Automate or perish: Why your small business needs to get smart fast

Do you remember the animated television show called The Jetsons? In its day, it was a kind of fantastical, ground-breaking series, showing a world of possibilities for technological improvements that would allow us to drive space cars and live in apartment blocks built in the sky. Big sci-fi flicks and cartoons have always been a depiction of a dreamer’s visions for the future and how we could leapfrog over the frustrations of our lives.

Anyone revisiting the cartoon series these days would think nothing of seeing phones that allow you to make video calls, personalised alarm clocks, dog treadmills, automated vacuum cleaners, tanning beds and even flat screen televisions.

However, when the show aired, these were preposterous ideas; mere notions of overactive imaginations we all secretly hoped would come true.

The fact is we are now all living in that same reality. Sure, our cars don’t fly through the sky, but fully automated cars are just a matter of time.

And the same is true for business.

Some processes we all once took for granted are now well and truly obsolete, and are done more effectively through automation.

Take for example, the mobile phone.

If your staff cannot be contacted as required, it’s a safe bet your customers will start looking around for a company that has welcomed the age of automation.

The simple act of giving your staff mobile phones streamlines communication processes, reducing the potential for human error; we all know the frustration of not having phone messages passed on.

While mobile phones are now ubiquitous, they didn’t used to be. The same is true for new technologies and automation processes coming on to the market for businesses.

The expectations of the millenial generation of how businesses allow them to request and utilise their products and services have spread to become a norm in business and personal consumers’ mindsets.

If I can’t get a quote online instantly, I’ll keep looking until I can.

If I have to interact with a business entirely by email, phone or in person and don’t have this balanced with real-time access to what’s going on digitally, the same issue arises.

It’s often common that introducing the digital experience expected can make your pricing more competitive and your operations easier to manage.

In my experience, companies that are proactive about embracing technology and streamlining automated processes are more likely to thrive and more able to take advantage of new technologies coming online.

Companies resistant to taking on new technologies and automated business processes run the very real risk of simply being unable to compete with organisations that are more responsive, flexible and adaptive through the use of automation.

This is also where smaller businesses can move more rapidly than larger ones thanks to their agility, the founder’s knowledge of their business and their more direct access to customers for feedback and testing.

The automation process in itself can strengthen your relationship with customers if you get them involved and have them feel part of the process by “giving them what they want or need”.

What processes can be automated?

There is no doubt we have entered a period in history where there is urgent pressure on businesses to automate their business processes to find efficiencies and increase productivity and profitability.

We need only look at some of the automated processes we now all take for granted in our daily lives:

  • Automatic garage door openers
  • Automatic teller machines
  • Apps to control in-home devices from lights to answering the door
  • Automated parking
  • Smart wireless sound systems
  • Wi-fi
  • Wireless drones

It’s my job to help people identify repetitive and labour-intensive tasks within their business and then develop automated solutions for these same tasks.

This could be automating your payroll and deliveries, to developing unique, new products and smartphone apps for your business.

Business owners hesitating about automated solutions should ask themselves three simple questions:

  • Are copy and paste-type tasks dominating the time of your staff?
  • Do you keep wondering if there is a more efficient way of completing a task?
  • Is your highly skilled team wasting time on mundane, repetitive jobs?

If the answer to any of these questions is a yes, there will almost certainly be automation processes that can save your business time. And we all know time is money.

And if you believe you have a niche market you won’t be pushed out of, look up from your computer screen at the world around you.

The phrase “my business is unique” is one we hear everyday, and yes it is true - otherwise you wouldn’t exist or be competitive. But one of the keys to automation, which is enabled by a bespoke approach rather than grabbing a product off the shelf, is maintaining that unique difference that your customers love and capturing in to an automated system that allows you to grow and maintain those unique traits you’ve become known for.

Ten years ago, most of us would never have conceived of a world where taxis had competition from Uber or the hotel industry would be competing with Airbnb.

Our own business is no exception. Delivering high quality solutions, at low cost and at high velocity to a range of clients is a tough process to manage. If we were to rely solely on increasing human resources to accommodate our management, testing and development of quality products, we would become commercially unviable.

Instead, we built tailored automation testing systems, collaborative planning tools and quality management systems. Our people-first approach to technology means this had to be carefully balanced with our human touch and way of thinking.

But our automation approaches make sure things don’t slip between the cracks and we maintain the aspects of our work that are most important to us.

And as technology evolves, so too do the expectations of your customer base with clients now expecting access to 24-hour chat when online shopping and for troubleshooting, automated emails confirming their email inquiry has been received and the ability to make a credit card payment for goods and services online.

With new technology making business more efficient, saving time and money, the question is really very simple: Can your business afford not to be across it?

 

Read next: What the hell is business process automation? A guide for small businesses

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