Repost from original publication: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2016/11/17/how-to-save-time-and-money-through-automation/
With all the tools currently available to businesses, I cannot believe how much time is still spent on manual tasks. I’ve seen the possibilities for and impact of automation in accounting firsthand, but it’s also transformed a wide range of other processes such as customer relationship management, marketing, regulatory compliance and cyber security.
Automation can save time, money and headaches — automation tools are more accessible than ever before — yet some companies have been slow to adopt the technology. As a founder and CEO myself, I get it. Shifting gears and doing things differently is tough, particularly for my field, as accounting isn’t what most people would call “sexy.” In my experience, organizations that are aware of automation are more excited to spend the money on a process like marketing automation. But with the certainty that it offers across many business processes, automation across the board offers a way to make work more efficient.
Areas Of Automation
New companies are recognizing this need for efficiency and building automation solutions from the ground up. Their intent is clear. They seek to replace older ways of running a business with automated solutions. For example, Fundbox created tools to determine customer cash flow and payments, enabling others to quickly onboard new clients.
But there are still many missed opportunities for automation. One example is the manual transfer of data instead of integrating data platforms. Ask yourself: How much time does your organization spend entering data from a web portal or legacy system into a desktop application before you use it?
Another example: putting meetings on your calendar. Consider how many hours you’ve spent going back and forth with clients and colleagues to arrange appointments, and how much time you’ve lost due to miscommunications and scheduling conflicts. There’s a reason why companies like Acuity Scheduling do so well, and a company like X.ai is able to raise millions.
How To Spot Automation Opportunities
Automation is also increasingly designed with what people want in mind. For example, in accounting, approximately 47% of accounts payable professionals consider manual processes their biggest challenge.
In my experience, the best way to discover opportunities for automation is to simply ask your employees. Your team has hands-on experience with tedious tasks and processes, and therefore understands what can be made more efficient and what requires a personal touch.
Next, reach out to your customers, clients, and users. What elements of the experience of using or purchasing your products or services take too much time and effort? Where do customers feel frustrated, and what causes prospects to put down your product or abandon the purchasing process?
Once you’ve taken those steps, look around your industry. Take note of competitors and vendors who have exhibited significant growth — if they haven’t recently raised money, chances are it’s because of automation. If you can discover which procedures have been retooled, you can reap the same benefits.
What Makes a Process Ideal for Automation?
It’s easy to identify opportunities for automation on your own—once you know what to look for. A task is probably ripe for automation if any of the following are true:
1. It involves a lot of data entry (and/or is in desperate need of OCR). There’s no reason for anyone to continue typing numbers into Excel spreadsheets. If you’re managing a lot of numbers by hand in PDFs or printed documents, look for ways to leverage Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR scans documents and converts text into a digital, editable format. The technology has come a long way over the past few years, and these days OCR can even convert handwritten text with near-100% accuracy.
I can’t think of an industry that wouldn’t benefit from OCR. Many healthcare providers use OCR to digitize patient records, Project Gutenberg makes old texts readable and searchable, and at my company, we apply OCR to process customers’ paper bills in a format compatible with their digital ledgers.
2. It’s repeatable and repetitious. No one wants to perform the same task over and over. Between mailing and shipping, categorizing emails and approving bill payments, automation can take care of many administrative tasks.
Most of us already automate tasks in our personal lives, even if we don’t realize it. For example, you most likely make pre-approved payments to monthly subscription services like Netflix. Imagine sending Netflix a check every month — sounds ridiculous, right? Nonetheless, many businesses still cut, sign and send checks for monthly costs, when virtually every bank will automate this for them free of charge.
3. It has no room for error. Humans make mistakes. But when a typo represents a risk to security or customer privacy, it’s time to automate. Automation reduces errors such as mistyped numbers or names, as well as incorrectly formatted, missing, or duplicate entries.
Implementing Automation In Your Business
It’s possible to automate many elements of your business on your own through rigorous work habits, some knowledge of programming, and the host of free resources and tools online. From marketing to customer support and from IT to bill payments, there’s an automation solution or tool for nearly every business process. Try them out. You’ll have more time, save some money, and gain better transparency and oversight as a result.