The world of business today, is abuzz with a plethora of hot topics – Big Data, Cloud, AI, IoT, Block Chain, Social media, Digital – to name a few. As the world is slowly turning towards digitising processes, one of the key things which has grabbed a lot of attention, is business automation.
What is Business Automation?
In simple terms, business automation is a way in which organisations take out the most complex and / or the most redundant steps from their day-to-day processes and streamline them for simplicity. It is basically an opportunity for you as a business to apply innovation and make your most critical business processes systematic, such that your business becomes more efficient, and your life become simpler. If you are looking for a yet simpler definition, automation can be viewed as that magical move – which cuts down costs, saves your time, prevents errors from happening and allows your human workforce to solve more intelligent problems, rather than spend time on routine, repetitive tasks.
Now, that we have tried to define automation from various angles, let’s ask some basic questions:
- Is there any business in the world which would not like to cut costs?
- Is there any business which would not like to save time, or avoid errors?
- Is there any business in the world which would not like to have a simpler way of carrying out a complicated task?
Of course, everyone would love to.
But then, if that was the case, all businesses in the world, big or small, would have been automated since inception. A glance at the India MSME industry will easily reveal, that there is still a large chunk of businesses out there whose business processes are still driven manually. An important point to note here, is that automation does not necessarily mean owning a computer – there are sufficient instances of businesses having a computer, but then still using only some basic functionalities to handle one part of their business operations – be it sales, or purchases, or receivables and payables or inventory or banking – but not using it to integrate the entire business as one entity.
What holds businesses back from automating?
So, what holds them back? What could potentially stop a business in India today to automate its operations, when clearly the advantages are many?
Broadly, the reasons can be either or both of the following:
- The automation required will require too much time, and the time spent on implementing automation, is much more than the time saved if automation happens
- The automation required will require too much cost, and the cost spent on implementing automation, is much more than the cost reduced if automation happens OR the cost spent on implementing automation, is much more than the profits I stand to make if automation happens
In short, if you chose to base your decision on only time and money, then you can arrive quickly at an answer. If automation is quick and economical, you will adapt it nevertheless of your size. If automation is time consuming and costly, you will need to get into calculations, check whether it is worth it, and then take a call. And which is why, a valid question for all businesses to ask is – when is the right time to automate my business.
5 things to consider for Business Automation
For you to take a more informed decision regarding business automation, we have listed down 5 factors, which we are calling as the A,B,C,D & E of business automation.
Let’s see what these factors are:
- Accountability – When you automate, you create an owner for each step of your business processes. All tasks are then bound to one or the other individual who is responsible for that task alone. Enabling that level of information transparency helps you to drive accountability across all stakeholders of your business. It also allows you to identify certain trends – which tasks are taking the longest, where do things get stuck most often etc.
- Better Usage of Time – Automating your business helps you to identify redundant, unnecessary steps and processes and remove them. It allows you to identify those points where there is a wastage of time and resources. Not just that, repetitive tasks like compiling and re-compiling information, which do not require human skill or expertise can be weeded out and replaced with automated systems. When you begin to automate your processes it becomes very clear how much time people in your business spend, running around in circles – just because they don’t have the information they need, when they need it. By doing that, you will actually free up time for yourself and your resources, so that they can focus on strategic aspects related directly to your company’s core business. In other words, refocusing their time towards those activities, where technology cannot replace them.
- Communication – An automated approach, allows for a more organised communication between your stakeholders and employees. So, the person handling sales, will be in sync with the person in inventory so that commitments are not made without the requisite stock being present; the person in charge of inventory will be in sync with the person handling purchases, so that sufficient inventory levels are maintained at all times, and so on and so forth. What this will allow you to do in the long run, is develop an improved responsiveness to the ecosystem around you. You will be able to respond to your suppliers and customers faster, thus boosting your competitiveness and leading to better management of your cash and funds flow.
- Decision Making – Making any business decision, without considering all available information is more often than not a clear path to failure. Automating your business processes, will provide you with valuable information, which you will not be able to extract if you performed all the tasks manually or on disparate systems. Not only does it save time for you, but also allows you to analyse the data quicker and better. The higher the quality of data available, the better decisions you make, the more money and time you save.
- Error Correction & Tracking – One of the many virtues of business process automation is, that you substitute human vulnerabilities with the accuracy of a machine. Late payments, slow sales approvals, incorrect tax returns and payments for goods never received are all very expensive errors, which can have an impact on the working capital of your business. More than the error itself, what tends to become more challenging is finding and correcting the error in future. Automation is thus a brilliant opportunity to avoid spending a lot of money, which could otherwise go down the drain, because of some error.
Now, that you have gone through the 5 factors listed above, ask yourself – Are these factors currently a challenge for me? Are these factors important to me and my business, at this point?
If the answer is “No”, you may still want to wait for some more time, for your business to grow further in terms of size, revenue, customers, before pressing the button for business automation. But if the answer is “Yes”, now is probably the right time to automate your business, than anytime else.