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Automation trends, tools, and strategies for SMEs

As a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) owner or manager, you're always on the lookout for ways to improve your business efficiency, reduce costs, and optimize your operations. 

Digital automation has become a critical component in the journey towards business growth, so we thought we'd explore this new landscape of digital automation trends, tools, and strategies tailored for small to medium sized businesses.

Trend 1: Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, refers to the use of software "robots" designed to carry out repetitive, rule-based tasks, such as data entry, invoice processing, or inventory management. By automating these routine activities, your team can save valuable time and focus on more strategic, revenue-generating tasks.

RPA Tools for SMEs:

  • UiPath: A popular RPA platform that offers a user-friendly interface and a wide range of automation capabilities. UiPath has a Community Edition that is free for small businesses and includes access to their extensive learning resources.
  • Automation Anywhere: This comprehensive RPA solution caters to businesses of all sizes, with a specific focus on scalability and security. Automation Anywhere offers a free trial, allowing you to test the platform before committing to a subscription.
  • Blue Prism: With its robust RPA capabilities, Blue Prism is a powerful automation tool that can help SMEs streamline their processes. Though it might have a steeper learning curve compared to other platforms, Blue Prism's cloud-based offering makes it accessible to smaller businesses.


Trend 2: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

The integration of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies into digital automation has opened up new possibilities for SMEs. AI-powered automation tools can now learn from data, adapt to new situations, and make more accurate predictions or recommendations, enhancing the overall efficiency of your business operations.

AI and ML Tools for SMEs:

  • TensorFlow: An open-source machine learning framework developed by Google, TensorFlow is ideal for SMEs looking to develop custom AI solutions without breaking the bank.
  • IBM Watson: IBM's AI platform, Watson, offers a suite of tools and services for various industries, including chatbot development, natural language processing, and visual recognition. Watson's Lite plan provides SMEs with access to essential features at no cost.
  • Amazon SageMaker: This fully managed machine learning service from Amazon Web Services (AWS) enables SMEs to build, train, and deploy machine learning models easily. SageMaker offers a pay-as-you-go pricing model, making it an affordable option for smaller businesses.


Trend 3: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Automation

CRM automation involves using technology to streamline customer-related tasks, such as tracking customer interactions, managing leads, and organizing data. By automating these tasks, SMEs can improve their customer engagement and increase the efficiency of their sales and marketing teams.

CRM Tools for SMEs:

  • HubSpot: HubSpot's all-in-one CRM platform is an excellent choice for SMEs, offering a range of automation features, including email marketing, lead nurturing, and sales pipeline management. HubSpot has a free plan with basic features, and their paid plans cater to businesses with varying needs.
  • Zoho CRM: Zoho CRM is a comprehensive, cloud-based CRM solution designed for businesses of all sizes. With its built-in automation capabilities, Zoho CRM can help SMEs streamline their sales and marketing processes. Zoho offers a free version and tiered pricing plans to suit different business requirements.
  • Salesforce Essentials: As a simplified version of Salesforce's flagship CRM platform, Salesforce Essentials is tailored for small businesses. It offers automation features like lead management, sales forecasting, and customer support automation. Integration with Microsoft 365 is also available, making it a seamless addition to your existing Microsoft ecosystem.


Trend 4: Workflow Automation

Workflow automation involves the use of technology to streamline and automate various business processes, reducing manual intervention and increasing overall efficiency. By automating workflows, SMEs can save time, eliminate human error, and enhance collaboration among team members.

Workflow Automation Tools for SMEs:

  • Microsoft Power Automate: Formerly known as Microsoft Flow, Power Automate is an excellent choice for businesses that are already using Microsoft 365. This powerful tool allows you to create automated workflows between various apps and services, making routine tasks more manageable.
  • Zapier: Zapier is a popular workflow automation tool that connects over 3,000 applications, helping you automate tasks and save time. Its user-friendly interface makes it easy for SMEs to set up custom workflows without the need for coding skills.
  • Asana: Asana is a work management platform that offers various automation features, including rule-based triggers and action-based tasks. Integration with Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft 365 applications is available, allowing for seamless collaboration within your organization.

Trend 5: Marketing Automation

Marketing automation refers to the use of technology to automate repetitive marketing tasks, such as sending emails, posting on social media, and managing advertising campaigns. By automating their marketing efforts, SMEs can save time, improve their targeting, and better analyze the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Marketing Automation Tools for SMEs:

Mailchimp: Mailchimp is an all-in-one marketing automation platform that offers a range of features, including email marketing, landing page creation, and social media management. Mailchimp's integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM makes it a strong option for businesses already using Microsoft products.

ActiveCampaign: ActiveCampaign is a comprehensive marketing automation tool that includes email marketing, CRM, and sales automation. Its easy integration with Microsoft 365 applications makes it a convenient choice for SMEs within the Microsoft ecosystem.

Marketo: A popular choice for businesses of all sizes, Marketo is a powerful marketing automation platform that offers advanced features like lead scoring, multi-channel marketing, and in-depth analytics. Integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 is available, ensuring smooth cooperation with your existing CRM system.

Strategies for implementing automation in your business

Now that we've covered the trends and tools, let's look at some strategies for successfully implementing digital automation in your SME:

Start Small: Begin with automating a single process or task, and gradually expand as you become more comfortable with the technology. This approach allows you to learn from your successes and mistakes and make informed decisions as you scale your automation efforts.

Set Clear Goals: Establish measurable objectives for your automation projects. By defining specific goals, you can better track your progress and evaluate the effectiveness of your automation initiatives.

Train Your Team: Ensure your team members understand the benefits of automation and are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt to new technologies. Provide ongoing training and support to help them effectively leverage automation tools.

Evaluate and Optimize: Regularly assess the performance of your automation tools and workflows. Gather feedback from your team and make adjustments as needed to optimize your processes and ensure you're getting the most out of your automation efforts.

Collaborate and Integrate: To maximize the benefits of digital automation, it's essential to integrate your automation tools with existing systems and applications in your organization. This seamless integration promotes collaboration and data sharing among team members, improving overall productivity.

Focus on Security: As you implement digital automation in your SME, don't forget to prioritize security. Make sure your chosen tools follow industry-standard security protocols and that your employees are trained in cybersecurity best practices.

Measure ROI: Assess the return on investment (ROI) of your automation initiatives by monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) related to cost savings, time savings, and increased revenue. This will help you determine the effectiveness of your automation projects and guide your future investments.

Stay Up-to-Date: The world of digital automation is constantly evolving, with new tools and technologies emerging regularly. Stay informed about the latest advancements and trends by following industry news, attending webinars, and participating in online communities.

Seek Expert Help: If you're unsure about how to implement digital automation in your SME or require assistance with more complex projects, consider consulting with experts in the field. They can provide valuable guidance, helping you make the most of your automation efforts.

Encourage a Culture of Innovation: To truly reap the benefits of digital automation, foster a culture of innovation within your organization. Encourage employees to think creatively, embrace new technologies, and continuously seek ways to improve your business processes.

By following these strategies and embracing digital automation, your SME can become more agile, efficient, and competitive. Investing in the right tools and implementing smart automation strategies will not only save time and money but also empower your team to focus on higher-value tasks and drive business growth. As you embark on your digital automation journey, remember that the key to success lies in continuous learning, experimentation, and adaptation.

Happy automating!


About the author

Rowan Schaaf

Rowan heads up client engagement and strategy at Pattern. With over three decades of experience in the technology sector, he has worked with a range of organisations from startups to some of the world's biggest brands.

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