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COMPETING IN A DIGITAL WORLD – SMES FIND THEIR FEET

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– Stefano, Founder , Eggcelerate

 

Digital transformation is different for small and medium-sized companies. Or is it? In this article, we take a look at the current state of digital in SMEs and look ahead to see what is in store.

 

“Changes in business operations, and in the way customers are served, driven by digital technologies.”

That is a compact definition of digital transformation. And the digital technologies in question? They range from IoT (internet of things, or connected devices like smart sensors), to Robotic Process Automation and AI, to cloud computing.

 

SME rate of digitisation

Whether your business employs ten people or 10,000, the ingredients for digital transformation are the same. So how are small and medium-sized companies faring? Are they even interested in digitisation? Research1 says they are, and UK SMEs are doing better than many of their European counterparts, with high scores for adoption rates of cloud computing, Big Data and AI. To put this statement into perspective, 58% of companies have adopted cloud computing, but only 27% use some sort of AI-based technology.

Still, only 40% of SMEs report that digitisation is a top priority. An important fact, as the European SME survey 20191  shows a correlation between prioritising digitisation and investment. Those companies that say getting digital is a top priority invest more than companies that give digitisation a lower priority. The companies that prioritise digital also expected to export more than companies who see digitisation as less critical.

 

Naturally, as SMEs are a very heterogeneous group, there are differences in the area of digitisation as well. Some sectors are further along than others. Roughly speaking, finance & accounting firms, manufacturing companies, and the logistics sector are a step or two ahead of firms in the construction business and the legal profession2.

 

The big gain

So, what is it that drives digital transformation? What do SMEs stand to gain?

The short answer is a competitive edge, or even just remaining competitive (enough). Digital transformation is not an option; it is a must. The 24/7 economy demands fast service and quick supplies, and that goes for B2B markets just as much as for B2C. Digitisation enables companies to satisfy such demands.

The predictive capability of AI can reduce downtimes, for example – it will know in advance when machinery is likely to break down and can schedule preventive maintenance accordingly. Another example is increased productivity through the use of RPA or software robots. With RPA, a company can automate routine jobs like checking invoices relatively quickly and cheaply, freeing up human capital for other tasks.

 

The digital future

To look ahead, we also need to take a look at some constraints SMEs face with regards to digital transformation. The main issues UK firms face in this respect are around cybersecurity and the lack of skilled workers. In other countries around Europe, insufficient IT infrastructures also ranks high on the list of concerns.

Dealing with cybersecurity risks and especially ransomware attacks, is a significant worry for companies, as they are costly, difficult to prevent and have the potential to damage their reputation. Financial constraints are also a leading problem firms face when trying to skill up. Salaries for highly skilled IT talent have risen to a level that is prohibitive for many. At the same time, it is also hard for SMEs to attract and retain people, as candidates consider them as less attractive in terms of opportunities for growth.

According to Hays2, most employers say the lack of skills of existing staff prevents them from taking full advantage of the opportunities digital technologies provide. They are turning to solutions to train their employees and outsourcing work.

Nonetheless, digital transformation also provides plenty of opportunities. Look at fintech. Not what you were expecting, perhaps, but the rise of fintech has undoubtedly been advantageous for SMEs. Where SMEs have traditionally been caught in the middle between large corporations and consumers, as far as banking services were concerned, fintech is now providing smaller companies with choices that were not available before. A survey by EY3 shows that, in the UK, 18% of SMEs have adopted fintech services. These services include banking, payments and financing.

SMEs have taken essential steps, but they have some way to go as well. What lies ahead seemed brighter in January 2020 than it is now, just a few months later. Still valid for any company setting out on the digital transformation path, though, is that investing in people – skills, communication and culture – is crucial. Although the survey done by Hays found that many employees feel that ‘going digital’ is not a bad thing, the human factor does seem to be a stumbling block for many SME’s. One possible solution is for organisations to cooperate in creating training programmes and offer employees a challenging, cross-company career path.

