It’s always the most advanced and imaginative technology that seems to get the most press. But automation at its heart is not about the fanciest, most fringe robotics or inventions. It’s something much simpler.
The U.K.'s Office for National Statistics agrees: "It is not so much that robots are taking over, but that routine and repetitive tasks can be carried out more quickly and efficiently by an algorithm written by a human, or a machine designed for one specific function.”
The benefits of a machine that can increase speed and efficiency are clear. The question is whether it’s a plausible investment both in terms of the learning curve as well as cost.
Bigger companies traditionally benefit more from new technology because they have more to gain and more resources. Small to midsize businesses (SMBs) often cannot afford expensive software licenses, nor the IT personnel to support, build or maintain the tech.
But as the CEO of a company that offers automation solutions, I've seen firsthand how times have changed. Today, everyone can access technology that automates everyday business tasks for marketing, customer service and sales. Here are three key reasons why the benefits of automation are becoming accessible to everyone.
1. Cloud-based solutions even the playing field
It used to be that high costs kept businesses out of software solutions. Today’s market is saturated with affordable cloud-based software available to anyone for a monthly or yearly subscription. The upkeep lies with the software company, not the subscriber. These solutions also come with customer support, onboarding guidance, tutorials and 24/7 security. Businesses must only learn how to use it.
Cloud-based solutions even the playing field by making the software accessible. In fact, they may even skew the field in favor of small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), who have agility on their side. They can adopt a cloud solution quickly and adapt to the software faster. SMBs can switch their operations rapidly to make internal processes more efficient and thus save costs — a vital factor for small businesses strapped for cash.
Using an automated solution saves countless hours and dollars; for small businesses, the saved costs sometimes mean the difference between staying afloat and struggling to make payments. According to a survey by West Monroe (via Human Resources Online), 36% of managers spend three to four hours on administrative tasks a day. That means things like responding to emails and handling routine tasks such as processing purchase orders and approving time-off requests take up almost half their workday.
Automating these routine, low-value tasks makes a drastic difference and businesses can redirect resources toward more valuable, high-output activities. Cloud helps SMBs level the playing field with increased access and faster adoption.
2. Visual, low-code platforms are easy to use
Today, every company is a software company. Delta Airlines owns and operates an enormous physical infrastructure to get its planes from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Yet almost its entire customer experience (flight control, reservation systems, etc.) are completely computerized. The same is true in every field, from Audi and Ford in automobiles to Siemens and GE in health care.
Since IT departments differ in size and capability, it would seem that those who have more software developers have a distinct advantage. Big companies can routinely attract the best global talent, offer them above-market salaries and packages, and spend money on HR for these recruitment efforts. Smaller companies can’t possibly compete at their level.
But the top-of-the-market products that come from the best full-stack developers and UX designers have now become far more accessible. Free, open-source solutions aside, software companies are now competing to offer the most user-friendly, intuitive and visually appealing platform to customers. Design templates are often available at no cost, eliminating the need to hire someone to create one from scratch.
What’s more, many of these platforms are designed to empower the user and they let any business take advantage of the software and automate processes without hiring scarce and expensive developers.
3. Everyone has a mobile phone
Mobile continues to explode. According to IDC, "Mobile workers will account for nearly three quarters (72.3%) of the total U.S. workforce" by 2020. Unlike companies that were founded before the days of mobile and have to make fundamental changes to adapt, new businesses can build their entire company or brand around mobile technology.
Mobile offers customers a convenient, superior experience. Mobile payments and checkouts enable customers to avoid waits and give more access to their purchase history. Companies can then collect this data on customer behavior to create targeted marketing campaigns. This automation sounds complex and advanced, but the technology is no longer limited to enterprises with deep pockets.
Marketing automation companies and other cloud-based software solutions have created native mobile apps that allow employees to work remotely. For companies that need employees to work in the field, mobility means less time wasted on the commute and more work done efficiently.
A mobile-friendly website and a mobile-specific marketing strategy that can reach customers on social media can work as a competitive advantage over larger companies that have yet to catch up to the changing ways customers interact with brands.
In our increasingly digital world, technology continues to be more accessible to everyone.
But it's important to not get left behind. After all, isn’t it likely that there’s a well-funded Silicon Valley startup lurking just over the horizon with a fully automated operation? Blockbuster ignored Netflix at its peril. Barnes & Noble didn’t see Amazon until it was too late.
So on the one hand, businesses of all sizes can celebrate their access to modern automation technologies. On the other hand, they should adopt and apply the technology today to ensure that it's not too late to make a difference.