By Pablo Ribas

As technology continues to advance, more companies can take advantage of the tools that bring their businesses to the next level. However, for many business owners, automation falls low on the list of priorities because it feels overwhelming—and that impression is all the more likely to exist among companies with limited resources.

As with any new technology, automation comes with its own jargon. However, despite all the talk of networks, algorithms, and mathematics, automation is simply a way of applying technology to help businesses grow by using software and systems. Automation can help streamline various processes to decrease operating costs, increase efficiency and give business owners and employees more time for higher-level thinking that contributes to growth and success. Many of the highly accessible automation tools available today are designed to be easily integrated into a business’s day-to-day and help address critical issues. By postponing a move toward automation, businesses risk putting themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the long run.

If you’re wondering how and in which areas automation can help ease business functions, consider the prime example of cash flow management. This seemingly simple task of tracking and controlling how and when money enters and leaves a business is also one of the most notoriously challenging to master. In fact, according to the 2017 American Express Small Business Monitor, more than one-third of small businesses have cash flow concerns.

It’s hard to overstate just how critical healthy cash flow is to a business, and it’s just one example of how automation can help business owners grow. By embracing automation, businesses have more opportunity to focus on growth.

Elevated Thinking

Well-deployed automation is essentially like multiplying your workforce with your current employees. According to the National Small Business Association’s 2017 Year-End Economic Report, one-third of small businesses expect to implement some kind of automation in the next year. After implementing automation, 67% of small businesses expect to need to the same number of employees. In addition, 24% of small businesses expect to hire more employees, while only 9% expect to need fewer employees.

Automation has the ability to streamline critical processes, such as distributing payroll, tracking expenses and more. Employees can be more effective at executing higher level thinking when they have fewer manual tasks.

Embracing Automation

The first step is to identify where automation can help you and your business the most. You can get a jump on adopting automation by proactively seeking out areas where it can relieve business management and stress for you. Businesses that carefully implement automation programs can see notable benefits in a relatively short amount of time.

Once you’ve identified areas where automation can best benefit your company, begin to look at solutions. For example, SCORE offers webinars and events to educate small businesses on automation and connect them with the resources they need. There are many existing tools that can help boost productivity for companies of nearly any size.

Keep in mind to consider solutions that can easily fit into your existing systems and processes. Adopting tools that can’t easily be streamlined into your business because of incompatibility with existing software, for example, can put a considerable dent in productivity. Business owners should also consider how much training employees may need and how long implementation will take for a better understanding of when you will begin to see gains.

Prime Areas for Automation

At American Express, we have identified a few areas where many business owners could benefit from automation to simplify processes. Payments are important to all businesses, and the good news is that there are solutions that business owners are already using to help them easily integrate automation into their day-to-day.

For example, American Express has partnered with organizations like RegalPay and MineralTree to provide business owners with a simplified way to pay multiple invoices at once, reducing manual processes and increasing efficiency. In addition, automation does more than just relieve payment processes: with Cvent, businesses can boost productivity in the event and meeting space. Meetings and events require significant resources and coordination to plan, so it’s extremely important that event planners have all the tools they need to manage a budget, generate payment and track all expenses in real-time within their meetings management software solution.

Another area that many businesses can benefit from automation is procurement, which processes the purchasing of goods and services—including preparation, processing orders and approval of payment. A resource like SAP Ariba offers cloud-based procurement to help business owners by improving and managing the end-to-end process by reducing buying cycles, cutting supply costs and lowering processing cost. Large companies are also investing in helping businesses through the procurement process. For example, we are also working with Amazon Business, a B2B procurement platform, to make it easier for businesses to purchase products from one another and reduce inefficiencies when it comes to purchasing. Amazon Business offers a suite of services like business-only price savings, fast and easy shipping, multiuser accounts, flexible payment options and more.

There are a number of solutions available to enhance security, visibility and control over payments and business planning and management processes, which simplify, automate, and add increased accuracy to these previously time-consuming manual processes. With a variety of automation tools already in easy reach, automation is clearly the future. An investment now can pay off with productivity gains, allowing businesses more time to focus on growth. Savvy business owners with an eye on the future will seize automation opportunities today for the potential of a better business tomorrow.

Pablo Ribas is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of U.S. Small and Middle Enterprises (SME) for Global Commercial Services (GCS) at American Express. In this role, he leads the commercial team responsible for serving small and mid-sized commercial enterprises with payment solutions that include Business and Corporate Cards, Purchasing and Supplier Solutions and other payment and business financing products.

Automation stock photo by Tashatuvango/Shutterstock