I say 'business automation' and you think '[insert question here]'. The truth is, business automation is a pretty vague term in a pretty big industry. This lack of clarity, along the Hollywood association between automation and the Rise of the Machines, often leads to misunderstanding and the proliferation of a few common myths.
In reality, automation can refer to anything from marketing to provisioning to billing to finances - and everything in between.
We're here to clear up the most common misconceptions about the industry and the variety of products within it.
Myth #1: Automation is a product, not an investment
Explanation: Most businesses consider automation to be a product, a piece of software that is installed alongside your document management software.
Truth: Business automation is an investment. It requires time, energy and commitment to reach an optimal state of efficiency. It requires buy-in from all levels within the business and will alter the way you do business. Your automation provider will become a long term business partner. (Not sure how to pick the best provider? Download our latest ebook for some tips.)
Business automation is a journey. Firstly, you need to have a very good understanding of what your current processes are, where they can be automated and why. You need to invest time looking for the right solution that suits your unique requirements and then work with that solution provider to achieve your goals.
Only then will you get a solution that is flexible to your needs, scalable for your growth and trustworthy to your requirements.
Myth #2: It's all about reducing costs
Explanation: Indeed, one of the many benefits of business automation is cost reduction, but it shouldn't be the primary driver.
Truth: In reality, business automation is about automating manual, repetitive tasks to increase efficiency and productivity. It will reduce your overall cost per task, whilst at the same time freeing up your previously-bogged-down teams to innovate and inject real value into your business.
The benefits your business will see far outweigh the cost reductions you'll experience.
Myth #3: Automation will steal my job
Explanation: Perhaps the most common myth; by automating tasks, staff will be made redundant.
Truth: Business automation will not steal your job. What it will do is "boost productivity, reduce & avoid redundancies, and improve overall service quality" as suggested by a new KPMG report.
The report goes on to identify that business automation allows IT teams to become the drivers of enterprise wide services, giving them the tools to be more than simple infrastructure administrators.
Also - all automation is really doing is taking those boring 'request and fulfil' jobs and automating them. Taking them off your hands and giving you the time to work on worthwhile endeavours.
Myth #4: It won't do what I want it to
Explanation: This is a common one. It sits very closely with another myth: "I can only get an off-the-shelf solution". It refers to the belief that all automation solutions are made equal.
Truth: Automation solutions come in roughly 2 forms; (1) an off-the-shelf (OTS), out-the-box solution and (2) a completely customised solution. We dive into the pros and cons of each in more detail in this post here, but roughly:
- A customised solution is built around your specific requirements. It can cost a bit more, but you get exactly what you want. There are often suppliers that are specialists in your industry, for example: Marketing, ISP's/Telco's or real-estate.
- An off-the-shelf solution is a pre-designed, pre-packaged solution that you buy into. It comes with pre-defined workflows to connect various business activities.
So as a short answer - yes, you can get exactly what you want and get it do exactly what you want it to do.
Myth #5: It will fix my (not so great) processes
Explanation: An automation solution will fix my existing processes and just "make them work".
Truth: The primary function of business automation is to make your existing processes more efficient and effective. It won't (necessarily) create processes where they don't already exist within your business. It certainly won't fix any bad processes that you have in place.
Think of it as rubbish-in, rubbish-out. Automation is essentially a workflow engine. Processes and decisions are programmed to respond to certain inputs and deliver specified outputs. If the processes and decisions fed into the engine are flawed to begin with, then the final product will also be flawed.
The reason I mention 'necessarily' above is because an off-the-shelf solution may come with a few pre programmed workflows you hadn’t thought about using before. These may end up working quite well for you. A customised solution is unique and built specifically around your existing or aspirational processes.
Myth #6: It will solve all my problems
Explanation: Similar to myth #5, there is a belief that automation is a magic pill and will solve all your problems.
Truth: Again, automation is a workflow engine. It will help you become more efficient and will reduce time spent on repeatable tasks such as calculating and sending out monthly invoices.
Automation will not make non programmed decisions for you, and it won’t help solve your daily business challenges - we're still a few years away from a H.A.L type artificial intelligence.
