Thanks to advancements in technology, several labour-intensive tasks are now being automated. In the quest for improved efficiency and productivity, many companies have turned to automation.
But if you think automation means big corporations replacing human employees with fancy robots—think again. Chances are, as a small business owner, you’re already using some automation tools in your business and personal life.
Here are some ways businesses are automated and how embracing automation benefits you:
The Less Paper Office
Paper is made from trees. Even recycled paper has some new material in it. There is considerable concern about preserving the quality of our environment and even a small effort can make a big difference.
As the saying goes, “think global, act local.” There are some instances where the use of a printed document is necessary, however, even these instances can be kept to a minimum. If you are working on drafts of a document, it might not be necessary to print the document until the final one is ready.
Here are a few tips to help reduce the use of paper in your office.
- If you have to print something, use both sides of the paper.
- Keep paper that is only printed on one side and use the other side of it to print drafts of non-essential documents that need to be printed.
- Ask supplies to send invoices in PDF format so that they can be saved rather than printed.
Some of the cost savings for reducing paper usage are quite obvious. For example, not buying more paper. However, there are other benefits of reducing paper usage and saving expenses.
Here are a few cost-saving items that you may not have thought of:
- Obviously, buying less paper is one saving
- The cost of actually printing documents can add up especially if you are printing in colour
- The time involved in getting up from your desk to collect the printing from your printer is time wasted
- Safe destruction of sensitive documents is also a cost that many businesses have to face
Space & Storage savings
The cost of storing paper and the cost of the space used to store this paper is quite significant. Some businesses have banks of filing cabinets and stacks of archive boxes stored in offsite rental storage areas. This is a considerable cost to a business particularly if the business is trading for a long time and there is a requirement to keep documents for an extended time.
Some of the ways to reduce this storage and space costs are :
- Make a conscious decision to reduce the costs of using paper
- You can buy a multi-GB storage drive for a few hundred dollars which can store a semi-trailer load of printed documents
- Off-site storage off electronic files is quite inexpensive compared to renting a storage shed
- Offsite storage of electronic files is safer than physical storage particularly if good backup regimes are in place
The cost of changing existing physical storage can seem expensive, however, there are cost savings to be had in the long run.
Archiving and Retrieval Benefits
Some documents need to be kept for several years and some records, particularly in medical fields, need to be kept for decades.
When these documents need to be accessed, the time and cost involved can be very significant
A well organised online electronic storage system for important documents is far easier to access than going through archive boxes in a storage shed. If you need to find invoices for the ATO or a dispute resolution, the ability to find these documents within a few minutes rather than a few days is very important And much more cost-effective.
A few benefits of a well-organised online storage system:
- Reduced cost of physical storage
- Ease of access
- Search and retrieval capability
- The ability to email these documents if necessary
- They can even be printed if that is required
An important part of business automation is the use of the latest online tools and software, particularly for accounting and financial purposes.
The days of the paper Ledger books are well behind us and the days of sharing files between the business and the bookkeeper and the accountant are well behind us, too, or at least they should be.
There are several good quality online accounting programmes available and three of these are Xero, MYOB, and QuickBooks Online. There are many others to choose from with different functionalities and capabilities.
The other side of this is document capture programmes such as Hubdoc and Receiptbank. Many similar programmes can also be used. These programmes will scan and upload to your online accounting system saving the time consuming and costly exercise of physical data entry.
Some of the benefits of these programmes are:
- Reduced made for physical data entry
- Automatic upload of data to the accounting programme
- With some accounting programmes, a copy of the invoice or bill will be attached to the transaction for ease of access.
- Most of these programmes also create a store of the paperwork that is converted to PDF
Specialist Business Tools
For business and office automation, some of the best applications are the specialist business tools linked with your accounting system. These applications can take business efficiency to a whole new level.
Where once written reports or verbal reports were used, digital evidence can now be captured and saved; documents created and shared, inventory automatically recorded, and design is created with incredible accuracy.
Some of these applications include:
- Forms and photos: For industries that require on-site work such as building and trades and industries that require the statutory paperwork to be completed there are several applications which will automate the completion of forms and save photographic evidence of work required and work done. A couple of these are Formatize and Service M8.
- Online collaboration: With the use of cloud technology, documents, drawings, and contracts can be shared within your business with amendments and alterations made to draft documents.
- Document creation and management tools: One of the most useful tools for service industries is the ability to create documents and send for signature or verification. This almost eliminates the need to print and send by post or email documents which need to be reviewed and/or approved.
- Project management: Project, job, and workflow management can be a nightmare to coordinate if different people are working on the project. Another area that can be improved by online services is that of process and procedure management. There are several project management tools available that I have used, one of which is Workflow Max, and for process and standard operating procedure management, the service offered by Way We Do is extremely useful.
- Inventory management and retail: inventory management and purchasing for manufacturers, distributors, and retail outlets can be very difficult to keep accurate. There are some unlined solutions to these problems which are specific to various industries.
- Drafting. Architecture and Engineering: For these industries, the ability to design and share online is particularly useful. These programmes can manage very intricate engineering functions with the ability to share the design and print the final blueprint.
The beauty of many of these business management tools is the ability to integrate with your accounting system. Deepest integrations are with true cloud accounting programmes such as Xero.
For the larger or more sophisticated business, the use of these business applications to run the business leads to better office efficiency and put the accountant system as the financial record rather than the business operating programme.
The Bottom Line
The key benefits to modern business efficiency are the saving of costs, both direct and indirect and reduction in errors, through the reduced use of physical and human resources.
Dai is a Master of Business Administration graduate of the University of New England, Registered BAS Agent and member of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers. For 16 years he owned, operated and managed businesses in the tourism and hospitality industry – particularly Accommodation, Event Management, and Food & Beverage Management. In recent years, Dai has worked in the Not for Profit sector, Real Estate, Motorsports, and Motor Trades industry and business services, in Finance, Administration, and Practice Management roles, before becoming a Professional Bookkeeper in 2009.