This past year has impacted businesses beyond what most crisis plans were prepared for. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced organisations across industries to rethink their business models to survive rapidly changing market conditions. Business leaders had to quickly decide how to split their time between the usual day-to-day tasks and new, business-critical strategic decisions. For many businesses, adapting to continuous disruption has been particularly challenging, as many of them typically relied on disconnected, legacy technologies and manual processes that lacked flexibility and efficiency, consuming precious time and resources – things businesses can no longer afford to lose.
As the pandemic continues to rage, some businesses have come out of the woods faster, and in a better position, than others. While no one can say with any degree of certainty that they’re completely in the clear, there is one thing that those businesses had in common that enabled them to shield themselves from disruption, or at least effectively manage through it – and that’s automation. The process of taking simpler, rule-based tasks and automating them, while gathering insights on performance and behaviour, in turn enabling faster and more targeted action – has turned out to be a powerful tool in shaping business success in these unpredictable times.
Using automation to speed up daily work
How can automation improve business’ chances for success? If fully adopted, there are daily work processes ranging from employee onboarding in HR to managing the end-to-end customer experience in marketing and sales that can be streamlined.
In finance, for example, automation can play an important role in streamlining daily tasks like invoicing, payroll, expense management, and month-end reports. Finance teams, in particular, also have a key role in crisis management as they provide timely and accurate updates on where the company’s finances are at, what the risk areas are, and support on developing and updating recovery plans. CEOs that have automation at their fingertips would be able to request timely reports with minimal effort from the finance team, supporting decision making and increasing confidence in the validity of those decisions to drive the desired results.
But not all is lost for companies that are yet to adopt automation. Most business leaders might feel discouraged to take on such a big project as automating their business during a pandemic – yet automation initiatives are often not as disruptive to the daily business activity as some may think. In reality, depending on the size, companies are able to automate parts of their business within a space of a day, resulting in a faster return on investment and improved business operation. All of this enables companies that opt for automating their processes a clear edge in responding to issues. They become more flexible in their approach to solving problems, freeing up time for value added tasks and to adapt recovery and crisis plans to the continuous changes that the current pandemic is causing to our industries.
Cleaning up business data
All parts of the business generate data. This means that insights can be gathered from all areas of a business – but if key data is not easily accessible to those who need it, or is siloed and disconnected from other parts of the business, companies will not get a full picture of what’s really going on. This makes it impossible for all of the data to be analysed altogether. In a larger company, processing data manually would require a small army of employees – from inputting raw info, to integrating multiple data sets, to checking its accuracy, and so on. But many businesses don’t have enough knowledge workers with the requisite skills to complete that.
Data management should be a strict and streamlined process to ensure the picture the data paints is as detailed, accurate, and timely as possible. Otherwise businesses risk repeatedly making bad decisions based on poor or incomplete data. In a recent study by SnapLogic, 77 percent of IT Leaders did not fully trust the data within their organisation. Among the key reasons behind their lack of trust: data silos and inaccessible data.
Breaking down those silos, and connecting older legacy and newer cloud systems, increases trust in the data. Businesses can improve their data quality by utilising automation tools that can ensure data is in the right format, well managed, and accessible to those who need it, at the time they need it. This is vital for a comprehensive, holistic overview of what the business’ data has to offer to its decision makers.
Initiating automation where it matters the most
There isn’t one blanket approach for businesses that are looking to automate their processes, but for starters, businesses should aim to assess which part of their business has the most manual, repetitive work with the highest value to the business. For example, in retail that could be managing stock orders. A decrease in stock triggers an automatic purchase from the supplier’s warehouse, updating the shoppers when the item would be available again, while simultaneously recording all purchases for finance teams to later access when reporting on business revenues.
As a vital process for retail, automating real-time inventory demonstrates benefits immediately in saved time and quality of customer service, but additionally provides some continuity should something unexpected happen. It also helps free up employees to focus more on higher-order tasks for the business – such as developing new approaches to help meet business objectives.
The goal of automation is to improve the way we work. Businesses are already benefiting from automation and it really is only a matter of time until automation is universally adopted. It not only improves day-to-day activity but is also one way to ensure a business is as well protected from disruption as possible. The question is whether business leaders want to reap the benefits of it now or later? In light of recent events, where would you rather be?
Craig Stewart, CTO, SnapLogic