Automation is a practical response to increasing costs. For example, if labor costs rise too high to justify a particular job, then eventually, businesses will catch on that they should automate it.
This is how many assembly-line jobs were streamlined and replaced by machines, conveyor belts were introduced to quickly move goods from one production area to another, and robotic warehouse workers were created to dash between shelves and delivery trucks.
Business automation might seem like an exclusive club that only large corporations can afford to take advantage of, but it’s something small businesses can use just as quickly. That’s because automation doesn’t have to be on a grand scale but can be at a smaller level with simple things like barcode scanners, work orders, and automatic reorder points. This article delves into these three areas and briefly overviews how business automation works.
How Business Automation Works
Business automation means using technology and software to make business tasks easier and faster. This can include simple charges that are done over and over again or more complicated tasks that require decision-making. The goal is to save time and make the business run more smoothly.
Business Automation Steps
1. Identify Processes
The first step is to identify the processes within your business that are suitable for automation. These can be repetitive tasks, data entry, customer interactions, inventory management, etc.
2. Select Automation Tools
Once you’ve identified the processes, you must choose the right automation tools and software for each task. Various tools are available for different purposes, such as robotic process automation (RPA), workflow automation, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and more.
Often, these automation tools need to integrate with your existing systems and software. This might involve setting up APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to enable seamless data exchange between devices and applications.
4. Workflow Design
You’ll need to design the automated workflow or process. This involves mapping out the steps that the automation tool should take, including decision points, triggers, and outcomes.
5. Data Input and Processing
Automation tools can collect data from various sources, such as forms, emails, databases, etc. They process this data according to the predefined workflow, applying business rules and logic.
6. Decision Making
Automation can include decision-making processes based on predefined rules or algorithms. For example, an e-commerce business might automate offering personalized product recommendations to customers based on their browsing history and preferences.
7. Execution of Tasks
The automation tool performs the necessary tasks once the workflow is set up and data is processed. This can include sending emails, updating records, generating reports, and more.
8. Notifications and Alerts
Automation tools can also be configured to send notifications or alerts to relevant parties. For instance, an automated signal can be sent to the procurement team to reorder stock if an inventory level reaches a certain threshold.
9. Monitoring and Optimization
It’s essential to continuously monitor the automated processes to ensure they run smoothly and produce the desired outcomes. Analytics and reporting tools can provide insights into the efficiency and effectiveness of automated workflows.
10. Adaptation and Improvement
As your business evolves, the automated processes may need to be adapted or improved. This could involve tweaking the workflow, updating rules, or integrating new tools to enhance the automation further.
Here are three examples of where businesses can use automation on a smaller scale.
It seems like such a minor thing, but typing information by hand is a big deal because it’s so easy to make typos during the process.
When a warehouse worker is going through and performing cycle counts, picking items to fulfill orders, or reordering goods, and all they have is a pen and paper or a mobile device to physically type all of the information into, many problems can arise.
What if they enter the wrong part number? A single misplaced digit can lead to significant negative consequences down the line.
A barcode scanner solves this problem by eliminating the manual part of data entry.
Workers can simply scan an item’s barcode to pull up its location within the warehouse, quantity in stock, and other relevant information. They can use barcodes to check in new things, pick them, reorder them, and more. It’s faster and safer than doing it manually.
For manufacturers, how do you ensure manufacturing jobs are handled in the same manner every time and that the finished goods are up to the same level of quality as all the ones that came before them?
An excellent way to ensure this happens is to add detailed instructions to each work order and save and reuse the same work orders and bills of materials whenever needed. That way, even if employees come and go, whoever is working on a manufacturing job will know precisely what is expected of them and how to do their work.
Raw materials and production stages will be clearly defined so there is no ambiguity about what should happen at specific times.
Automatic Reorder Points
Keeping up with inventory quantities is no simple task, especially if you store items in multiple locations.
Rather than waiting until a particular product runs out or guessing how many of a product you should order and winding up with a massive overstock, you can try a more methodical reordering process.
Look through your sales history (or, better yet, run a detailed report that shows your sales history) to figure out how many copies of a product you should keep on hand to avoid a shortage. You’ll need to know the average number of goods you sell daily, the number of days it takes to get new ones shipped to your location, and the upper limit of how many you are willing to keep on hand to avoid unnecessary carrying costs.
Once you’ve calculated all these, you can set up an automatic reorder point for that item.
As soon as its quantity gets down to a certain number, your inventory management software can automatically generate a purchase order with the default vendor you’ve chosen and the amount you’ve determined. You can even make seasonal adjustments so you won’t wind up with too many sandals in the winter and too many scarves in the summer, for example.
An Automated Approach
Business automation may not come automatically to your small business at first, but if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort at the start, you’ll find that it pays off in the end.
By scanning barcodes, reusing work orders and bills of materials, and setting up automatic reorder points on your parts and products, you will be in an excellent position to keep inventory flowing smoothly in and out of your warehouse.