your life. And it’s serving you well. You may have been nervous about taking the step to automating what you do now but I bet it’s made your life far easier. Take time to assess where the pain points are in your business and your team. Are manual processes negatively affecting people – whether that’s employees (causing frustration and stress), clients (lack of payment options, delays to work) or supplier relationships (lost emails/texts, missed communications or unpaid invoices). Whatever is causing the most pain, could be fixed when you automate.
We hope we’ve helped shine some light on the value of introducing automation into your business. In our next article we’ll answer questions about other potential barriers to automating and hopefully help you overcome them so you can feel confident in your automating choices.
Already convinced that you’d like to find out more about automating your repairs and maintenance processes? Then get in touch with the Blockworx team for a friendly chat.
Will McIlmoyle is Blockworx, Technical Director.