With Small and Medium sized businesses (SMBs) employing over half of the U.S. workforce and accounting for approximately 44% of U.S. economic activity, they are critical to the health of our economy. While it is difficult to pinpoint the percentage of small businesses that have closed and whether those are temporary or permanent, as of July 2021, there were 37.5% fewer small businesses open nationwide compared with January 2020, two months before the pandemic hit the United States, the full extent of the damage still remains to be seen.

Despite the hardships created by the pandemic, new research reveals that many SMBs remain optimistic about the future of their businesses, with data showing 64% believe their business will come out stronger than before. Some of this optimism can be attributed to the rapid digital transformation many organizations were able to make, enabling their businesses to become more nimble and more efficient. One such efficiency is automation. In a recent survey conducted by Xerox, 80% of SMB leaders cited automating business tasks and processes as crucial to their survival during COVID-19.

Harnessing the power of automation

Simply put, automation enables organizations to operate more efficiently and focus their attention on higher-value work instead of tedious, time-consuming tasks. These benefits became invaluable for SMBs during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns. Organizations found themselves expediting digital transformation plans meant for years to roll out, in weeks or even days. Tools meant to specifically support remote working environments needed to be flexible and affordable. Many found the answer in digital solutions such as robotic process automation (RPA), which uses bots – simple software routines that automate processes with repetitive steps – to streamline workflows and accelerate manual processes. Thousands of options for bot customization make it appealing to SMBs, helping them stretch the most valuable resource – human efforts.

As a result, automation became a primary antidote to pandemic-imposed operational pain. According to recent data, three out of four SMB leaders observed an increased reliance on workflow solutions over their pre-pandemic setups. Further, 65% have already upgraded their workflow solutions, and two-thirds have plans to upgrade their automation tools. The impact is near immediate and will only become more critical as organizations continue to navigate the future of work.

Enabling Profit and Growth

The time and money savings of automation are clear, but just as important is what SMBs can do with this time. By putting routine tasks on autopilot, SMBs can focus on the important work of growing their business. For example, think of a law or a legal support firm that interacts with the court system. It’s very common for these firms to process thousands of critical legal documents each month. By automating document processing workflows, these firms can have confidence in the timeliness and accuracy of RPA, and free up their employees to spend time on revenue-generating activities, like meeting with new clients or accurately applying the complexities of law versus paperwork.

The continued optimism and tenacity of SMBs is a testament to their strength and savviness as they work through the post-pandemic recovery phase. Through automation, SMBs continue to improve their businesses, utilizing advancing technology that makes them even more efficient and resilient.  I’m excited to see the continued evolution of SMBs in their varied digital transformation journeys, and how automation will help organizations innovate and stay relevant in our post-pandemic world.

Rich Artese is the General Manager of Xerox IT Services.

Automation stock photo by PopTika/Shutterstock