By Patrick Elliott, Rev.io
The current labor crunch, defined by the gap between employer demand for workers and available supply on the open labor market, is unprecedented and is impacting the entire economy. But few sectors are as well-positioned to address this crunch head-on as managed services and telecommunications. That's because, in many cases, these industries have not fully digitized their back-office operations and thus have ample opportunity to solidify their businesses as tech talent continues to be hard to find.
For a variety of reasons, MSPs and telecom providers have relied on labor-intensive processes for billing customers and managing account operations, even as the products and services they sell have become increasingly or entirely digital. This means there's a lot of room for automation, the dynamic that transformed formerly labor-intensive sectors like manufacturing.
While there is a lot of buzz about how transformative technologies like AI and machine learning will supplement or supplant back-office knowledge workers in the long run, there are more immediate opportunities available to companies right now to mitigate labor shortages, ensure retention of existing employees, and increase overall efficiency.
Spotting the Spoilage
Telcos and most MSPs enjoy a business model that is based on recurring revenue. While this is a powerful economic engine, it has created the common misperception that profitability is self-reinforcing at any level of growth. This often creates an expectation in which growing customer counts could always be addressed with increased staff headcount in service and the back office. But the current labor shortage has disrupted that model just as demand for digital platform communication services is skyrocketing.
The issue is not simply about of quantity of new employees either. Candidates who are qualified and able to add value to your typical telecom or broad-based information technology company are especially hard to find. Telecom account set-up and management are complex, with no two accounts or markets exactly alike. New employees take longer than most industries to become fully productive.
What's more, even if you can find the right new employee, you might have to put them into systems and using software that has been developed in-house, with no documentation and limited institutional knowledge of their operations. Onboarding new hires then takes the most knowledgeable staff off-task to train up their new colleagues.
Missed deadlines or incomplete work may be attributed to short-handed staff. But these can also be key indicators that portions of your billing and back-office operations are ripe for automation.
Maximizing Your People
While periods of limited people resources might seem at first like the wrong time to change parts of your business infrastructure, they may be the opportune time to make just such a change. For knowledge work like business operations, automation isn't a replacement strategy for skilled workers but in reality, is a labor force multiplier. Why? Because tools that eliminate rote, manual tasks can free staff to spend more of their time adding value strategically.
As noted above, solid software automates a back office’s most basic operations, and employees can learn how to use it in a predictable, repeatable fashion. This allows new hires to get up to speed much better than learning the idiosyncrasies of home-grown processes.
This benefits both experienced and new employees in another, more meaningful way: Eliminating the routinized, “push button” tasks for your employees will create a more satisfying work environment while mitigating potential burn-out. Avoiding burnout, and indeed, having more satisfaction and happiness in a role makes an employee more likely to stay with you. And a retained employee is almost always more valuable than a new hire because they are already ramped to perform, with no payback needed for the costs in recruiting and training new employees.
Additionally, learning easy-to-use and well-documented software is a transferable skill that can be a gratifying source of personal development for staff. While no one wants to train personnel for their next company, the alternative is often feeling "trapped" by a job that is not building for the future. That is a faster path to losing your most motivated people. On the other hand, bringing on industry-standard software shows the company is growing and becoming more sophisticated. This can be a big boost to company culture.
For all the longstanding fears voiced about “robots” displacing people in the office, forecasts suggest that the reverse is the issue: The labor crunch for skilled personnel will be with us for years to come. Fortunately, forward-thinking companies are seeing the long-term benefits of back-office automation. In addition to addressing the immediate problem of hiring, automation can also help with the retention of current staff and keep the headcount problem from spiraling. Additionally, productivity software will pay for itself in the long-term improved profitability while adding long-term value to the company.
About The Author
Patrick Elliott Is VP of Marketing at Rev.io.