The Honest Case for Automation in a Small Business Today

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If you’re in a growing small business, chances are that when it comes to jumping on new technology, you’ve developed a “once bitten, twice shy” attitude. When something like process automation comes along, maybe you went “Well, maybe when we get big enough to justify it.”
On the contrary, process automation is more relevant (and becoming essential) in the context of an SMB (small/medium business) than it ever has been.

“I can’t even think about something as expensive as process automation right now, I’m just trying to keep my head above water.”

No need to fear. While a skilled programmer can build homegrown automation, it’s not likely that you have a few of those sitting around with nothing to do. However, you can use codeless process automation platforms for less than $100 a month.

“Ok, Maybe it’s affordable. But do I really need process automation for my business?”

Undeniably, yes. No matter the size of your company, it is built completely around processes. Some of them run very smoothly, while others are as clunky as a warthog serving tea.
The efficiency of your processes often depends on what it’s built on. If your processes run on emails and spreadsheets, it’s like trying to lay a dirt road over a sinkhole. However, using an automation platform is like building an elevated monorail above all the daily chaos you face.
Consider a day in the life of the average HR leader in a small business.
It starts with a ton of emails: leave requests, communication from prospective employees and successful candidates, (hopefully rarely) letters of resignation, and a slew of spreadsheets to manage performance, attendance, and culture initiatives.
Before they can come up for air, their phone(s) start ringing off the hook, as do calendar event reminders and to-do alarms.
Automation has the power to streamline all this, and more. Consider these five areas.

Time-Off Requests

Also called leave request management, or a lot of different terms.
When time-off requests are run on a dated chain-of-emails system, the results are predictable. Employees send emails to their department heads, who forward them with an ‘approved’ note to HR, who then pass it along to payroll and then back to the employee. This only gets more convoluted when someone along this chain has an issue with the request–may be the department head needs the particular employee for a crucial project.
A complicated process is what worked to the advantage Jason Shoumaker, the University of Texas’ former facilities director. He used his time sheets to show that he was at work every day, when in reality he was headed off to lavish vacations!
If you spend a significant portion of your day handling and re-handling time-off requests, you are already late for adding automation and streamlining the system. Process automation takes the request, makes sure all the data is captured, and automatically routes it to the right people, taking care of rejections, clarifications, and database management.

Sales Orders

The minute you complete a sales order, you immediately rejoice and start counting the profits. However, everyone knows getting from “yes” to paid isn’t the easiest path, and can sometimes take twice the amount of work.
Ask any salesperson, and they’ll tell you that the glamor of a great sales order is sort of lost when it comes to the paperwork. The adrenaline rush of collecting leads, making cold calls, following up with prospects in the great hunt for the golden deal, is sure to fade away in the cold, boring world of paper trails and documentation marathons.
Automating this key process would mean that the order-to-cash cycle doesn’t keep stalling, which is often the norm with a traditional system.
Automated sales orders mean that you reduce order entry time, decrease manual accounting costs, make scalability possible, and increase the organization’s control of data. All music to the ears of someone running a small business on a non-luxurious budget!

Employee Onboarding

Talk to a seasoned HR expert, and you’ll see them rattle off an impressive checklist they use when onboarding a new employee.

-Collect candidate’s certification and the required legal documentation
-Send relevant documents to record-keeping and payroll
-Enroll candidate in the appropriate work training program
-Provide access to desktop, workstations, software as required
-Provide ID cards, building access cards
-Give the candidate a heads-up on company policy, culture
-Walk them through the leave application process, appraisal cycles
-Introduce them to their departmental team and the office at large

Onboarding, even when you have a very detailed checklist, is notoriously tricky. And the results are significant: a survey by the SHRM Foundation has shown that one in 25 employees leaves because of a bad onboarding experience.
An employee onboarding software solution takes these responsibilities off your hands. It provides consistency to replace chaos, ensuring that onboarding efforts get streamlined. The various team members who play a role in onboarding (the team lead, HR executive, payroll representative, and trainers) get notified when it’s their turn to play a part in onboarding.
Nothing gets missed “in the process”. The result: effective onboarding, and no paper checklists!

Purchase Orders
Like other manual processes, purchase orders present a series of problems:

-Multiple stakeholders, which means multiple touch points
-Time-consuming data entry
-The risk of errors
-Chain of command, and the long approval cycle
-The dreaded paperwork trail

With these pitfalls, purchase orders often sink into inefficiency. People lose their early order discounts, and grow suspicious with low transparency in the process–not a good place for any business to find themselves in, regardless of size. Forget operational challenges–at this point, your procurement team is likely dealing with irate sellers, and fighting for sanity.
A great fix here is the automation approach. Run purchase orders through a solid workflow automation software, and you’ll watch each one run smoothly through its touch points, error-free and streamlined with paperwork all taken care of.

Purchase Requests

A prequel of sorts to the purchase order, the purchase request is what you raise to get a purchase order generated and approved.
For much the same reasons that you’d automate the purchase order, you should run purchase requests through an automation solution as well. It’s all connected in the larger order of things (i.e. your business), and you would be well advised to free purchase requests from a bottleneck-riddled system of emails and manual paperwork.

Big or Small, Process Automation is Crucial

From these simple use cases, it’s easy to see that automation does fit in–and quite effectively–into the everyday operations of a small business. What with the typical low overheads and a general shortage of hands, an automated solution might just be the best thing that happened to the SMB operation of 2018.
And given the competitive pricing, trying one to see if it works for you is a viable way to go.
Got something to add, or a contradictory idea? Leave your comments here and we can start a discussion!

Suresh Sambandam
Founder & CEO of OrangeScape, a home-grown company offering disruptive SaaS platforms for business process and workflow automation. OrangeScape is a cloud pioneer from India and was one of the global 10 platform-as-a-service (PaaS) companies featured in Gartner and Forrester reports.Passionate about entrepreneurship and technology startups, a significant amount of time is devoted to the startup ecosystem mentoring young companies. Also, a regular speaker at various industry forums & academic institutions, and the co-founder of SaaSx, an exclusive platform for SaaS entrepreneurs.

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