Can Workflow Automation Help Weather an Economic Winter?

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Where are we economically?


Are we in a recession? That depends upon how you define a recession, but if you follow the definition of two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP) the United States has been in recession since the summer of 2022. However, strong labor markets and corporate earnings indicate a prettier picture. Regardless of your current view on the economy, taking steps to make your business perform at a higher level is a good idea. Workflow automation in your business can be a catalyst for this.


Is it smart to look at automating your workflows?


Automation has often come with negative baggage, whether abstract or realized. Fears of automation and workflow process improvement are nothing new; as new technology gains adoption, people view it as an insult to the worker. To take a quote from the famous Dusty Rhodes hard times promo, “Hey, a computer took your place, daddy.” These days, we have a more pragmatic view of workflow automation. Given the present labor shortage, we no longer seem afraid of the mass unemployment that automation was perceived to bring. In fact, it might even expedite your need to consider it.


Where should I start looking for ways to automate?


You don’t have to be six sigma certified to improve your business workflow. There are intelligent areas to look for increasing efficiency throughout any organization; here are a few ideas:


  1. Start by looking at your store shelf
    Workflow process improvement doesn’t have to start with a whiteboard. Sometimes you can find improvement right on your store shelf. For a small grocery store founded in Memphis, TN- Piggly Wiggly, it meant changing how consumers shop for groceries. Rather than have Piggly Wiggly staff retrieve each customer’s items, customers were allowed to browse the aisles and choose whatever items they wanted. Their process improvement seems like a no-brainer now, but back in 1916, it was a radical concept. It allowed the store to maintain a consistent inventory level and improve its staff’s workflow to maximize efficiency. Inspired by the business process of the grocery store chain, Toyota developed its Production System. This revolutionary management method optimized workflow and revolutionized car manufacturing across the globe.

  2. Look for the low-hanging fruit (high frequency, low complexity tasks)
    Begin with a business process for an everyday, repetitive task. For example, documents and information that route through workflows with a human touch only when needed. These tasks can be something as simple as an invoice payment process. Automation could handle capturing the invoice, indexing it, electronically sending it for approval, then posting the approval and dataset to operation software – and flagging any errors or exceptions for review. This automation speeds up your workflow, enabling payment within days, not weeks.

  3. Your business data is your Intellectual Property. Clean it up.
    Data quality is essential to good business strategy and decision-making. 94% of enterprises say data and analytics are essential to their business growth and digital transformation. In order to improve your decision-making capability, you need to ask meaningful questions. Better data quality equals better decisions, which leads to better business performance. Simple questions to ask about your data could be:

    • How does your staff input your customer data fields?

    • Do you have a standard dataset for each customer or service offering?

    • What are the key data elements that have the most impact on your operations?

    Automating the process your business uses to capture, maintain & report your data is an impactful way to bring data normalization. Once again, your workflow automation doesn’t have to be too deep or complex. However, if you are starting out, implement simple, straightforward measures to validate your automation’s efficiency.

“Clarence Saunders made millions by borrowing the self-help cafeteria idea for the grocery business and naming it Piggly Wiggly. Imagination pays!”

-Napolean Hill

What benefits can I expect from workflow automation?


Getting an idea of the upside of automation is a great way to acquire buy-in from co-workers, staff, or even a boss. Here are a few benefits you can achieve by embracing or bettering your workflow automation:


  1. Optimizing operating costs
    Business process automation can reduce your operating costs, making it easier to avoid the company-killing effects of an economic downturn. Wakefield Research conducted a survey of 1,000 office professionals to discover that 54% felt they spent more time searching for documents and files than responding to emails and messages. What would the financial impact be if you could address this productivity bottleneck through workflow automation? Tackling this challenge could help you save money and keep staff focused on providing the best customer experience.

  2. Boosting employee retention
    Businesses are reluctant to increase hiring as the global economy continues to head down the road of uncertainty. But a potentially more crucial effect could be on the employee retention side. Workflow automation can create a better work environment by allowing employees to focus on deep work and finding innovative solutions instead of monotonous work. Let’s go back to our invoice automation workflow example for a second; which scenario would your staff prefer:

    1. A process of manually copying and pasting invoice details into multiple systems to complete accounts payable work over and over.

    2. An automation process that captures, indexes, and inputs the form fields, only alerting if the process is out of the norm.

    By automating these tasks, you’ll free up your employees’ time to upskill and provide a more valuable role, potentially increasing retention at the same time.

  3. Creating a better customer experience
    Increasing your customer experience is critical for maintaining business stability. As the economy contracts, providing a customer-centric approach to your products or services can help your organization keep an edge over your competitors. Automating your workflow to uncover why a customer chose your business over others can lead to higher customer retention or presenting that reason as a value prop in your customer acquisition efforts. Increasing the speed at which you capture this data through automated customer feedback or, even better, reducing the response time, customer support, or issue resolution can significantly contribute to the customer experience.

  4. Become Self-Sufficient
    Reviewing your core business tasks & workflows for ways to own the process will give your business an autonomous way to weather economic storms. What are some “make-life-easier” functions you could internalize to become more self-sustaining? For example, automation was a core method Amazon used to revamp one of their most painful customer experiences & third-party dependent portions of their business: product order fulfillment. Bringing these functions in-house allowed Amazon to leverage automated workflow processes to speed up delivery times, resolve inventory issues & ultimately enhance customer experience, which is key to their Amazon Virtuous Cycle.

Wait, why is a print & copier company talking about automation?


It’s odd that a printer & copier company is talking about automation, right?


Not really. Our core mission is to fulfill every good purpose. That means making your business simple by making your paper & document management smart. We want you to stop printing because when you do, we know your business is working smarter. Smart Technologies of Florida wants to solve your workflow problems as we’ve done for businesses like yours- whether you’re burning hours getting sucked into your inbox or standing by the office copier. This article gives you the tools your business needs to start the workflow automation journey that will prepare your business for an economic downturn and beyond.


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