What it’s like automating in a consultancy

If you take stock of what you do in a day, how many of those tasks are repetitive? Sometimes all but a glorified tick boxing exercise? These types of manual tasks that are repetitive, can be templated, are perfect candidates for automation. But how do you know what automation is worth?

Digital automation costs. From the beginning, it’ll be an expensive process but equally, from the beginning it will add value to your business. The journey through automation is often a long and winding one. If you’re aiming for that moment where you can say ‘we’re 100% automated’ — you’ll be waiting until the end of time.

But all is not lost — let us tell you about our journey at Optimal Compliance. How we started small, automated one thing at a time and built momentum. We will discuss why as business consultants we decided to automate our best practices, how to get started, how to get your team who may not be software engineers to participate and what products we used.

Before Automating — Get Your House in Order

One of the great things when everyone is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ is that colleagues are more likely to be involved. In our scenario, our consultants are pivotal for educating non-consultants, the digital team. This is a scenario that slips under the radar all too often — ‘a digital team is so closely linked to their industry based counterparts that building successful automation is impossible without the other’. To a more or lesser extent, our consultants are our stakeholders, they are the drivers for the direction of travel.

Next up, ensure that the business is communicating effectively. The challenges of effective internal communication have never been more crucial. It has long been the norm for digital teams to be somewhat remote, but in a post-COVID world it has quickly been realised that all arms of a business can operate remotely — but this should come with some basic ground rules. Enter enterprise level instant messaging services, for us Slack does the trick.

All colleagues need to know when other colleagues are instantly available, this can be achieved by using the online/offline features of instant messaging. As the name implies, responses for online/available colleagues should be near-to instant, and colleagues should understand that. We also use Slack’s vacation feature to signify if someone is likely to be offline for an extended period of time. It’s about openness in communications. If you’re not around, don’t pretend to be around. No one is micromanaging this. However, if you are online, we expect a response pronto.

Instant messaging and remote working are 2 contentious issues, and it was no different at Optimal Compliance. Between them, they can blur the lines of the average work day, giving rise to ‘unconscious overtime’ or ‘unsociable working hours’. Whilst some employees may not be too troubled by this, there are just as many who want to switch off at a certain time and not have to think about the daily grind at all. The business should respect both of these attitudes and should set itself limits as to how it utilises instant messaging.

At Optimal Compliance we had to make a choice, prescribe rules for every minute detail of using instant messaging, or, set some solid baseline rules and see where the culture takes it. We took the latter and that approach worked great for us. We can only put this down to a strong, fair and pragmatic culture that runs straight through the core of Optimal Compliance.

Finally, procure a low cost cloud-based document storage and editing service. We use Google Drive. Apart from having endless storage, it allows multiple consultants and digital colleagues to work remotely, in parallel on the same document which is an extremely efficient and free flowing approach to co-authored documents.

Types of Digital Products For A Consultancy

External

Internal

Data

Building your Product and Team

The de-facto standard for digital project management is using agile methodologies, more specifically various strains of scrum. This allows the roadmap to be broken down into smaller chunks of work called sprints, most commonly 2 week sprints. It’s also worth noting that most engineers will be used to working in this fashion which makes recruitment and onboarding more simple. Basic scrum teams must appoint 3 core roles: a product owner, scrum master and engineer(s). In addition to that a team may contain: a designer and internal stakeholders. (Which sit on the periphery of the team)

Now everything is in place, it’s time to start building out the new product. The main focus for the initial phase of the project is to get it to a Minimum Viable Product as quickly as possible. This will allow users to begin using the product to a certain extent, for us it ingrained a good practice of iteration culture. When end users begin using the product, it can still be extended in any which way — however, altering the underlying data store structure is much more difficult. We suggest that the data structures are well set before handing over the reins to the end user. It’s a gentle balance.

The first major technical hurdle that will be met is how to host your product. We suggest using a public cloud, the ambition is to get a product in front of a user as quickly as possible, using valuable time on lower level configuration is probably not desirable. AWS offers many services and generous promotions for businesses starting out, founders and entrepreneurs. It is worth researching some of the promotions they are offering and taking advantage of them as they can significantly reduce your hosting costs. In addition to the speed that a public cloud offers, it also supports a wide range of programming languages. This will give greater flexibility in future recruitment.

Wrapping Up

Business consultants specialising in partnership models, group structures, and cash flow support via R&D tax relief. We help create capital businesses.