Small businesses owners are often barraged by automation software systems that promise to streamline an important business process. These systems can hold significant appeal, promising to reduce both costs and manpower requirements while still getting necessary work done.
However, these systems usually claim to be “set it and forget it” type of deals. This can be misleading and can result in unrealistic expectations, as well as flawed implementation strategies.
Fortunately, it is possible to derive a great deal of value from automation systems as long as you understand both their advantages and their limitations.
It’s important to understand which processes can be reliably automated within your company. These can include payroll, billing, cost accounting, IT infrastructure monitoring, internet related marketing, prospect and customer engagement management, competitive intelligence monitoring and many others. The trick is to determine which processes, if automated, will provide the most value for your company in particular.
One method to determine this value involves carefully tracking employee time to determine if employees are spending large amounts of time on processes that can be easily automated. In cases such as these, implementing an automated system often provides a high return on investment by decreasing time spent on tedious activities while freeing employees to work on other tasks.
Selecting and implementing specific software to meet automation requirements is too broad a topic to cover completely here (that’s where the consultants make their money).
That being said, once you have determined which processes within your business that can be successfully automated, there are a few automation software universal best practices to remember:
Make sure that integration functionality is present within the system you choose. Modern business programs should communicate with each other so that you can collect, retrieve and manipulate data however you see fit.
If a program uses a lot of proprietary protocols, then look elsewhere for software that will play nice with others.
Another key factor to consider when choosing automation programs is longevity. Niche programs that are new and relatively unproven in a business setting are risky because they may not last long. Therefore, even if the program works as advertised, you could get stuck when an update is needed and the business has gone under.
When it comes to automating key business processes, it is wise to select from high-quality programs that have withstood the test of time. Small businesses often look to Quickbooks, ADP and even Microsoft Dynamics GP to provide the foundation for automation infrastructure. Though these do not fit everyone’s needs perfectly, each deserves a careful look.
Monitor and Update
Finally, keep in mind that even the most advanced automation systems cannot be left to run without regular monitoring and updates. In general, programs should be checked daily to ensure proper functioning so that any issues can be corrected quickly.
If the software program you choose offers a maintenance contract, you’d be wise to invest in it. Automation systems should be reevaluated or updated at least twice a year. Sometimes, a maintenance contract will include automatic software updates, which is a very valuable benefit.
Software changes quickly, necessitating regular maintenance to guarantee a smooth integration with your daily processes. If you discover software is lagging or causing problems even after it’s updated, then you should definitely consider looking for a replacement. The inconvenience of implementing a new automation program is often mitigated by the increased functionality it affords.
Automation programs can significantly impact your company’s bottom line, but it is important not to get overoptimistic. Your car doesn’t drive you to work and your stove doesn’t cook food on its own. Only people can run a business. When software is left to run amok, bad things happen.
Focus on creating a solid implementation and maintenance strategy and you can streamline your processes while increasing your profits.
Easy Way, Hard Way Photo via Shutterstock