Dec 15 2021

How Small Businesses Should Use Automation

Whether in the workplace or in the cloud, automation provides opportunities for businesses to stretch and scale their capabilities as needed.

Small businesses are always looking for opportunities to maximize their capabilities with limited headroom. When it comes to optimizing operations, there are few tools that can be more impactful than automation.

While automation is often overlooked by small businesses, more of them began implementing it during the pandemic. In one recent study, 63 percent of organizations described automation as an important tool in allowing their companies to pivot during an important time. And employees have expressed satisfaction with automation, with 65 percent of knowledge workers crediting automation tools for lessening stress.

But there’s an untapped opportunity for automation down the line, according to research from McKinsey: While two-thirds of businesses were piloting solutions to automate business processes, only 31 percent have fully automated a function. That shows that while the appeal of automation is clear for small businesses, many haven’t yet been able to execute on it.

Organizations need to know not only how to start their automation journey, but also how to expand the use of automation across the business.

How Automation Can Reshape Workplace Productivity

Small businesses don’t need to look too far to begin automating processes. Small pieces of automation likely already exist on your employees’ computers. Every time an email or data input is autofilled, automation is proving itself as an advantage for your team members.

Click the banner below to learn what CDW CTO Sanjay Sood is looking out for in 2022.

Those benefits can translate across a workplace, with popular office suites from Microsoft and Google allowing for workflow automation such as content upload. But larger benefits result when automation is scaled up, as it can cut across departments and through internal red tape quickly.

For example, a human resources team might need to handle a new group of interns joining the organization for a few months. Managing access for those interns in the past might have required new team members, and a lack of resources may have made it difficult for this group to be onboarded.

But automation tools such as Microsoft Power Automate can help to set a script (or, as Microsoft calls it, a “flow”) that’s followed each time a new employee starts, provisioning the access they need in Teams or Office 365 and automating the tasks required to get them up and running. By the same token, if someone leaves, automation tools can take steps to roll back their provisions.

Automation tools can maximize reach while also cutting back on busywork.

The Role of the Cloud in Workplace Automation

Automating processes in the office can look a lot different from doing the same thing in the cloud, where potential time-saving opportunities can be executed at a higher level, across an entire supply chain.

With public cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, automation is focused less on person-to-person functional tasks and more on workflow. That allows systems to manage resources and tasks that are fundamental to the business, such as supply chains and operational work, more efficiently.

MORE FOR SMALL BUSINESS: Train your employees to defend against cybersecurity.

Techniques like DevOps can identify opportunities to scale up operations that build upon existing workflow. If your e-commerce business relies on user-generated content for execution, for example, your graphic designers don’t have to manually manage all the content coming in. A cloud-driven automated process, particularly one with artificial intelligence capabilities such as natural language processing, can help classify and tag items without direct human input.

Service providers like CDW’s Digital Velocity Solutions team can highlight areas where these low-level automation functions can be put into place, such as security provisions that are managed on the fly or data that is processed for AI and machine learning needs. Often, these technical demands are not the core competency of a small business, so handing these elements off can help companies focus their energies on mission-critical tasks.

Stretch the Capabilities of Your Team

Low-level approaches to automation that help your IT or security teams aren’t the only ways to think about automation within the cloud. If executed properly, automation can help solve broader business issues as well.

With cloud-based resources supporting your infrastructure and automation-backed technologies like low-code programming helping to expand your reach within the workplace, your small businesses might be well positioned to take on a lot of things that might have been too complex to tackle just a few years ago.

That’s especially handy during busy times, such as the holiday season, when many retailers, for example, might need to ramp up demand on the fly. Bringing additional workers in to help may or may not be feasible amid the Great Resignation,  when the job market is already tight, but stretching technical capabilities might bridge that gap.

Whether it’s smaller processes or broader foundational operations, small businesses have much to gain from implementing automation.

This article is part of BizTech's AgilITy blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #SmallBizIT hashtag.

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