Automate Your Business
Simpson adds that while the two areas he highlights might not seem that exciting or revolutionary, their automation can make huge differences to profitability, particularly for fast-growing businesses. Face it, if the work was interesting no one would want to automate it in the first place.
“The businesses that are mature and maybe growing by a few points per year tend to have operational discipline that takes care of these issues,” Simpson says. “Businesses that are growing at 20 to 40 percent a year are often a little bit haphazard and chaotic internally. As they rush to bring on new staff and product, the unsexy elements of administration don’t get a lot of attention.”
Unfortunately, for many companies the cost of investing in larger programs such as Dynamics prohibits them from the list of options, particularly early in a company’s life when working capital is tightest. And so many businesses adopt smaller application packages that can sometimes fail to provide the features and functions they need as they grow.
Many others will cobble together a business system out of multiple Excel spreadsheets. While this may solve the problem of needing a tool to store and manipulate information, it can require significant investments in time to input the data in the first place, and is rarely a cost-effective solution.
“In the beginning, they can create spreadsheets and other ‘good enough’ solutions,” Caminos says. “But at some point SMEs have the realisation that they have grown to a size where they need better automation. It is a natural level of progression and growth.”
In addition, external processes sometimes have to be automated to do business with customers and partners. Suppliers into the grocery retail industry, for example, will be familiar with the electronic ordering and invoicing systems used by major retailers, and a spreadsheet is rarely sufficient.
But, unfortunately, implementing technology can sometimes also mean putting a lot of time and effort into maintaining that technology as well.
Accessing Automation Services Through a Web Browser
Caminos says an option many businesses are beginning to use is ‘software-as-a-service’ applications (SaaS), also known as on-demand applications. These are software programs that are hosted by a service provider on the internet, and are accessed by the customer through a web browser.
The beauty of this model is that no upfront investment in IT is required to gain the benefits of automating a business process. All of the systems required to run the software reside with the software provider, and the application can be reached anywhere that you can access the internet. All that is required is a machine that is capable of running a web browser, and the software is normally paid for on a monthly subscription basis
“Companies exploiting growth markets often wish to focus on their real strengths rather than devoting management attention and scarce time and capital to building their own IT infrastructures,” Caminos says.
The leader in the SaaS field has been California-based Salesforce.com, which provides software for sales force automation and CRM. Recently Salesforce.com opened an online marketplace called the AppExchange, where other developers can post SaaS applications that are complementary to the software offered by Salesforce.com itself. In this way businesses can acquire an entire business automation suite without any upfront capital cost.
Several SaaS companies have also emerged from Australia, including Saasu, which makes software for accounting automation. Chief executive Peter Cooper says that because a SaaS tool is always running on its host’s systems, you can set it up to automatically perform tasks such as sending invoices at any hour.
“Two of our main value propositions are ‘automate’ and ‘connect’,” Cooper says. “And they are pretty well tied together, because if you are not connected there is a limit to the automation.”
Many SaaS applications also feature in-built connections to other SaaS tools, quickly creating a web of interconnected applications that can automatically send data among themselves.
For example, Cooper says that while a small franchise might use Saasu as its only tool, he has a larger client that also uses Salesforce.com for CRM, and then synchronises the details automatically between the two. He says reconciliation can also proceed more smoothly, because Saasu integrates with online banking systems.
“So the billing and ongoing post-sales account management get done in a consistent way without any manual synchronisation required,” Cooper says.