Wouldn’t it be nice to achieve the perfect work-life balance? Less time at work and more spare time for what you love doing, or to sort things you simply never get round to doing.
The reality however is that most small businesses are on constant overdrive, handling the day-to-day pressures of running a successful organisation while also grappling with the fallout of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the uncertainty of Brexit.
Now more than ever, business owners and senior decision makers are looking for new ways to boost productivity across all departments and save time for their over-stretched employees. They know that, unless they take action, they and their staff could face burnout and see low morale become just as contagious as the common cold.
Seeking productivity help
Technology is one remedy to help alleviate some of the pain. SMEs can use robotic process automation (RPA) tools, for example, to automate repetitive tasks that needn’t require manned input – enabling people to become more productive and focus on the more important tasks at hand.
There is an abundance of examples (more than most perhaps realise) where automation is already helping organisations win time back, from public sector organisations through to commercial businesses. Hillingdon Council uses a finance automation tool and it has helped reduce the time spent on monthly budgeting by 50 per cent. Meanwhile, barristers’ chamber Clerksroom is using a junior robot clerk to automate many of its administrative processes and, as a result, is saving its clerks around 200 hours every month.
Automation isn’t just limited to finance and legal though. It can benefit virtually any business process in any sector. It’s also seen as the close ally of cloud technology. Together, they can boost productivity, provide better visibility and control of key operations in real-time, and give access to data that can positively re-shape the running of every single part of the business.
Aspire Furniture, for example, is using cloud and automation software to gain a complete view of its entire business process from accounts and payroll through to operations, stock, customer communications and the supply chain. As a result, it can process 500 orders in 15 minutes – over 150 times quicker than before. It immediately saved them time by simplifying their processes.
Simply put, automation and the cloud can help ensure the smooth running of a business while minimising the stress that often comes with it. And, as Aspire Furniture demonstrates, it’s not just the big businesses taking advantage.
Both automation and the cloud were once seen as the domain of large enterprises, but that’s no longer the case. We’re now seeing small businesses realise that it’s no longer if, but when, they will embrace these productivity-enabling technologies. They too want to become a connected and automated business that is fit for the future.
Doctor, doctor – my technology isn’t working properly
However, for any technology implementation to succeed, there must be a willingness for change across the workforce. Employees have to see the value in using digital tools to drive productivity and not see them as a hindrance to their role.
If they see no or little value, the implementation will be a waste of time, potentially prolonging that work-life imbalance.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to adopt new technologies and fail to see the benefits. The Workforce Institute recently surveyed 3,000 employees across Europe and only just over half (53 per cent) noticed a positive impact on their productivity when new technologies were implemented at work. This figure is surprisingly low and could be much higher if the people operating the technology were engaged and motivated in the first place.
Just like any purchase, organisations must consider how a transition to a new technology will impact their staff. That means educating and training users, and helping them see how new tools can make them do their jobs better, and save them time.
They should also address any fears and concerns associated with technology, especially when it comes to automation as it’s often given a bad rap in the media. Automation doesn’t mean that robots are going to take over our jobs – far from it. Automation and people can, and will, work in harmony.
Who’s driving my digital prescription, anyway?
To make it work across an organisation calls for a digital pioneer in every small business. Someone who can drive digital transformation to ensure that technology is adopted with confidence.
Interestingly, as holder of the purse strings and sidekick of the managing director or business owner, it’s often the financial director or controller that is making important decisions around digital strategy. These finance leaders are increasingly acting as the new lynchpin for embracing technologies that will boost productivity and increase agility.
Because they handle huge amounts of data and integrate with other functions across a small business, they are often the first to understand the benefits of automaton and the cloud. In a recent Capgemini survey for example, 41 per cent of organisations said they have an enterprise-wide automation strategy in place – and that finance is leading the way and seeing the potential for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools.
When it comes to the cloud, 67 per cent of companies have invested in cloud-based systems according to the 2017/2018 Advanced Trends Report, with 27 per cent of cloud adoption being driven by leaders within the finance department.
A digital cure
Implementing a digital strategy is one of the best medicines for treating a work-life imbalance – whether it’s finance or another department leading the drive. However, it’s important that small businesses focus on a solution that will meet their own needs – like eradicating the time on tedious tasks and freeing up time for valuable activities. Technology needs to be planned and, most importantly, bought into across the business. Every employee must see it as their essential ally to their daily work.
The bottom line is that if you want to work less, it’s time to embrace automation and move to the cloud – but don’t forget to find your own digital pioneer to lead the way and a solution you’re confident will work for everyone. Now, the important question: what will you do with your spare time?
Jon Wrennall is CTO at Advanced.