In House Development and Process Automation
– how 3SC delivers contracts in the digital age
Martin Bohling, 3SC Head of I.T and Operations
In the current environment of austerity it is challenging for a company to thrive on government contracts. Regardless of real delivery costs, commissioners are offering less and less money each year; resulting in a race to the bottom where contractors either cut quality or operate at a loss.
3SC’s answer to this dilemma has been digital automation.
What is digital automation? In a nutshell: using a piece of code to automate a repetitive task that would otherwise require manpower.
Everyone knows that repetitive tasks lend themselves to automation. We have all seen factory works replaced by machines over our lifetime.
Today the vast majority of new robots are just pieces of code. Small innocuous algorithms designed to perform a simple task. We all interact with them frequently. Whether you are paying the congestion charge online or starting a Netflix subscription: the only human required for a successful/completed transaction is YOU.
SMEs traditionally struggle with automation. Sure, McDonalds has the resources to replace cashiers with touch screens, but what can a company with 30 staff hope to accomplish?
Well that depends on the company’s approach to IT:
- If you choose to outsource your IT… well then you are paying good money to ensure your company’s core competencies remain firmly rooted in the 80s;
- If on the other hand you hire one or more skilled developers and emphasise IT’s role in your workflow and decision making… then a surprising number of optimisations can be achieved.
Being a purveyor of technology rather than a consumer, allows 3SC to continuously add small automations to existing workflows.
Both 3SC and its competitors will use bespoke web-based applications to allow collaboration between themselves and the various delivery organisations subcontracted for field work.
If you outsourced the development:
- you spend all your IT funds upfront;
- receive a web-based application;
- begin contract delivery; and
- … then you start realising everything that you forgot to ask for!
It does not matter how hard you try to write a “perfect specification”, reality will laugh at your plan.
At 3SC about 30% of the development effort happens before the contract goes live.
The remaining 70% accounts for improvements made over the life of the contract. This is possible because we pay our developers a salary rather than a day-rate
Working closely with the contract managers, the developers routinely spot manual steps which can be replaced by digital automation, such as the following examples:
- Someone is collating a monthly performance summary and emailing it to their manager?
Now there is continuously updating live summary available, which the manager has access to.
- Someone is checking if the criteria for a payable outcome has been met?
A background process now performs these checks and automatically adds outcomes to invoices.
- Someone is verifying if the suppliers’ invoices are correct?
The application now generates the correct invoices on behalf of the suppliers.
- Accounting prints an invoice, stamps it, scans it, then emails it back to you?
Now the application automatically applies an image of the stamp’s imprint.
Individually none of these examples pay for the developers but there are several dozens of these small optimisations, and these are repetitive tasks. Shaving 5min off a workflow here, saving 10min there; it all adds up.
At 3SC in house development allows us to continuously fine-tune the applications through which we manage our contracts, reducing manual tasks where possible. Cumulatively digital automation saves us several new-hires per contract, and ultimately enables us to remain competitive but profitable in the age of austerity.