Companies are now in the third stage of “economic downturn syndrome.” Having passed through Panic and Denial, they’re firmly in Acceptance. Panicky knee-jerk responses such as cost-cutting, layoffs, tightening budgets and resources are a thing of the past. Most companies have had a quick breather and segued to the stage of a more carefully considered response: monitoring processes and taking steps to improve efficiencies and productivity.
The pings and misses in the old economic engine are more noticeable, now that the flurry of Panic has subsided. It’s time to tune the system, clean out redundant processes, and make the machine run more efficiently and smoothly. So long as we’re at it, why not also gear up for the rebound, and be ahead of the curve when the economy rises?
Automation technology offers practical ways to reduce costs, at a price that’s surprisingly well-tuned to the times.
In the last decade, cost-saving measures usually required a substantial investment as extra workers were hired to set up new processes, and long implementation lead times failed to deliver immediate savings. However, today’s automation software breaks the rules, It requires no programming or scripting, offers point-and-click capabilities that existing IT staff can learn in hours, and it’s surprisingly cheap, starting as low as US$500. Automation offers attractive incentives for today’s cost-conscious economy by delivering quick results — and the best products are flexible, reliable, scalable and sustainable.
Automation applications can be used to control a wide range of business processes — from simple IT admin tasks to large, cross-application enterprise operations. For companies that must perform repetitive, multistep, labor-intensive business tasks, automation software is now a realistic option offering rapid productivity gains and staff overhead reductions for an immediate ROI.
Without the need for outside experts — and because these products don’t have a steep learning curve — users can implement and reap the benefits almost instantly.
Another sign of the times: As a survival strategy, most companies have turned their attention to customer retention and lead generation. More than ever, strategies improving customer relationship management and effective lead generation can directly improve the bottom line. Marketing, after-sales and support activities come with attached costs including additional IT man-hours for implementing appropriate technologies. Automating these processes can lower implementation costs below the deal-making threshold. A relatively simple automated process, for example, would be to assign leads automatically to appropriate sales representatives.
Some other common processes that are easy to automate with significant cost savings are Excel integration, report generation and document- or file-processing. For example, users can set up the product to automate data retrieval overnight from several sources and print 3,000 to 4,000 letters, with full redundancy in case a printer breaks down.
Who Should Automate
Prime candidates for automation are companies that capture rich customer data at several points including surveys, CRM, back-end systems, Excel, email campaigns, auto-responder software, order-processing systems, support-tracking systems, etc. A company may use three or four separate data collection systems with a need to add others, such as a sales call center or a new support system. Automation software allows IT staff to integrate the applications quickly, such as automatically updating customer records with data from all sources. Today’s automation packages, despite their easy interfaces, are sufficiently scalable to create extremely complex end-to-end workflows.
You know automation is a must for the current economy, but choosing the right automation software for your business can be tricky. Testing is crucial, and the best vendors will help your IT staff set up testing processes. Working with them is an important part of the selection process — the right automation software company will quickly understand your problem and create a solution based on your need, not the technical limitations of the application.
The best automation software for your business should offer:
- Segmentability: Avoid old-fashioned vertical solutions. Instead, look for a product that will give you the flexibility to segment your processes and automate a broad range of tasks. Today’s automation products offer much greater flexibility than the all-or-nothing approaches that CIOs were forced to choose from in the past.
- Adaptability: Look for an automation software solution that can integrate highly diverse applications and processes. Automating many processes with a single package will greatly increase your ROI. For example, be aware that if you buy an Excel-specific automation product, you won’t be able to tweak it rapidly for data-transfer tasks. “Generalist” products offer point-and-click toolboxes with rich features for automating a broad spectrum of diverse tasks.
- Rapid implementation: In a downturn, survival often requires responding quickly to the demands of the market. Forget about custom programming; in today’s economy, you won’t have a month or thousands of dollars to invest in a process-specific custom application. Your automation product should offer a no-programming, no-scripting, drag-and-drop interface for rapid task automation. Ask the proposed vendor for case studies, and look for what the IT people say about the product’s ease of implementation and reliability. Of course, if you can afford a complete turn-key solution you may be able to launch quickly, allowing for quicker returns and better competitiveness.
- Scalability: Look for a solution that isn’t just “for now,” but that will scale well with the rebounding economy.
In these trying times, businesses everywhere are taking advantage of every tool at their disposal. Automation software is a cost-effective, must-have solution that provides a measurable and immediate return affecting your bottom line.
Mihir Shukla is CEO of Automation Anywhere.
There are a lot of applications that are springing up to automate sales and relationship management. Interestingly, new applications even include speeding up innovation. Most of them are very targeted. Some I know of are an easy to use CRM for mobile devices, or a sales tool that scrubs the web for leads. More importantly, they co-exist with existing applications such as Salesforce.com, providing users added value without having to build an end to end vertical solution.