We put down our devices and pick up a book. We turn off our screens and go outside for some fresh air. In other words, a “digital detox”. But even the phrase itself suggests that we are losing control to automation and technology, and that we need to revert to a simpler life in order to regain some level of control. We could argue that labour-saving devices have been with us since the advent of flint tools and iron age arrow heads and therefore, progress through automation is a good thing. But does this translate in the workplace?
Last year, Financial Times reported how productivity in the UK is at a low and yet somehow, we are under continual pressure to get more done. The logical answer should be to turn to automation, so why aren’t more businesses doing this? The fact of the matter is that the backlash against further automation at home, especially against digital interventions, may be stopping us making much needed improvements at work. But the way I see it is there are some levels of automation that we have become so used to, we do not even realise how much we rely on them.
If you were to walk through all that you did since you went to bed, woke up, washed, got dressed, ate breakfast, and went to work, you will find that you delegate responsibility to various items of mechanical, electronic and digital machinery to get you through the day already. From the pre-programmed alarm to wake you up in the morning, to the digital TV box that ensures your favourite TV programmes are recorded for you to watch later, automation manages to find subtle ways to filter into our lives.
Now, financial professionals, contrast these aspects of your life with your working day. Stop me if you have heard this one before!
You get to your desk and sit down behind piles of paper requiring urgent attention. You take out your pen and your calculator and review dozens of paper invoices that have been sent to you via internal mail, signing in the ink stamped area as you go. You refer to your coding guide to choose the right analysis values. Go over to your purchase order file and flick through all the paper copies to find the corresponding order details. You then manually check the details against a spreadsheet you hold to track your remaining budget. You phone your branch offices to check that they have received the items billed on a slew of paper invoices that are sent to you centrally, as you do not have access to any proof of deliveries which are kept locally. Finally, you ring around all the department heads to find out who spent money with a particular supplier from whom you have received an invoice, for which you have no record of any authorised spend or purchase order.
If you are finding that tough just to read, imagine how painstakingly tedious it is in practice. Now ask yourself, if you are perfectly happy to allow automation to make your lives at home more efficient, despite the lengths we go to try and avoid it, why not do the same for your workplace?
In a recent study, the ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) found that over 50 percent of C-level executives in accounting expect the development of intelligent, automated accounting systems will have the highest impact over the next 3 to 10 years.
So, is a digital detox necessary in the workplace? After all, businesses that have already introduced automation into their finance and accounting departments have seen rapid improvements to their invoice processing procedures. From the humble beginnings of the PDF invoice, we have seen fantastic advances in how invoices and purchase invoices are being processed; and it is all down to, you guessed it, automation! Take Xero for example, whose software utilises automation to send reminders, assign bank codes, create recurring invoices and more.
Nevertheless, there is still that backlash against automation that puts people off implementing it. Whether it is a fear of it replacing our jobs or fear it is making us lazy, automation will always bring forth sceptics. But these feelings simply cannot be justified when automation is so ingrained in our everyday lives. All it takes is a small change in replacing your previously manual processes and before you know it, it will feel like the norm. If you do not believe me, let me ask how many of you would be happy to go back to life before your digital TV box could record your favourite series at just the touch of a button?
So, to summarise: automation is here to stay. We have largely embraced it for many elements of our waking lives until it comes to the office. All too often we allow tradition, convention and fear of change to tie us to established procedures when, in reality, they could benefit from the same digital makeover we have given the rest of our lives. As far as the workplace goes, take my advice…ditch the detox!