Business automation can mean different things to different people, so this article will take a more holistic view of business automation.
What does automation mean to business owners? It’s when one or more workflow processes no longer need a human input. It can apply to non-technology related workflows. But, in our context, technology and automation are inseparably linked.
Automation has become something of a buzz word in recent times. Countless articles have speculated on how technology (most recently, robots) will take all our jobs. If that makes you nervous, consider this; Human creativity and social interaction reign supreme. Your goal should be to automate your business so you can focus on what you love and/or do well. Successful automation will allow you to meet more customers, use your creativity to resolve issues, create revolutionary new products, or build on teamwork within your business.
Here are some tips to demonstrate how automating your business can be a powerful force for success:
Start with Your Customers
These days, customers have an increasing number of choices. Your number one priority should be to focus on them. Automation should be harnessed with the goal of servicing the customer better.
Customers generally contact your business online, via email, phone or social media. Your website should be optimized to work with all types of devices. Important internal data that’s important to the customer should be front and centre. Examples include order details, available appointment dates, etc. This functionality may sound easy, but you are trying not to introduce new manual processes. It must be integrated with other systems (more about this later).
No matter what inbound channel a customer uses to contact you, it’s a must to centralize the contact. That usually means implementing a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM). These come in different flavours but integration to other systems is critical. What’s the point in having a client detail a requirement if only the salespeople will be aware of it? Or, having a salesperson forward a question they can’t answer, without ever finding out if the question was answered. As amusing as it sounds, it happens every day.
Business Automation is Integration
When considering technology to automate your business, an important question often gets overlooked; how will this technology integrate with my legacy applications and processes? This question is remarkably good at sorting bad options from good and setting the tone for future conversations.
Unless your goal is to totally replace your entire business technology suite and re-train your staff, technology MUST integrate with other systems. After all, how can you automate your workflows without systems communicating with each other?
If you have a social media dashboard system that doesn’t link with your marketing campaigns, why not? If your new CRM is not capable of looking at customer details from your manufacturing production system, why not?
Keep Your Vision Whole
So many projects get derailed because people (usually technology focused salespeople) start talking about how the technology can do this, or do that. There’s the inevitable discussion about how cool that is, and – oops, there goes the business goal out of everyone’s minds.
Automating any part of your business has to serve short-term and long-term business goals. As the business owner, you are the supreme holder of that simple but elusive goal. With enough time and money, technology can be created or modified to do just about anything. The question is whether you have the time and money to do that. In most situations, the answer is no.
If you feel, due to lack of available time or technical knowledge (or any other reason), that you cannot provide this level of guidance, get someone to do it on your behalf. Get a technical Applications Architect who talks business and technology.
Smaller Bites Makes Better Digestion
You don’t need to look far for a business project that turned into a monster. It’s all too easy for a project to take too long to implement and cost much more than anticipated. Start small, but remember our first tip – keep your overall vision in your mind.
Large projects can (and should) be broken into multiple deliveries. Especially at the beginning, everyone needs to see small ‘wins’ to get confidence in the project delivery. This is especially true of your staff.
And, like new babies, new projects always burp when you least expect it. There are simply events that cannot be anticipated. Keeping the milestone deliveries smaller helps to mitigate the unknowns.
Everyone has heard of it. Fewer actually know how to use it. The main takeaway is it’s useful under specific circumstances. If you are building our own application, have data intensive applications (like CAD or MRP), or simply want a secure backup, then visiting the cloud might be an option for you.
Google and Amazon sold over 60M voice enabled devices last Christmas season. Voice enabled applications are on the horizon, so consider how your business could change if a client could talk to a device that would perform a task, instead of having to type a keyboard or call a person. Consider a voice enabled website. How would a user might interact with your website? Perhaps complete forms on your site, or place an order. The technology has been around for a few years, but the recent uptick in interest can be traced back to Google Home and Amazon Echo.
This technology has also been around for years. But recent technologies are making it much easier to implement. This goes beyond webinars to a point where you can have suppliers, clients and employees working from anywhere, and can easily stay in touch with them. New industry specific plugins are being created everyday.
Want to Learn More?
Running a business means optimizing your technology environment to support your organization, stakeholders and clients. Whether it’s your internal systems, website, or data environment, your business needs an integrated and useful technology and systems foundation. Come learn about how to make your technology systems useful and relevant to your business with a one-on-one advisory session with Tim Bramwell – Ask an Operations & Systems Expert.