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Implementing process automation solutions for small to medium businesses

Nov 24, 2019 Start your automation journey

Many consulting and software vendors target process automation solutions to large enterprises with a significant number of employees, leaving smaller firms out of the picture. However, our market research has shown that small businesses can significantly benefit from process automation solutions by addressing some of the challenges listed below;

  • finding new revenue streams

  • finding and retaining profitable customers

  • managing cash flow

  • managing inventory

  • hiring talented people

  • improving employee productivity

  • staying current with market trends

  • compliance with the taxation office

  • excessive overheads

  • business process understanding and management

All these challenges can be tough for a small organization because they often have limited resources to efficiently deal with these issues. However, we believe that combining intelligent process automation technologies with next-generation business management applications can assist small businesses to become more competitive with large enterprises.

 

Challenges of implementing process automation in small businesses.

We definitely believe that it’s possible for a small business to significantly streamline their business process by deploying automation technologies including both robotic process automation (RPA) and Artificial intelligence (AI). Before mentioning the benefits of deploying automation technologies in small organizations, let’s mention the barriers that small businesses experience when beginning their automation journey.

The adoption of automation technologies have been met with some caution, with many Australian organisations still uncertain on how to begin their automation journey.

According to an article from our partner, HelpSystems, some of the barriers to automation technology implementation include;

  • Employee resistance and fear of job displacement

  • Lack of planning and budget allocated for automation by the organisation

  • Choosing the right processes to begin automating

 

Employee resistance and fear of job displacement

Process automation represents a major change in the way day-to-day processes are accomplished. It is commonly misconstrued that process automation technology has been designed to replace humans. In reality, this technology has been designed to augment human performance in the workplace. Research has shown that the best business outcomes are achieved when people and automation technologies are used together, complementing each other’s capabilities. Automation is about enabling humans to focus on work that is creative, innovative and strategic in nature.

An example of how this enablement relationship works in practice can be seen by looking at the accounts payable automation demo video below, whereby the software robot which we are calling the RPA administrator is working together with the accounts payable staff to ensure that all scanned or pdf invoices received via email are automatically and accurately recorded in the business management application.

 

 

                                                                   Start your automation journey

 

There are four main stages to the accounts payable automation process as shown below that when implemented successfully can result in up to 80% return on investment in the first year. Meaning for every dollar you put in, you're getting five back.

Implementing this automation solution will enable purposeful work by giving the accounts payable staff more time to focus on validating the invoices processed by the software robot and processing payment. This not only increases overall productivity but also frees up time for staff to focus on other value-adding tasks, increasing morale.

 

Lack of planning and budget allocated for automation by the organisation

The automation-as-a-service model is the latest iteration of the software-as-a-service model, where businesses only pay for the automation solution they need, meaning they can scale up and down quickly and cost-effectively. The model provides organisations with all the necessary tools to begin implementing a digital workforce, while also being the best way to scale automation projects to meet budgetary requirements.

Amongst the various sectors looking to implement automation, manufacturing companies have been quick to adopt the automation-as-a-service model as it allows them to begin implementing automation with small-scale projects and then scale up through their operation.

 

Choosing the right processes to begin automating

In order for the automation-as-a-service model to work as effectively as possible, it is essential that businesses choose the right processes to automate. Implementing automation must be aligned with the company’s overall vision.

One-off, single and ad-hoc automation projects without a clear connection to the company’s vision and strategy, can end up being very expensive. Automation initiatives must be managed and developed holistically, not individually, to achieve the best possible business results, and they must be aligned to the strategy in order to unlock the potential business value of process automation.

 

Top benefits of process automation in small business

 

Efficiency

Intelligent automation is also known to streamline business processes. When applied to small businesses, this is very beneficial because they can take advantage of business process data to improve the workflow. As intelligent automation tackles mundane and repetitive work, employees are free to focus on intellectual work and strategies for business growth and expansion.

 

Accuracy

Intelligent automation ensures every action is performed identically, eliminating errors and resulting in high quality and reliable results at a low cost. If businesses implement intelligent automation, repetitive tasks such as purchase order generation, invoice generation, monthly reporting, and many other jobs can be done automatically. Say goodbye to typos that lead to huge problems, like paying invoices late or charging the wrong customer. Software robots can handle data entry for you. This eliminates errors. This means you’ll have accurate data in your system and your employees won’t be doing boring data entry all day.

 

Flexibility

Intelligent automation allows small businesses to flexibly adapt their business processes to meet the changing needs of the customer. Intelligent automation will help small businesses automate any process that they believe to be repetitive and mundane helping them achieve their strategic objective. In summary, intelligent automation makes small firms better equipped to cope with the variability of customer need and changes in market demands. This aspect fits nicely with the flexibility that small businesses require as well as their capacity to change quickly and adapt. When it comes to keeping customers happy, agility is crucial. You can automate invoicing, customer reports, and more, to ensure that customers always have what they need on time.

 

Simple Case Study – Manufacturer cuts 2.5hrs of daily ERP update work with a process automation solution

 

Business Challenge

ITW Construction Products is a US-based company that sells fastening products ranging from self-drilling screws and toggles to power nailers and staplers. Every morning, ITW’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system must be updated with the most current information on everything from inventory and sales to accounts receivable. All data from the previous business day must be entered before the office opens to ensure that updates run smoothly without inadvertent interference from logged-in employees or disruption to system availability during business hours.

Before Automate desktop was implemented, one technician would manually sign into the ERP system early in the morning and click from screen to screen to launch the necessary update processes. Since activity for each of the five ITW brands must be handled separately, the same steps had to be repeated five times every day.

 

The automation solution

With Automate desktop, the business process automation software from our partner HelpSystems that allows users to create step-by-step automation routines simply by dragging and dropping a series of pre-programmed actions from a plain-English menu into a task window. The software enabled ITW to do the basic automation work in just one hour, avoiding the time and expense of hiring programmers to write scripts from scratch.

ITW used Automate to create a series of routines automating processes ranging from sales updates to backorder release reviews. In the latter case, for example, the ERP system checks backorders against inventory and releases them for picking and shipping if previously out-of-stock products become available.

With those new controls in place, ITW set up Automate to trigger the update job at 3 a.m. and run unattended until it finished just before dawn. The software is installed on a Windows production server and configured to alert the operations manager by email when the day's ERP update is completed or when there is a job error that needs his attention.

 

Benefits of the automation solution

With this automation solution, ITW's ERP updates now run without any IT staff involvement whatsoever, which means that they can focus on other value-adding activities. The company saved 2.5hrs of IT staff time by implementing this affordable solution.

In addition, having Automate desktop handle update responsibilities overnight has virtually eliminated ERP system downtime that sometimes occurred during work hours when morning updates ran too long or were interrupted for various reasons. The resulting 99.9 percent uptime helps keep Customer Service, Accounts Payable, Purchasing, and other departments running efficiently.

 

Introducing Data Engineering

Are you looking for a partner to start your journey into the world of intelligent automation? Data Engineering is a digital operation services partner that combines design-thinking practices, process, technology, and domain knowledge, to rapidly prototype next-generation process automation solutions, resulting in quick insights into the size of a return on investment opportunity.

We have partnered with world-leading business process automation platform vendors to develop innovative solutions that provide seamless operational experience and step-change productivity for small to medium enterprises (SME’s).

 

Author:

Kelechi Anyaegbu,
Principal Consultant 
Data Engineering

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