How SMEs can get maximum value from automation

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SMEs typically run lean and are accustomed to doing more with less. Manual processes are often abound in SMEs because the perceived return on investment in advanced technologies seems beyond their reach. And, if the sales are still coming in, the business’s decision-makers rarely see the need to change what seems to be working.

Maintaining the status quo with manual processes means growth will be out of reach for these companies. Filling in sales details on an Excel spreadsheet isn’t scalable, and having an accounts person review and pay each invoice takes up valuable time and introduces the potential for errors. For many SMEs, there comes a tipping point where the cost of not automating these processes outweighs the investment required to automate them.

McKinsey estimates that, in about 60 per cent of occupations, at least one-third of workday activities could be automated*.

We have identified five opportunities for automation in SMEs:

1. Document management

In every organisation there is a workflow that requires various people to create, edit, review, and approve documents. These documents can be varied, including contracts, annual leave requests, and expense forms. In a small business, it might not matter that a document is created then manually emailed or handed to the next person in line, then the next person, and so on. However, to grow, businesses need to automate this process to minimise the amount of manual handling required for each document.

2. Accounts payable

In a manual accounts payable (AP) process, someone must review an invoice (often on paper), compare the invoice to the purchase order, verify that the invoice is legitimate, and arrange payment. When organisations are dealing with a handful of invoices each month, manually processing invoices doesn’t add too much cost or complexity. However, when the number of invoices starts to creep up, so does the amount of time that person must dedicate to processing them. At the same time, the risk of errors rises, and the company may find that it’s paying late fees or missing early payment discounts, paying the same invoice twice, or even inadvertently falling for fake invoice scams.

3. Marketing

Automating marketing efforts can help smaller businesses augment their marketing team and play in the big leagues against their competitors. Most SMBs can’t afford a large, integrated marketing team; however, marketing is one of the most effective ways to gain new business and grow. This is where an automated marketing solution can deliver significant benefits, making the company appear more proactive and engaged than it could otherwise afford to be.

4. Warehousing and logistics

Automating warehousing and logistics functions can similarly increase a company’s ability to compete while simultaneously lowering costs. Applying robots in a facility can save time and contribute to efficiencies, as well as increase worker safety. Warehouse automation can streamline the movement of goods and let SMEs benefit from optimised workflows and pathways.

5. Workforce management

Drawing up rosters and accounting for the different skill sets and employee conditions for each shift can be a nightmare that only grows as the business expands. Automating this process can give rostering managers hours back in their day and reduce the risk of under- or overstaffing on shifts. It can also account for people’s preferences and time-off requests.

Every business has unique needs and opportunities; however, every SME can benefit significantly from introducing automation. These benefits can include: increased speed and productivity; fewer errors; less risk of fraud; improved compliance and governance; lower costs; and higher team morale.