The importance of automation for business growth

The lockdowns of the Covid pandemic thrust the need for automation into the global spotlight. Social distancing measures force people to eliminate the human element as much as possible. Over the past few years, it has become clearer than ever that those who fail to automate key components of their businesses will lag behind.

According to Dr Hendrik Bohn, Executive of Complex and Structured Innovation for Nedbank Commercial Banking, there is much debate about where workplace automation will lead the economy, but observers tend to agree on one thing: The trend is only gaining momentum.

‘Every business process, such as human resource management and customer service departments, is on the table for automation, especially as technology becomes more sophisticated,’ he says. ‘No matter what the outcome, automation will undoubtedly change the workplace and, indeed, the wider economy. The only question is how much will it drastically transform the workplace?’

Automation at a smaller scale

In South Africa, as companies grappled to find solutions to one of the world's strictest Covid lockdowns, many of the interesting developments happened at a much smaller level.

‘Larger companies thought about, explored and utilised automation long before Covid – their sheer size and scale often make the smallest improvement highly beneficial,’ says Bohn, ‘but smaller companies often did not see enough benefits in it, due to their size. The lockdown changed this notion almost overnight – suddenly it was no longer about marginal improvements in efficiency, but about sheer survival. Nowhere was this more relevant than in the retail sector, where for small businesses to survive they needed to shift rapidly from bricks-and-mortar stores to facilitating online orders.’

Due to the short implementation time, many companies performed these tasks manually. But this led to errors and bottlenecks that resulted in unhappy customers and overwhelmed employees. ‘The only way to fix this was to automate at least parts of these processes – and it was not about driving efficiencies. It was about survival for many of these businesses,’ says Bohn.

Small steps and minimal investments

But not all automation investments need to be on this scale – at least not in the middle of a pandemic. Many of the automation developments in South Africa during the Covid lockdown showed that meaningful automation can be done rapidly, in small steps, and with minimal investments.

Says Bohn, ‘There are a lot of cost-effective tools and software available that can serve many business functions, such as order management, stock management, and payment management. Application Programming Interfaces (API) provided by financial institutions, for example, can automatically handle complex tasks like payment processing, with the business needing little knowledge of complex coding. APIs make it easier than ever for online stores to improve the user experience for end users by plugging in to automated tasks – a critical factor in automating online shopping and closing sales. This is also true for mobile users, where many abandon shopping carts because of a poor user experience.’ This type of automation, says Bohn, is cost-effective and highly efficient, and can eliminate inevitable human errors that may undermine operations.

‘Covid has been devastating for most businesses, but the pandemic has also caused many to realise the importance of automation. And as an imperative for most businesses across all industries, there’s no better time than now to investigate the true powers of automation,’ he concludes.

What can Nedbank do for your business?

Consulting with a team of experts, Nedbank Commercial Banking can assist your business growth by unpacking your automation needs, and where required, providing flexible solutions with which to finance machinery or acquisitions of existing producers. In addition, we have a team of experts that aim to co-create client-specific solutions with our clients utilising internal capabilities, as well as leveraging capabilities from our vast network of clients and suppliers. Let us know if you’d like a member of the team to call you back and discuss your requirements.