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Alphonso Guthrie
No Photos 16th Aug 2011
Driving Your Business Forward With Microsoft Visio

A car is a complicated thing. From when you turn the key, many things have to happen for the engine to start. To make it move requires further complications and more still to keep it running. The process may be mostly invisible, at least to those of us for whom the machinations between pedal and wheel are blanketed in a fog of inscrutable mystery, but if one little part of the process develops a problem, then the whole can be affected - it might stop working altogether or it might begin to develop an extra, secret problem for you to happen upon in dismay some time in the future. Similarly, if you want to change something, a little improvement to the performance perhaps, it needs to be fitted into the process correctly to get the best results.

If your business has similar complexities, it can be too easy to lose sight of how the mechanisms run together, and thus to miss opportunities for useful changes and signs of potential breakdown. So you'll need to make sure it keeps running well; each part of the process will have to be in the best working order for your business to keep progressing at a healthy speed. However, you can't pop your company down to the garage for a regular service and business analysts are much more expensive than mechanics.

So, if you don't want to be paying through the nose to ensure that your enterprise stays in tune, what can you do yourself to keep a keen eye on every aspect of your business? You can use the keen eye of microsoft visio 2007 to get a distinct and up-to-date picture of how your business is running, to pick out trouble signs as soon as they appear, and to give you some foresight into how things might pan out if you make a modification to the process.

Sunshine Foods make a range of ready meals, which are then shipped out to supermarkets for sale under the stores' own brands. A great number of different elements play a role in this process - ingredients, preparation, testing, packaging, storage, transport - and the process is also reliant on outside influences, such as the supply of raw ingredients and the number of items ordered by the supermarket. Production manager Tony has to make sure that every stage is performing to an optimum level, but he has a lot to deal with. Those who work in or supervise different parts of the business provide him with the information that he needs, the statistics, concerns and opinions, but collating this data is a difficult task. It isn't all received in the same manner - spreadsheets, documents, diagrams - different reports may overlap or contradict and on top of that, he has a number of Excel spreadsheets to be wading through.

Having to work with so much information creates two serious problems: firstly, that vital details may be missed; and secondly, that information he receives may no longer be sufficiently up-to-date by the time he gets around to dealing with it. The combination of material that is potentially both inconsistent and obsolete puts any planning for the progress of the business at risk. So, instead of trying to form a clear picture from all this separate data, Tony creates a microsoft visio 2010 diagram that can bring it all together. Each stage of the process is visualised with a panel that can show whatever details Tony needs; perhaps he needs to study rates of production compared to raw materials. To this end, each panel can show how much is going in and how much is going out - and as all the panels are interconnected, Tony can see right away the impact that any changes will have on his business as a whole. So, if there is a temporary difficulty with obtaining a raw ingredient from a farm, the overall effect of this is visible right away - no time wasted waiting for the correct information, or trying to untangle inconsistencies. Alternatively, if there is a drop in numbers at the end of the process, if fewer meals are making it to the supermarket shelves, it is easy for Tony to delve into his diagram and identify which part of the chain is weaker than the others.

Visio can also give Tony a warning if the process has hit difficulties. If his diagram shows him the number of units going in and out at each stage, Visio can give a graphic illustration of the ratio between the two - and if that ratio reaches a certain level, the software will automatically flag it up (with either an icon or colour of Tony's choosing). This way, problems can be located and tackled as soon as they appear. What's more, with Pivot Diagrams, Tony can switch between these production figures and any other data - such as income and expenditure - at the touch of a button, so he can see how every side of the process is coming along.

Visio can't tell Tony what to do once he's identified the problem - his own expertise and experience within that role should help him to address any production issues within his company. It will however, alert him to problems as soon as they come over the horizon, allowing him to deal with them swiftly and effectively, helping to ensure that the long-term development and profitability of the company is not risked. This simply wouldn't be possible if he'd had to dig into a large number of reports in order to even be aware that a problem exists - much as a light on the dashboard of his car is a much clearer indication of a problem than could be found by pulling the vehicle to pieces bit by bit.

To get the most out of microsoft visio, Tony could also benefit from a short training course, both to take advantage of its potential and to save himself time in using the application. He can then put the software and his new understanding of it to the good of the company. So why don't you also take Visio for a spin, and see where it can drive you and your business?

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