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Liberate your workforce with operational intelligence

30th Mar 2016
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Greentree CEO Peter Dickinson explains how his company embraced complexity to take on the software giants.

A little jargon can go a long way. Many of us have sat through meetings where the presenter baffled their audience with obscure terminology, or you might have indulged in the odd game of “jargon bingo” with colleagues. While this may pass the time, it has the opposite effect to the one intended, detracting from the message and decreasing productivity.

So when it comes to defining the term “operational intelligence”, Greentree CEO Peter Dickinson chooses his words carefully. “I try to get our marketing team to home in on what it really means, as it can sound a bit pretentious.

“In simple terms it really just means connecting the dots across an entire organisation”, Dickinson told AccountingWEB on a recent trip to London. “If your entire organisation is connected, if you’re all using the same data, then you’re giving people the information they need to make the best possible decision at the time.”

This “operational intelligence” is built into the fabric of Greentree’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and is one of the reasons why the New Zealand-based company has been able to compete in the land of software giants.

Established over 30 years ago and specialising in the mid-market, Greentree’s success is based on embracing complexity, claims the CEO.

“Mid-sized companies do a lot of complex, sophisticated things that they need clever system support for”, he said. “That’s what we’ve tried to build, a highly configurable engine, which is reflected in the diversity of the customers we’ve got already in the UK.”

According to Dickinson, Greentree’s software has been designed to delivering this operational intelligence to customers. Every function and module has the capability to drill down and across for information. “Every piece of information is connected”, he said, “and that’s at our inherent core”.

Democratising business intelligence

While Dickinson believes that business intelligence is a useful tool in terms of looking at macro data, trends in the business and anticipating what if scenarios, operational intelligence is different.

“Operational intelligence is really ‘on the ground’ intelligence for everybody working in the business”, he said. “Democratising business intelligence is probably a good term to put on it”.

Greentree UK managing director Harry Mowat described the approach as a “live version of exactly what’s going on, a snapshot of exactly where the business is”.

“We have a customer in the air conditioning space with over 100 engineers out on the road,” continued Mowat. “They’ll be sent their jobs and then follow-up jobs to their handhelds, they clock in and clock of those jobs, record any extra bits that they’ve had to install, and once they clock out that’s instantly visible to the project team back at base plus the finance team, so invoicing can go out quicker.

“When they’re involved in bigger projects like installing units in some of the big builds in the City of London, tracking the work in progress becomes vital. Having an instant view, having alerts that will let the management team know if they’re running behind budget or they haven’t got enough engineers on the job – that is key.

“It’s about creating instant visibility of either problems or the potential of problems before they come back and hit you in the face.”

A ‘silver bullet’ for mid-market firms

Dickinson believes that a critical component of operational intelligence is empowering company employees by systemising and automating whatever you can. “This is an area where I see a lot of mid-market companies fall down, because they’re not as obsessed about systemising and automation as they should be.”

Systemising and automation, according to Dickinson, can be a silver bullet for a lot of mid-market companies, creating the ability for them to grow dramatically without them having to add more staff at every step along the way.

“I don’t want to put people down”, said Dickinson, “but human beings are not actually very good at doing repetitive tasks day in and day out. We’re not machines – we get distracted, we get bored. Most service organisations have very dedicated staff, but we weren’t born to do highly repetitive, boring tasks and always get them right.

“The way we look at operational intelligence is that it liberates your workforce because they do not have to do all that dull, meaningless grind every day; the system can do it for them.”

‘Start with the most significant problem’

The Greentree approach is to start with the most significant problem, create process and automation around that and move on to the next problem.

As evidence Dickinson cites a company he dealt with about a year ago which was in a vulnerable position. It had hundreds of customers and product lines, but effectively its entire profitability was based on three customers and two product lines.

“We didn’t automate and put rules, checks and escalations for every customer and product line”, said Dickinson, “we honed in on those key aspects, so effectively the system made sure that the company could not slip up in any way delivering to those three customers.

“That may sound a little mean in terms of the ‘all customers are equal’ philosophy, but the reality is they aren’t. If you’ve got three customers that are effectively the economic foundation of your company, you’d better make sure you don’t screw up.”

According to Dickinson and Mowat operational intelligence can liberate employees of mid-market firms to spend their time working on the things that matter to the organisation. Let’s hope those same employees don’t spend this time in meetings playing jargon buzzword bingo. Blue sky thinking anyone?

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