Myth #7: All automation solutions are the same
Explanation: Automation = automation = automation.
Truth: Every automation solution is different. Some solutions focus on specific processes or types of processes and some are far more holistic, understanding how cross-departmental processes interact and integrating those workflows in the most effective way possible.
Further, some solutions focus on individual functions such as Marketing, Lead Generation, Billing or Customer Service.
The bottom line is that every solution is different and there is something out there for everyone.
Myth #8: It's too expensive, especially for a small business
Explanation: "It would be wonderful, but surely I can't afford it."
Truth: If considered as a product, automation can seem expensive. But, when considered as a long term investment, the cost becomes part of your operating costs as an essential business tool.
Bear in mind that the solution you select is automating the heart of your business. By automating regular repeatable actions (even by using some of these basic tips) you are reducing costs, saving time and increasing productivity. All of those activities are bringing additional value to your business which you would otherwise not have had.
This is especially true for small businesses where a very small team needs to achieve big things quickly, and at the lowest possible costs. Automation can help with that and is a very worthwhile investment.
Myth #9: Our current processes work, so I shouldn't bother changing
Explanation: The processes you have in place already work, and are finely balanced. You certainly don’t want to poke them.
Truth: Why indeed? Well, if you're happy with the way your business currently operates and the processes you have in place, then that's ok. It is always worth evaluating your processes and procedures on a regular basis to ensure they are being conducted in the most efficient way possible and that you are best utilising your staff’s time. There are many benefits to be had from automation, we've outlined 7 of them here.
Another point to consider is that one of the biggest drivers of business success is the rate at which it can respond to changes in our (let’s face it) rapidly changing economy. Your processes may work for you now, but are they holding you back? Are you able to adapt quickly to respond to your customer's needs?
Automated process are flexible and can change and grow with your business as required.
Myth #10: It'll be hard/expensive to retrain staff on a new platform
Explanation: Some people just don’t like change. Especially in high quantities.
Truth: Almost every automation provider out there provides a very high standard of onboarding training and change management assistance. In many cases there is also a large community of users who communicate in product forums and through social media, providing an additional layer of product support.
Of course, it will not be easy to train everyone on your new automation software, but it is almost always worth it as you'll end up benefitting exponentially in the long run.
Myth #11: With automation you can set and forget
Explanation: Once your system is in place, you'll never have to look at it again and it'll always work perfectly for you.
Truth: Business automation is a great time saving tool, but this doesn’t mean you can turn it on and forget about it. You still need to analyse data, interact with customers and handle outliers or exceptions that fall outside the scope of your programmed workflows.
Myth #12: You need a lot of technical understanding
Explanation: All automation is way too technical for me to understand.
Truth: In the early days of business automation, tools were all highly technical, customised and provided onsite. This required either a vast amount of on-site technical understanding or deep pockets to pay for the supplier to come and help you work through any trouble you’re experiencing.
Today, professionally developed software and cloud computing have changed the landscape. Implementation can be done remotely or by yourself, they are cheaper and easier and you often have the choice to implement an on-site or cloud based solution.
Myth #13: I will lose control of my business
Explanation: Many people believe that automation will take over completely, automating every aspect of a process and removing the control from management.
Truth: The truth is that very often, it is a flexible solution that is implemented. Manual, repetitive tasks are automated but when a critical decision is required, like approval or signoff, the workflow is paused, the process owner can be notified and a judgement decision is included - affecting the path of the workflow accordingly. These decision points give you complete control over your process automation.
Myth #14: Automation is for robots
Explanation: Utilising automated processes will make me seem cold and un-human.
Truth: Good business automation plays both sides of the coin, leveraging automation for what is needed, while responding to customers and staff and productively interacting with your market.
So there you have it - our 14 most common myths about business automation. I hope we've helped debunk the most common ones out there. If you have any questions, comments or additional misconceptions to add to the list, please do so in the comments below - we'd love to hear from you. For more information about automation, head over to "Everything you Need to Know About Business Process Automation".