 

Sources

1 KFW Going digital – the challenges facing European SMEs | European SME survey 2019

https://www.kfw.de/PDF/Download-Center/Konzernthemen/Research/PDF-Dokumente-Studien-und-Materialien/PDF-Dateien-Paper-and-Proceedings-(EN)/European-SME-Survey-2019.pdf

2 Hayes What workers want

https://www.hays.co.uk/documents/34684/4771753/What+Workers+Want+2019.pdf/7d7c1264-6df5-c2cf-2c7c-581b9a5b01dd

3 EY Fintech is a world of choice for small and medium-sized enterprises

https://www.ey.com/en_gl/banking-capital-markets/how-fintechs-are-a-world-of-choice-for-small-and-medium-sized-enterprises

Finance

FOUR STEPS TO INTEGRATING INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION IN THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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Marieke Saeij, CEO of Visma | Onguard

 

It’s clear that Intelligent Automation (IA) is still very much an emerging technology, with one indication being that is has only been mentioned a handful of times on Twitter since the beginning of 2021. Results from our latest annual FinTech Barometer reveal a mixed picture in terms of awareness, with half of finance professionals having never heard the term before. Whilst this is unsurprising for a technology concept very much in the ‘early adopters’ stage, organisations can stand to gain real benefits from embracing Intelligent Automation now, particular within the finance department. With this in mind, we explore some of these benefits and share a step-by-step best practice to implementing it into business operations.

 

Intelligent Automation ensures a predictable order-to-cash process

Such is the speed of introduction of new technologies that it’s a challenge for businesses to keep pace. As the newest innovation in finance, Intelligent Automation is one that organisations can’t afford to let pass by. It truly takes financial process automation to the next level. In addition to helping maintain a high-quality customer service, it also complements the existing skillset of finance professionals in the industry.

Marieke Saeij

While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Big Data are key innovations for the sector, IA can be likened to an additional layer that enhances existing technologies. By combining applications, this layer is capable of independently assessing situations and determining the appropriate process sequence. It can, for example, fully determine the risk of a specific customer, and can also predict at an early stage which invoices will be paid late, or even not at all, ensuring that finance professionals can then plan accordingly. The result is a reliable and predictable order-to-cash process.

 

The four steps to an IA-proof organisation

While the benefits of IA are numerous, implementing the technology can prove complex, although some are already treading the IA path without knowing it. In this instance it’s crucial to become aware and begin the purposeful process to full integration. Below are the four key steps to becoming fully IA-proof.

  1. Exploring the potential: Brainstorm where automation can be applied

Step one is to examine the extent to which automation can help your organisation. Blue sky thinking is the key here. What is the ideal relationship with the customer? What does the ideal order-to-cash process look like? In this phase, involving multiple departments from within the organisation is key, from management to operations. The finance professionals who have the most contact with customers are likely to have the strongest knowledge of which processes they would like to see automated. With no limits to ideas, it’s best to explore all the opportunities in the entire order-to-cash process and describe broadly the potential value to the organisation.

 

  1. Decipher which data and technology is needed

The second step is to map out which data and technology is required. Working with a specialist, either external or from the internal IT department, is beneficial at this stage to see where the opportunities lie. In many cases, off-the-shelf solutions are already readily available to help make the difference, so it pays to do the research and gain advice where possible.

 

  1. Firm up the strategy

With the plan mapped out, it’s time to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Which technology and accompanying software is proving most valuable? It’s vital at this stage to analyse the results the organisation is achieving from deploying the right technology and software. It’s also important to outline any limitations and emphasising the potential risk of failure. This is the business case and the basis for the elevator pitch that will be presented to internal stakeholders.

 

  1. Draw up the roadmap and start benefitting from agility

The fourth and final step is prioritisation. The roadmap will describe step-by-step how to move from the undesired current situation to the desired end goal. In the first step, choosing a subproject that is relatively easy to achieve will help gain support from other departments within the business, and provide invaluable experience that can be applied to the more complex components that follow later. This agile approach facilitates a learn-by-doing mindset and allows the following steps to be tackled in a smarter and simpler way.

