by Granville Triumph
There is considerable debate about whether automation will put people out of work, but most of those actually using the technology find that it makes their jobs easier and more rewarding. Nine out of 10 full-time workers say automation increases their job satisfaction, saves them time and creates a better work-life balance, according to a recent Salesforce survey.
Although there is a tendency to think that artificial intelligence and automation are only practical for large enterprises, organizations of all sizes can benefit from technology that increases efficiency and productivity by eliminating repetitive and monotonous tasks. There are any number of ways small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) can use automation to streamline operations, eliminate waste and increase revenue.
Here are a few of the areas where many SMBs are effectively using automation today:
Device management. Most organizations still rely on repetitive manual processes to configure and provision all the endpoint devices that connect to the network. That’s becoming impractical with increased reliance on virtualization, cloud infrastructure, remote computing and mobile devices. Endpoint management software saves time and reduces errors by automating device configuration, provisioning and troubleshooting processes.
Data backup. Backup is getting more complex and time-consuming as organizations become more decentralized with numerous data sources. Automated backup and file syncing reduces the backup window and relieves IT staff of much of the management burden. Backups occur automatically on a scheduled basis, and data is automatically compressed, deduplicated and encrypted. Automated testing features also ensure that all data and applications can be recovered if there is a disruption.
Cybersecurity. Security products can trigger overwhelming numbers of security alerts and few IT teams have the resources to fully investigate them all. Security automation platforms can ingest vast amounts of threat intelligence and rapidly triage alerts to identify genuine threats. They also can immediately launch countermeasures to rapidly contain or eliminate threats with no human involvement.
Customer service. AI-powered chatbots can sort customer queries and offer initial responses. In many instances, they can resolve customer issues without further escalation. This relieves pressure on human agents to achieve short call times and allows them to concentrate on more complex customer interactions. Automation software can also track and respond to customer emails, promptly sending a “thank you for contacting us” message and assigning messages to team members for follow-up.
Human resources. Workflow automation solutions can collect, sort and organize a great deal of employee data and relieve HR staff of many high-volume, repetitive operational tasks. Automated payroll processing reduces the risk of manual data entry errors when calculating wages, overtime, payroll taxes and holiday pay. Automation can also enhance recruiting by assessing large numbers of resumes for specific skillsets and rapidly identifying qualified candidates.
Accounting. Most small U.S. businesses still rely on paper checks and other manual processes that often lead to payment delays and missed discounts. Automated financial platforms synced with your accounting system can streamline financial workflows, generate and process invoices, speed approvals, send payments and manage available cash.
Inventory management. Manual inventory processes are notoriously error-prone and time-consuming. Inventory management software can automatically track and adjust inventory to ensure accurate, real-time information. This not only saves time and effort but can minimize delays and back orders, which improves the customer experience.
Increased automation gives small businesses a chance to level the playing field against larger competitors through increased efficiency, accuracy and agility. As with any significant technology project, however, it requires a fair amount of up-front planning. Companies should evaluate their business processes and identify those that require the most time and resources. This will help you understand where automation will deliver the most benefits.