The promise of workplace automation is one of the most lucrative concepts for small and medium companies with limited resources. In the age when a powerful grammar checker can replace human editors and proofreaders, new technologies such as AI-powered chatbots may significantly reduce the need for live personnel supporting certain business processes.
From a startup perspective, this substantially reduces the costs associated with business creation as labor costs form one of the main expense categories in developed economies.
In this article, we will analyze what workplace automation is and how this concept can assist startup owners.
What Is Workplace Automation?
At the most basic level, workplace automation is generally defined as systems performing repetitive tasks that can be easily replicated without human involvement.
They may include a range of activities from batch-processing text documents to basic customer service functions involving the registration of new tickets or the provision of specific answers to typical questions. Workplace automation techniques can be generally subdivided into:
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1. Activities Automation
The first element corresponds to the most basic level of automation where technologies are used to automatically translate texts, batch-process data, identify known categories within it, provide automated responses to standard customer queries or send automatically generated emails according to a defined schedule.
This sphere can greatly reduce the workloads of key specialists and free their valuable time for solving more complex problems requiring their attention and competencies.
2. Job Functions and Business Processes Redefinition
The second element is associated with the revision of business processes and job functions. For example, the developers of prototype engineering solutions may need to spend more time designing the drawings while automated lathes and 3d printers produce them without external supervision.
3. Creativity Automation
Working with others frequently kills creativity due to the need to write complex task descriptions and manage additional staff members. The examples of modern AI art networks such as Mid journey demonstrate that these systems are already capable of creating high-quality materials on the basis of predefined specifications. Over time, this functionality can allow creators to obtain instant data necessary for their main development process.
What Are the Key Benefits of Workplace Automation for Startups?
Workplace automation solves a number of problems experienced by most startups.
1. Scalability of Operations
Automated processes reduce the people-intensity of startup operations. If some tasks can be delegated to modern technologies, their volumes can increase exponentially without the need to recruit and train more people. This increases the future scalability of operations during the growth phase.
Decision-making occurs in different spheres ranging from the choice of the optimal engineering design of products to marketing decisions. As a startup owner, you need to possess sufficient information and make informed strategic choices in order to maximize your success chances.
Automated decision-making and automated processing of inventory management, accounting, and invoicing operations effectively give you control over all business processes and show you all longitudinal trends and potential areas of inefficiency.
3. Staff Minimisation
Startups are usually founded by a small number of individuals and are frequently funded by venture capitalists. This means that the inability of the original team to perform some business functions leads to additional recruitment and human resource management (HRM) needs.
The use of workplace automation makes this correlation irrelevant as startups may retain a small number of employees/founders for longer periods of time. This may be beneficial for saving resources and avoiding the need for complex HRM procedures.
4. Speed of Product Development
A high-quality analysis of big data from the targeted market or potential product design features can greatly reduce the time spent on product development and prototyping. This means that startup founders can produce tangible results much faster and present them to investors. The promise of automation may decrease the high failure rates through the reduction of time-to-market periods.
What Are Its Potential Barriers and Threats?
While workplace automation has a number of benefits for startups, it is also necessary to discuss potential barriers and threats associated with its implementation in the workplace.
1. Automation of Manual Tasks
In any innovative startup, there exist easy repetitive tasks and manual tasks requiring the full attention of a competent specialist. The second type of activities may not be automated, which is why extensive analysis may be required prior to the implementation of workplace automation. Make sure that you only delegate mundane tasks that can be performed by any hired employee with clear instructions.
2. Costs/Benefits Ratio
Due to the need for the aforementioned analysis and the high costs of professional software, any startup owner needs to appraise the potential advantages offered by workplace automation in their particular case. If these initial expenses are not covered by practical gains within the following 6 months or less, it may be more optimal to delay this transformation until further stages of organizational development and focus on more urgent goals.
3. Integration Challenges
Workplace automation needs to be integrated with all business processes in order to produce the expected gains. Effectively, it replaces some repetitive functions identified by competent professionals already working in a particular sphere.
If some startup founders lack such competencies, they may not be able to realise the full potential of workplace integration described earlier. In this scenario, they may need to use external expertise in this sphere to fine-tune their new systems.
Should Your Startup Use Workplace Automation?
As implied by the previous section, there is no clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question. However, we would advise you to perform the expected costs/benefits analysis in order to see the areas in which workplace automation may create value for your organization.
Even if you choose to delay this shift at the moment of this evaluation, this will provide you with a specific ‘breakeven point’ upon which the use of this method will start producing tangible gains. With startup financing availability decreasing to the developing economic decline in many regions of the world, you may find that such a moment may occur much earlier than you expect.
In this situation, you will already possess a good awareness of your organization’s task structure and the areas in which automation will produce maximal benefits.