Automation is no longer just for the big end of town and can bring many competitive advantages. The challenge for many startups and small businesses has been that access to automation tools has been costly – both financially and in terms of the time it takes to create the automation, writes Leigh Pullen, CEO of CiGen.
But every workplace, whether it’s a professional services business, a tradie’s office, a warehouse or retail small business, has monotonous tasks that need to be carried out each day, week or month. It might be reconciling bank transactions in your accounting system, or extracting numbers from a website to update a system, or creating a report from data delivered via a daily email. These dull, repetitive tasks are a significant cost to your business.
Automation is now for businesses of all sizes
In the past, businesses that wanted to leverage automation, had to engage a software developer to create a bespoke piece of software. You would show the developer the process, letting them carefully note all the steps, and then wait for a piece of software to be created to automate the process. But as soon as something changed, like the format of some data or the web location of the information you need, the automation would fail and you’d re-engage the developer to troubleshoot the problem and build a new piece of automation.
This is why automation was limited to big businesses with time, money and people to devote to it. Small businesses don’t have the same seemingly endless tank of resources. But things have changed. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to automate the mundane processes that suck time and energy from your teams.
What is RPA?
RPA puts tools in the hands of startups and SMEs that allow you to create automations without writing software code. Using drag-and-drop tools, you can create software bots that replicate the actions of a human operator.
For example, let’s say you update a spreadsheet each day at 4:00 PM with a competitor’s price of the top 25 items you sell and create a report to alert you when your competitors are undercutting you. Today, you probably have someone go to the competitor’s website, search for each item, copy the price and paste it into a spreadsheet. You also collect data from your inventory or sales system and paste that into your spreadsheet before creating a report that shows where you’re being beaten on price. Based on that report, you may choose to update the prices in your own system.
This is precisely what one major office supplies retailer does at least twice a day to ensure they have the lowest prices in the market – and so they don’t have to pay out on its “beat them by 10 per cent promise” too often.
That manual, repetitive process is a great candidate for automation. An RPA tool can visit all those websites, copy the prices and put them into a spreadsheet, grab the data from your systems, create the report and even update prices in your system without human intervention, fast and accurately.
How automation benefits small business
The benefits of automation in scenarios like this are myriad. There is a significant time saving as the automated process can execute faster than a person. That means processes can be executed more often. For a report like this, it means you can potentially update your prices two or three times a day to stay ahead of the competition.
Automation is less prone to error so you know you’re getting the most accurate data. When people work on repetitive tasks, their attention can falter and they can make mistakes. And, because you’re reducing boredom, your team will be happier and less likely to move to another, more interesting job.
Your staff are freed to focus on higher-value, customer-facing work, rather than copying and pasting data from one place to another. That means you can look for new ways to serve customers, innovate and develop new products or services and you can benefit from happier teams that enjoy coming to work and are more loyal.
Time saved = money saved
Automating tasks, such as bank reconciliation, is not only a huge time-saver but can also aid with reducing accounting errors and ensure you don’t break any tax or other rules. And because a software bot is doing the work, you reduce the risk of sensitive data being accessed improving your cybersecurity defences.
RPA brings the benefits of automation to small businesses. Every business, large and small, can now leverage the power of enhanced productivity and through automation. It saves time and money, reduces errors and helps keep staff happier.
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