Business owners and managers are aware that modernisation of procedures and updates in equipment are key to successful operations. The advantages and disadvantages of office automation are rarely considered because their adoption is almost automatic. If everyone else is doing it, then it must be good. However, it does not harm to stand back from your business decisions for a moment and consider the implications of an office automation strategy.
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The basic stage of office automation involves buying a computer, a printer and a productivity suite of software. This innovation will remove the need for a secretary and will enable the small business owner to keep tabs on costs and sales by building a simple accounts model in a spreadsheet. If the business has only one outlet, then the computer could be placed in the shop or workshop office to enable invoices, guarantees and user instructions to be printed out and handed directly to the customer.
A single computer will eradicate the need for a secretary and a book keeper. Not only can a small business owner perform these tasks herself, but can acquire the skills to perform these tasks and others through computer-based training. A larger business can share data between departments through setting up a network and a centralised database. This removes repetition of tasks and enables dataflow from one department to assist another. All these measure improve efficiency, and thus, lower costs and improve profits.
A type written business letter gives a better impression than a handwritten one. Office automation creates a better impression of the company by improving the standard of the documents it produces. The office system can be linked directly to a website, which would enable the office to gain sales through a professional-looking front end. Online chat systems also mean that office staff can support potential and current customers with advice, which gives a good impression of the company’s professionalism.
Office workers sometimes make mistakes. If they are able to cover up their mistakes for a long period, their errors can spell disaster for the company. Office automation enables remote checking of employees’ work and makes it difficult for one member of staff to establish exclusive knowledge over a particular business process.
Office automation is not always the best solution for everyone. Older members of staff or technophobes on the payroll may be reluctant to lean computing skills. It may be necessary to lay-off staff who are not capable of adapting to the new environment. That would lose valuable business knowledge and cause disruption in the business’s operations while new staff are trained up in the company’s products and practices. Creating a centralised, digitised store of all the company’s business information creates the risk that they could be copied and sold, or released to the press by a disgruntled employee. This means that the introduction of automation into office procedures requires a new range of skills sets including technology specialists and security consultants. Hardware failure or non-responsive software, viruses and careless access control can ruin a company. Computer security specialists come at a premium rate, which may be a burden on a company that is going through a rough patch.
The decision to automate the office is one that puts the company at the mercy of computer manufacturers and software houses. Both hardware and software are constantly innovated. Any computer-based business would need to renew their systems regularly to keep up with supported versions.
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