You’ve heard about the benefits of automation: how it can help you save time, money, and increase productivity: but how do you actually get started?
There are a lot of things to consider when you’re preparing for any big change in your business. How much will it cost? What will the impact really be? How will it affect my customers? What other solutions are there? It’s perfectly valid to be asking these questions (and we’ll certainly have some answers for you below) but it all stems, of course, from a desire to do what’s best for your company.
We’ve spoken before about automation playing a part in helping you recruit new engineers and even contributing to customer retention, but it’s also important to identify a good starting point in your journey towards automation.
Whether your aim is to save time, streamline scheduling, or more generally optimise the efficiency of your engineers, you’ll need to take a few steps and gather the knowledge necessary to get there. That’s what we’re here to help explain:
- Understand what’s influencing the industry
- Discover your own pain points
- Automate at your own pace, but do automate
Practically, it all boils down to deciding what’s right for your business and pin-pointing the things that affect your processes, day in, day out. To figure that out, you need to take the time to understand what problems you’re facing and consider solutions to help solve them.
That might sound as interesting as watching water boil (let’s make the most of that metaphor), but the point of automation is to alleviate mundane tasks and boost your business, so it’s worthwhile exploring!
1. Understand what’s influencing the industry
It’s best to start with an idea of the bigger picture. If you don’t understand what’s going on in your industry, you’re going to struggle. However, if you grasp what’s influencing your customers, driving demand, or affecting regulations, you’ll be in a better place to make smart decisions.
For HVAC, it’s no surprise to see technology as a major contributing factor, particularly with smart technology and the Internet of Things dominating both the domestic and commercial markets. If you understand that these factors influence the industry at large, you can then begin to understand what your business is capable of tackling itself, and even prepare changes that allow you to go further.
After all, we’re here discussing how technology can be utilised in a positive way, with automation. So, as a digitally diverse industry, it makes sense to digitalise aspects of your business.
However, on the flip-side, it’s also useful to be aware of the risks if you don’t think wisely. Taking both sides gives more context to your decision making, particularly when thinking about the accessibility of modern HVAC technology…
A recent article from Modern Building Services ran a piece that does just that, making the point that while good, there can also be:
“Danger [in] applying too much technology where it’s not needed, creating more confusion about good operating practice… [HVAC] Systems are becoming complex these days, so it’s challenging for clients to really understand them fully.”
In this instance, your business needs to make sure it’s prepared to deal with the installation, maintenance, and overall care of smart products (and also make sure staff are well-trained to do so). In addition, you need to ensure your own business is digitally capable to better track, monitor and deliver effective maintenance, too.
As we’ve discussed previously, that’s where automation comes in: helping to alleviate pressure and optimise tasks, like mass scheduling, too. However, if you’re unprepared to do this, it’s going to negatively impact your business and you’ll struggle to keep up with customer demands and the competition.
After all, to loosely quote Bill Gates discussing automation, it can magnify both the efficient and inefficient aspects of your business: so don’t just automate for the sake of it.
You need to identify the correct reasons for doing so and act accordingly. To take this further, you should then...
2. Discover your own pain points
When you understand what’s influencing the industry, you can then review how your business adapts to the ensuing changes.
Perhaps you specialise in roof-top ventilation for commercial buildings, or your engineers are experts in insulation for people’s homes; or maybe you cover a wide range of HVAC solutions. Either way, there’ll be aspects of your business that you can optimise through automation, to help you better deliver these solutions.
As said, rather than just go all in and automate everything, you need to assess the way your business works and dig down to consider your own pain-points: what works well, what doesn’t, and ask “how can I go about improving?” Where it's stock, customer data, assets, scheduling, or something else, only you know where you're struggling most.
To this end, you need to do an audit by monitoring work across the business; speak to your staff at each level and have them record/comment on tasks that take up most of their time.
No matter the size of your business, the individuals you work with will likely have better insight about problems they see every day than you, alone, so take note of your own pain-points, alongside those of staff. You may discover points you weren’t aware of, or perhaps see overlapping issues you need to address immediately. Pain-points could include:
- Excessive time spent on administration for scheduling jobs,
- Frustration with inefficient communication methods,
- Trouble overseeing stock control.
These are all areas you can take care of through automation. Enhancing them will have a knock-on effect: whether it’s automatically messaging customers with an invoice when a booking is completed, optimised scheduling suggestions, or even stock monitoring levels that help the entire team know when and where items are held and used.
The important thing is to make a conscious effort to be aware of your own problems so you can assess where to prioritise finding a quality solution...
3. Automate at your pace, but do automate
So, when is it right to introduce automation? Well, like we said, don’t automate for the sake of it. If there is something that needs optimising because it’s detrimental to your business, tackle that problem first.
After all, if you’re losing money from poor stock management, it makes sense to digitise your stock control and gain the oversight needed to plug the leak thanks to stock tracking and automated monitoring. Alternatively, if too much time is spent on administrative tasks related to scheduling and it means jobs are being missed, overlooked, or incorrectly communicated, then you’ll want to sort that so you’re not missing out on additional income.
While it’s important to automate wisely, don’t wait forever, either. HVAC, as you well know, is a competitive industry and it’s constantly evolving. If you let yourself fall too far behind, and aren’t willing to pick up the pace, then you’re more likely to be overtaken by the competition.
Of course, automation is a great way to get your foot in the door and, with a solid plan, you can automate over a period of time to get your business to where you want and need it to be. It could be that you discover there are issues you’d like to resolve with automation, but handling all of them at the same time would stretch resources thin.
In this case, it’ll be up to you to decide what to prioritise, or perhaps search to find a solution that lets you overcome more problems, efficiently, all at once. An initial investment might seem intimidating at first, but the lifelong benefits of saved time, money and increased efficiency certainly make it worthwhile.
Not only is it good to have a competent plan, but you need to choose an appropriate solution to help you manage your growth.
As with any big decision, it’s useful to take time to prepare and make sure you’re ready to put it into action. That’s what this article’s been all about. If you understand your industry, where you’d like to enhance your business, and create a plan, you’ll be setting yourself up yo succeed. After all, you’re doing as well as your are now thanks to a mixture of risk (HVAC is a competitive industry, after all), but backed up by smart planning.
Whether you’re new to the idea of automation, or perhaps just in the early stages of introducing it to your business, you may find it useful to take the time to think about what’s truly relevant to your business. If that’s the case, our free Practical Guide to Automation could be just the ticket.
We’ve put together a combination of practical tips to help you set your own goals, follow checklists, and answer exploratory questions, all to dig a little deeper. With it, you can figure out what’s important to your business, your staff, and your plans for the future.
Download below, and investigate automation in more detail!
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