 

Effective preparation is half the battle

Exploring the potential of automation, mapping the required data and technology, establishing the strategy and laying out the roadmap are the four crucial steps to ensure the foundation for Intelligent Automation. Effective preparation and estimating which technology and accompanying software is needed will help to create a streamlined and error-free order-to-cash process. To ultimately save time and costs, empower finance professionals and maintain customer loyalty, the time for Intelligent Automation is now.

 

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Technology

READING BETWEEN THE BUZZWORDS: DISCOVERING THE POWER OF INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION?

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by Yad Jaura, Product Marketing Manager at Netcall 

 

The nature of automation means that new technologies, ideas and solutions are frequently developed and invented. New words and phrases are banded bandied around, with many similarities and discreet distinctions. A relatively recent buzzword in the business process transformation arena is Intelligent Automation.

Here I explain what is meant by intelligent automation. In doing so, I aim to unravel some of the terms that are intrinsically linked to automation and explain why intelligent automation can be so crucial for organisations in transforming business processes, fast.

 

So, what is intelligent automation exactly?

Put simply, it is the combination of multiple process automation technologies together into a single platform or solution. Those process automation technologies include low-code, robotic process automation (RPA), built-in workflow, integration platforms and intelligent business process management suites (IBPMS). Using any combination of these to automate business processes qualifies as intelligent automation.

 

And how is that different from hyper automation?

It’s very similar to be honest; they were created by the technology research analysts. Forrester coined the phrase intelligent automation, while Gartner came up with hyper automation. Essentially, they mean the same thing.

 

Define RPA and how that is a part of intelligent automation?

The simplest definition is that robotic process automation (RPA) focuses on automating repetitive and rules-based on-screen processes. Intelligent automation does the same job but in addition to using RPA techniques, it incorporates other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies (like machine learning, natural language processing, structured data interaction, intelligent document processing).

RPA when combined with Process as a Service technologies such as low-code can automate interactions with existing systems on a screen. In effect, what the robot is able to do is replicate the actions that a person takes when they are operating various different systems, and do those things automatically.

For example, opening a system, accessing some data, copying it, pasting it to another system, generating a report, emailing that report to someone. This is a process flow. And a robot can be instructed to replicate that exact process flow. It’s especially effective for repetitive and tedious tasks, the robot can take that activity and free your people to work on other more meaningful tasks.

 

Why is intelligent automation so important?

Releasing your people from the necessary but repetitive or high-volume tasks can open up endless possibilities. It’s extremely potent in a customer experience orientated environment because staff can use that freed-up time on activities that need more cognitive, imaginative and interpretive work and more complicated interactions with customers. It allows robots to perform the menial tasks freeing up people to concentrate on delivering a great experience for customers.

 

Can you trust a robot?

Yes. You have to select suitable tasks and you have to program it correctly. But you can absolutely trust that the robot will do EXACTLY the same process, with no deviation from what you asked it to do. RPA robots don’t make mistakes or stop for any breaks – for the right type of tasks, they are better suited to the work than humans are.

The analysts also believe that we need to put our trust in automation and software robots. I particularly liked this quote from a webinar we ran with Forrester in 2020:

“Every process within an organisation needs to be automated in software, or else be liable to failure, and the consequences of failure.”

I really like that, because for me, it provides a real-world definition of intelligent automation in practice. Intelligent automation is the automation of business processes at scale. Plus, the quote demonstrates where we are headed – the idea of automating everything in software, so that those processes can be operated from anywhere, at any time. It’s been proven in the last year, with lockdowns and restrictions, because processes are no longer reliant on people being in specific locations, with access to certain paper, machines etc in that location. Intelligent automation is really about process automation at scale, to address these issues.

 

If the potential is endless… will automation and robots take over everything?

People will always be needed in organisations. You need a human to build an RPA process – a robot can’t think of what is needed to build the set of tasks for another robot. Intelligent automation gives you the best of both worlds. Build faster, reliable processes that are virtually infallible. Use your people for the human interaction side of your business and for the planning, creative and intellectual responsibilities that only a human being has the ingenuity and talent to deliver.

Side by side, people and robots can develop highly competent, successful operations and deliver outstanding CX, every single time.

 

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