The Key Business Operations You Need to Automate in 2021

Luke Walker
January 26, 2021
4
minutes

It’s 2021, and in business, there’s very little doubt that automation is extremely important.

According to Deloitte, 73% of businesses worldwide are now using automation to carry out operations, up from 48% in 2019. Covid-19 has forced businesses to reimagine their internal operations, and the trend has shown no signs of slowing down. 

Much of that automation has been enabled by no-code software platforms. For the first time, no-code has made it possible for employees without any coding skills whatsoever to build reliable, complex – even “enterprise-grade” – applications to automate operations processes.

It’s a solid rejection of the painfully slow, skill-dependent, hard-coded development world, and a welcome development for operations management, which – until now – has carried out daily business on the hamster wheel of endless emails, meetings, calls, and the like.

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In spite of the automation boom, not every industry is adopting workflow automation at the same rate – Fintech, Sales & Marketing, and Healthcare are some of the more noteworthy holdouts. 

But in actuality (thanks in large-part to no-code), the opportunities for operations automation are endless – whether you’re a FinTech startup, a marketing agency, a fast-growing retail business, or a full-blown commercial enterprise. You can start with the absolute “basics,” like implementing an automated invoicing process –  or, you can go big and automate your entire sales and marketing operations.  

Regardless of which industry you’re in, here are five key processes that every operations team should automate, to save massive resources and get the biggest return on automation: 

1. Customer Onboarding

Few processes have as much demonstrable impact on your business bottom-line as customer onboarding, yet – strangely – it’s one of the least automated processes in business. That’s because, prior to no-code, there hasn’t been a cost-effective way to do it.

Automated onboarding programs can be extremely helpful when introducing your customers to the basic functionalities and values of your business or product. It ensures that the standard checklist onboarding “to-do’s” are carried out for each customer, whether by machine or by team member. And it provides a meaningful framework for analyzing customer success and behavior, which cannot be achieved when each onboarding is carried out differently.

While automation is crucial for achieving higher efficiency and quality in your customer onboarding experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you replace the human element of customer success in the onboarding process. Rather, it means that instead of focusing on detailed technical steps and administrative tasks, your customer success team can devote its full attention to the customer experience itself, and trust that the technical process steps are fully automated and executed correctly.

2. Inventory management and Fulfillment 

If you’re a product-based organization, like Ecommerce or Retail, shipping & inventory management is one of the most essential processes to automate. 

Managing order fulfilment and tracking inventory manually, you’re relying almost exclusively on available employees on-site. If there’s a change in demand or working conditions (pandemic anyone?), then your capacity to fill orders will be limited by the availability of your team to carry the process through.

By automating critical coordination steps in this process, you can eliminate the “human requirement” to carry out simple handover or inventory management tasks. That leaves your team available to focus on the process steps requiring a human touch – for example, having a conversation with a concerned customer, or lifting a sofa into the back of a customer’s car. 

Point being, you don’t need to expand your workforce to sell and deliver more products (or to continue selling and delivering products in a pandemic). Rather, you can automate the 60% of coordination steps that eat up your team’s time – as was the case with this furniture retail chain – and allow them to focus on getting your product delivered to happy customers.

3. Sales Operations (CRM) Tasks

When we talk about a modern sales organization, there are normally two sides: the customer-facing reps, and the back-of-house sales operations or CRM managers. Anyone who has worked in a CRM knows just how vital it is to keep information up-to-date, structured, and ready to be leveraged. 

Historically, CRM management is a massively manual task with lots of coordination between individual team members. Thanks to automated processes and forms, however, a CRM can be kept clean and accurate from the first point of contact with a new prospect or customer, and not require a single email or phone call between the team.

Automation doesn’t just help with housekeeping, either. By integrating with your contracts database and eSign apps, you can fully automate the processes for price quoting, contract management, and partner agreement negotiations. 

Although your CRM is absolutely crucial to sales success, it doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming. When thinking about your next CRM project, consider including a no-code process solution that is highly flexible, and won’t require a team of consultants to implement the changes for you. Here’s what to look for.

4. Reporting 

Reporting is another huge opportunity for automation, yet many businesses fail to realize it, since it is an exclusively internal process. 

Many ops managers still rely on manual reporting, which includes maintaining spreadsheets to track process data, sales, revenue, and traction. It’s a respected and widely understood method of presenting information, but it’s wildly time-consuming and also prone to error, depending on how you are extracting data. An estimated 90% of businesses spreadsheets contain errors, according to research.

Automated reporting, on the other hand, ensures data accuracy. So long as your data source is not corrupted (in which case, you have bigger problems on your hands), with automated reporting, you can trust that the same data is pulled from the same sources at the same intervals, every time. 

Whether or not the spreadsheet is your preferred medium for viewing and analyzing data, the fact remains that the extraction of data, population, and formatting of reports constitutes 95% of the reporting workload. That should absolutely be automated.

5. Accounting & Finance Processes

Most businesses today have at least partly automated their financial operations. Thanks to accounting and banking services going almost 100% online, it makes sense that the financial operations processes leveraging these services can and should be automated too.

You can automate just about any financial process to save all sorts of time and resources. Processes like bill paying, invoicing, receipts handling and payroll – all of them recurring, predictable, and step-intensive processes ripe for automation. 

Not to mention, leveraging automation in financial operations will also help your team to avoid untimely and costly errors – for example, missed or delayed payments, incorrect invoices, and expired credit cards. By building simple, predictable, automated processes, you can let your mind off of the smallest financial details, and still avoid the biggest, most unnecessary headaches down the line.

What’s next for operations?

2021 will be a year of slowly returning to “normal,” but automation is here to stay. Organizations will not revert to business-as-usual overnight, if they choose to do so at all. And remote work will likely proliferate as a permanent-standing option for many businesses into the foreseeable future.

Similarly, no-code platforms, which have enabled non-technical users to deliver reliable automation quickly during the pandemic, will continue to gain popularity and widespread adoption. Many businesses have hinged their pandemic-era continuity on automated processes built with no-code platforms. And they will continue to look for new ways to use no-code for future quality and efficiency gains.

Automation with no-code isn’t difficult to achieve with the right tool and the right approach. But you have to start somewhere. Best practice is to get your most coordination-intensive processes out of the way first, to show your teams a quick win, and then continue building on the early success.


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About the author
Luke Walker is the Product Marketing Manager at Next Matter. He is a longtime process hacker, and writes about marketing, business digitization, leadership, and work-life balance. When he's not at work, you can find him listening to records or climbing rocks.