Automation for Small & Mid-Size Business: Drive Growth, Increase Margins & Competitive Advantage

With the constant barrage of new technology & buzzwords, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and not be able to select the right technology for your organization.

You are not alone in this dilemma. All across the world, small and medium businesses are struggling to select the right technology. Technology in itself is often not the answer; the ability of a certain piece of technology to provide business value is what makes it relevant to you. If you refer to the Gartner ‘Hype Cycle’, there is a plethora of new technology out there, but selecting what is relevant to the needs of the organization is important.

The one buzzword that is here to stay is automation. Repetitive processes are usually automated, leading to higher efficiencies and throughput. In a manufacturing context, tasks on an assembly line might be automated, while in a supply chain context, they can be integrated with vendor applications to know the arrival time of products.

Below are a few common methods for automation –

  1. Implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)/ Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications: ERP and CRM software for large organizations have been common since the early 1990s, but now we see small and medium businesses also taking advantage of ERPs built specifically to cater to their needs. There are several different types of ERPs available in the market to fit every industry, size, cost structure, etc. Some of the more popular ones are Microsoft Dynamics NAV & AX, Oracle, SAP, Epicor, etc. There are also several open-source ERPs available for businesses that are technically self-sufficient. ERP and CRM software are the single source of truth for the entire organization. Every department talks to each other based on the same data. They also make it easy to assess the impact of actions on downstream processes.
  2. Business Process Management (BPM): Maybe you are a business where traditional ERP/CRM systems don’t work well. Here, non-traditional BPM applications are making headway. They fill the void and provide the ability to control and monitor processes. Some popular BPMs in the market are Nintex, Tibco, Oracle BPM, etc. BPM solutions are able to add value by targeting niche areas.
  3. System Integration – These tools help varied business applications talk to each other. Various popular system integration middleware in the market are GlassFish, Tomcat Apache, Oracle Weblogic servers etc. Middleware selection usually depends on the type of applications being integrated. No matter how much an organization tries to stick to standard and industry best practices, there are always one off areas which require custom modules. The ability to integrate them to mainstream and get value is what system integration tools are best at.
  4. Analytics & Business Intelligence (BI) – For effective decision-making and identification of trends, analytics and business intelligence solutions are rapidly gaining ground. The BI tools provide a visual way of representing information that is both appealing and easy to understand. Some of the popular BI tools in the market are Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, SAP Crystal Reports, Qlikview, SAS BI, MicroStrategy, etc. With all the data being generated by various applications, summarizing & making sense of it is paramount. At the end of the day, if senior management isn’t presented with a crisp representation of the organization’s workings, the purpose of all software applications is lost.
  5. Internet of Things (IoT): The ability to extract information from machines, make sense of it, and take further action is the main purpose of utilizing IoT. This field is still developing and has huge potential to decrease downtime and increase overall margins. There are quite a few players, such as Microsoft’s Azure IoT, Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT, & Google’s IoT platform.
  6. Mobile Apps – With smartphone availability & falling mobile data costs, mobile applications are providing increased transparency and visibility to your employees, customers & vendors. With the ability use these applications on the go, the convenience of information access, mobile applications have caught the fancy of all organizations, whether consumers or enterprises.
  7. Machine learning is the ability of computers to learn without the need to explicitly program them. Machine learning is often termed the stepping stone to artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning algorithms can provide more insights about processes, customers, and workflows. Certain problem areas can be highlighted, and focus can be given to resolving issues there.

With so many automation methods available, it is difficult to talk about them within a single post. With this fact in mind, we will continue to detail out each topic in our automation series for small and mid-size businesses.

To evaluate how to best automate your business operations, please contact us at Captivix

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