Are your business systems working? (article)

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The importance of auditing and monitoring your business systems

This article by Derek Stockley emphasises the importance of constantly monitoring and auditing every important business system.

Business system monitoring

We rely on technology for many aspects of our business operations. Sometimes we own the systems, sometimes other organisations provide essential services that we depend on.

Whether they are internal or external systems, we should regularly check to ensure that they are operating correctly and to the required standard.

I recently had to call a specific person in a large government agency. Unfortunately, his phone line was either not working or it was only partially working. When the line did work, his voicemail offered a generic message said by a man with an American accent, rather than his personalised recorded message.

Eventually, I realised there was a problem. So I used the backup system and called the general switchboard number. I requested to be put through to an extension physically near the person I wanted to speak to. In the circumstances, I thought this was a logical solution to the problem. Not so!

The switchboard operator was in another state. He had no idea about the section I was enquiring about. He did not have a backup telephone listing based on the organisational structure. After a long and complicated process, I finally made the connection. I believe the operator should have been able to access an organisationally based listing.

There should be backup systems, even if they are rarely used.

This week I spotted a cardboard box on the top shelf in a shop’s counter section. The box was clearly labelled 'back-up docket printer'. The business was either well run or they had been caught out before.

Operating tips for business operators

Regularly check your key systems and processes

The more important the system, the greater the need for regular auditing and monitoring.

Do it personally or establish a system that does it for you.

For example, I have two different monitoring systems that check that my website is 'up'. Both check the site every 15 minutes. I can claim with confidence that my website is available 99.9% of the time.

Adopt the mantra that no system is perfect

Ensure that your clients and customers have multiple communication channels with you. Telephone, email, fax and mail are different channels that can be used. Websites are also excellent providers of information in peak information demand times.

If one system does not work, have alternatives available. Different website browsers (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Firefox, etc.) can behave in different ways. Providing alternatives for website visitors helps.

Ensure your systems can cope with overload

The fault lines at utilities are a good example. If the electricity goes off in my area, I ring the fault line. Nowadays a recorded message lists all the locations currently affected. Only the isolated incidents require personal contact with an operator.

One night last year there was a sudden surge of visitors to a particular page on my website. I discovered later that a national current affairs TV program had featured a story relevant to the page topic. After the show, viewers had gone to the internet to search for more information. My page featured prominently in the top search engine results pages for the queries they were listing. My webhost coped with the demand and hence people 'clicked through' to my site.

At about the same time, I spoke to someone who had been interviewed about their company and the service it provided. The company and website was featured a few days later on the TV show. Unfortunately, the company’s website could not cope with the overload and hundreds (thousands?) of potential customers could not get through. The opportunity provided by the 'free' advertising was not maximised because the website could not cope.

Audit, audit, audit

Have systems and procedures in place to check procedures and policies. If you operate a call centre, ring it. Tell the staff you will be making enquiries. Ask some customer like questions and check that the information you receive is what you expected. It is very easy for staff to not have the same level of understanding as the managers.

Never assume your computer system is perfect. It won't be. Be vigilant for errors and omissions. Test and keep on testing.

Use multiple methods

Use automatic systems and do it manually. Seek feedback from staff and customers.

Summary and reflection

Some of this may seem obvious. However, as a customer, I can regularly identify system errors in organisations I deal with.

Do you?

Related articles

Implementing new business systems successfully - an approach for implementing new business systems in organisations (including tips and techniques that avoid problems).

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