What Modern Process Automation Looks Like at Lamps Plus
Point of sale transactions are a critical business process for most retailers, but point of sale systems and warehouse management software don’t necessarily run on the same operating system where production processing takes place.
This was the case for Lamps Plus. Their IT team was putting in 20 hours of overtime work each week to ensure that orders made it to the warehouse on time. Even still, they suffered from errors sizable enough to stop work at the warehouse and delay shipment and delivery for customers.
John Dunn, IT Operations Manager at Lamps Plus, decided that enough was enough. He knew they had to abandon their outdated, manual processes and move to something more modern. Automating their point of sale processing was just the beginning. Hear in this audio clip how modern process automation made all the difference for his team.
Q&A with John Dunn + Audio/Video
Chuck Losinski: What drove you to peruse automating your nightly processes?
John Dunn: Overtime was the number one reason. There was a lot of overtime being taken up by this nightly manual process to process our point-of-sale (POS) files and data.
CL: Once you jumped into the automation realm, how did perspectives change for you and your team?
JD: It was definitely a change in perspective for the entire team. One of the big things that we started to see as we started automating more and more was that even the programming needed to change for the automation itself. For example, you couldn’t have a pop-up screen that said, “Are you sure?” or “Click ‘yes’ to proceed.” Those sorts of things just had to stop because, when it’s automated, there’s no person there.
We also have a new perspective on how we plan to roll out a new process. Now, we’re thinking about the triggers we need to look for as a process is happening versus what the operator would have had to look for. Even our documentation of a process, how we approach the solution, everything really needed to change as we started automating more and more.
CL: How has that changed your development team going forward?
JD: They actually think about automation now! When there’s a new project or a new request for IT and we sit down in the pre-planning meeting before anybody even starts writing any code, automation is one of the things that gets brought up. That was not how it worked before. We used to just say, “This is what the end user wants and we’ll deliver this product.” In the end, we’d realize, “Okay, now what processes do we need to put in place?” Now, automation is one of the very first things that gets brought up. We ask, “How do we ensure that this can run when nobody’s around?”
CL: How did automation impact your operations staff?
JD: There was a big reduction in after-hours and overtime work. There used to be about three to four hours’ worth of work on a nightly basis and all of that time went away. That was something that my staff was very appreciative of because they didn’t like that they had to be on call and have to be on the system while they were on call. Now, they’re truly just on call. In addition to that, we were able to take a lot of other manual processes that were happening during the day and free up my operators’ time so that they could move on to other things, like newer systems that were coming in.
CL: In your eyes, what are the top three benefits that automation has provided to you?
JD: Number one has been a reduction in errors. We don’t have nearly as many errors are we were having in the past—you don’t fat-finger things when you’re not typing! So that was huge. The reduction in overtime—the accounting staff really appreciated that. And now things are actually completing earlier than they were before so we’re able to get more done. At night, when you are trying to plan out how your evening goes, since everything is event-driven, the next job runs when the previous requisite job completes so everything happens in a very neat and orderly fashion. That means things complete sooner at night, which means I have more time to put in more processes. This is something that the programming staff is always asking for—we need to fit this job in, where does it go?
CL: When you started out on your automation journey, are the results that you have now what you expected?
JD: Yes, and I would also have to say that it exceeded the expectations of what the IT staff here thought could be accomplished. I don’t think they actually believed that we would be able to do what we set out to do. They had been working on this automation project for years and they didn’t really see how they were going to be able to complete it. Then, as soon as we got Robot Schedule Enterprise in, we were able to accomplish everything we wanted and more. That was one of the things that came up afterwards with my boss. He said, “I didn’t think you were going to be able to automate that much.” He even said, “I didn’t think we had that much we needed to automate!” So, we automated things that they never even expected!
CL: Sure, visibility into the processes—that’s awesome! So, are you done with your journey? Is your automation complete?
JD: No, it’s an ongoing thing, it’s a moving target. As far as that one process that we had to do for POS, that one particular project is complete, but we’re always looking for the next thing that we can automate. One of the benefits we discussed early where we don’t have as many errors—the staff, the end users, management, they have all seen that, and so now they’re sold on automation because things just don’t break like they used to. We just don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to fix things. It’s just very different around here now than it was before.
I do know that since we’ve put in the automation, our warehouse starts at 3 o’clock in the morning and so it’s very time-sensitive that these POS files make it into the warehouse management system. In the past, errors that had happened on the system on the process to get the data over actually caused a stoppage of work over on the warehouse side because we did not have the files over there by 3 a.m. Since we’ve automated, that has never happened. Even when we’ve had errors, everything has been able to be resolved long before that 3 a.m. deadline, before warehouse workers ever showed up.
CL: That’s an awesome success story, John. We really appreciate your time today.
JD: Thank you!
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