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If you’ve ever completed an online form, received assistance from a bot, or used a scheduling program like Calendly, you’ve experienced the joys of process automation. Automating processes allows us to make the most of our time, save money, and streamline workflows by delegating simple tasks to a program instead of a person. There’s a myth that process automation is only financially viable for enterprise businesses who have the budget to implement large-scale programs but that’s not the case. On the contrary, I would argue that process automation can benefit businesses of any size, without breaking the bank.
Wherever there’s a task that doesn’t require critical thinking but must be completed at a high volume, it’s a candidate for process automation. Items like data entry, payment processing, and more are all great common candidates for automation.
Internally, automation can be used to standardize processes as well as help employees to be more successful and organized. Externally, automation programs can be used to improve the customer experience by reducing wait times and clerical errors. No matter how small, each automated process has the potential to greatly impact efficiency.
When discussing automating processes, there is one major consideration that gives some organizations pause: cost. The technology behind process automation may have benefits, but it can also be expensive to build, implement, and maintain. With that in mind, how do we justify process automation financially?
Imagine your company employees a team of HR professionals and you’re considering implementing a new HR system. This system has an estimated savings of 15 minutes per vacation request and approval for your HR team compared to the old, manual system. Due to those daily, marginal gains, your HR team was able to save $130k-$200k a year (read the full example here).
This example demonstrates the idea of marginal gains. Marginal gains theory, also known as the 1% factor, suggests that small meaningful improvements can lead to monumental results. In this fictitious scenario, that five minutes per day, in an organization of 30 employees, results in more than 12 hours of saved time per week, or 550+ hours a year. Paying an employee for that same amount of time can cost exponentially more in true cost to the business – money that could be better spent elsewhere.
This is where the benefits of process automation for smaller businesses are truly seen. When employees wear many hats, implementing marginal improvements like this can allow a 10-person team to function like a 20-person operation – this is what happened with FireSmart when they released their mobile application. By improving efficiency, you’re able to get the most bang for your buck, increase productivity within your team, and ultimately grow your bottom line.
When deciding how to make process automation a reality for your organization, ask yourself these questions first:
Take full advantage of the software you’re currently using. There may be an opportunity to utilize them in a different way or upgrade them to better suit your needs. Relying on existing systems can help to reduce overall cost and implementation time. A lot of software closely tracks their usage among customers (as those using the tool are more likely to stay on it). See if you have an account rep and reach out; they might be able to help you improve your use of that tool.
You’ll need to determine where process automation can help you the most, and what your expectations are. Start with smaller automations like scheduling or internal workflow items and work your way up to larger ones later. There’s no need to change your entire system right away – wait to see what is feasible for you based on expectations and budget. We also recommend trialling any new technology prior to fully committing to reduce financial risk and allow you to test out the variety of options available to you.
Before diving in, make sure the math adds up. How much time would this program need to save you to be financially viable? Make sure to factor current program costs, implementation fees, and training hours into this equation. Finding a program capable of automating several of your processes at once can help to reduce cost and make your goals attainable.
It’s important to remember that process automation is, as its name suggests, a process. Starting with smaller automations can help you to see what works, what doesn’t, and what the financial benefits would be for your organization. Thinking back to the theory of marginal gains, don’t be put off by the initial price tag, time commitment, or however small the improvement might seem initially. To move vast distances, we must often take many small steps along the way that require investment, planning, and commitment.