Automation is the implementation of technology to control processes, both mundane and complex, and reduce human touch. Automation does not necessarily eliminate the need for human touch entirely, however. I like to think of the scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where Charlie’s dad loses his job at the toothpaste factory because his tasks have been automated, only to be reinstated by the end of the movie to fix and control the robots that had previously replaced him. Automation streamlines tasks using technology, often giving humans the ability to monitor and focus on more important matters.

Automation in the Construction Payment World

Hundreds of examples exist of automation at work in the construction industry: from automated safety features to construction site surveying drones. But the benefits of automation are not limited to the job site. Technology and automation have also significantly improved the payment process:

Automation at Work

Consider the differences between emails in your inbox and paper mail. Electronic mail is easy to filter, manage with automatic responses and other settings, and delete when it’s unwanted or resolved. Spam is usually sent to a folder automatically without even needing review. Physical mail is much more difficult to manage. Because it is physical in nature, paper mail can clutter your space until you physically discard it. Paper mail is also unreliable since it can be lost or destroyed before it reaches the recipient. Furthermore, paper mail is slow (people call it snail mail for a reason).

Automation gives you the ability to simplify and organize your tasks securely with many more processes and tools than just email. Here are several benefits of introducing or improving automation at your business:

Time: One of the main and most easily recognized benefits of automation is that it saves time and increases productivity. Automated processes will make mundane tasks faster (picture machines tightening the caps on toothpaste bottles at the toothpaste factory). It will also make complex processes simple (think about computers instantly processing hundreds of gigabytes of data). Reducing the need for human touch in streamlined processes allows you to spend more time focusing on important tasks, and provides reassurance that your automated tasks are being performed correctly. Time that would have been spent on your manually completing these processes can now be spent on more important tasks that require human judgment and creativity, such as checking the quality of your toothpaste product or being able to design complex formulas and strategies for data management. 

Accuracy – Automated processes dramatically cut down on mistakes by taking human error out of the equation. Implementing automation wherever possible at your company can reduce the margin for error across the board. Consider banking: isn’t it reassuring to think that high-tech, reliable computer programs are keeping track of your money, alerting you of unusual activity, and documenting your charges and withdrawals? Less human interference means fewer errors and less accountability for the bank if and when mistakes arise. Computers don’t tend to make errors; generally, when problems arise they are due to the human element in building or designing the automated processes – such as a faulty Excel formula or a missing character in a URL. Of course, errors can still occur with automated processes, but you can easily automate accountability checks and audit procedures to identify and solve these problems.

Less Storage – Automation generally reduces the amount of physical storage needed as well as the associated costs and inconveniences. With cloud service platforms and other softwares, almost everything can be stored and accessed digitally, eliminating the need for paper storage, messy filing rooms, lost files, and printing expenses. With digital data, you can organize more efficiently and search for lost files with a few taps on a keyboard. Imagine how the ability to pull a signed contract, dozens of communications, and confirmed mail tracking receipts by electronically searching for a specific project title could de-stress and save time for a busy accounts receivable clerk. This process would take much longer if that same clerk relied only on papers in a filing cabinet, which would probably house countless folders for hundreds of different projects. With automated document retrieval, AR clerks can create workflows to remind them when payments have been missed, schedule automated email check-ups with accounts payable contacts, and implement automated deadline tracking for legal filings (such as mechanics liens).

Security – Automation secures your data and allows multiple layers of privacy settings. Important documents can be encrypted and set to require multiple passwords, and different privilege settings can be set to limit access for certain employees or for outside collaborators. With automation, you can back up your data easily and securely, whereas paper can be destroyed, stolen, lost, or tampered with. Automation also allows you to audit your digital system more seamlessly than a paper one, making data inspection faster and more discreet. Furthermore, digital files can be stored indefinitely. What if you need to access a contract for a project you worked on 5 years ago? Realistically, paper files must be cleared out every once in a while to make room for new ones, but with electronically stored documents, cleaning house is entirely optional.

Accessibility – Automation also makes your data easily accessible from anywhere at any time. With digital storage, your data is always available – you can view, edit, and share documents remotely. With smartphones, apps and constant internet access mean you can truly work from anywhere, not just a desk with a computer. This can come in handy if you’re attempting to work at home or even while on vacation, but is especially relevant to construction companies why need to access documents, contracts, contact information, invoices, and more from the job site.

Adding automation to your business might seem like a daunting task, but it will improve your processes exponentially in your business. Employees can utilize easy-to-use systems to conquer almost any task – from the most mundane to the most complex – and will save time by finishing these tasks accurately, securely, and efficiently.