Businesses can use technology to streamline business processes in various ways, leading to increased efficiency, productivity, and cost-effectiveness. Of course, technology isn’t one-size-fits-all, so there are specialized technologies based on your industry to complete the tasks unique to that industry. But, technology isn’t a perfect solution, as it brings its own dangers and challenges. That’s the topic of today’s discussion.
Streamline business processes with technology
In this first section, we discuss some general ways to streamline business processes regardless of industry.
1. Automation and workflow management
Manual tasks abound in nearly every industry. They’re time-consuming, boring, and prone to human error. You must store physical records which costs money and physical records aren’t searchable, so any time you need information stored manually, you face a humongous challenge sifting through documents and spreadsheets looking for the information you need. And, god forbid you need to compare and contrast records stored in different formats, locations, or even different boxes/ drawers. It’s a nightmare for anyone old enough to remember the old newspaper morgues reporters used to find archives of printed articles.
When you implement workflow automation tools to eliminate manual tasks you ensure a consistent and streamlined process flow resulting in a digital record that’s accessible to anyone who needs to access a specific piece of information. Tools like Zapier, Microsoft Power Automate, or custom scripts help firms use their various tools in an integrated fashion so information is readily available regardless of the tool used to store it.
You can also streamline business processes using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate repetitive tasks, such as data entry or report generation.
2. Cloud computing
Cloud computing proved essential during the pandemic as workers shifted to home offices. This technology helps streamline business processes by allowing authorized users to access information from anywhere at any time.
A major price change in cloud-based platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud as more competitors entered the market allows businesses to store and access data, applications, and resources from anywhere. This reduces the need for on-site infrastructure maintenance.
Cloud-based collaboration tools like Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 can improve communication and document sharing among team members.
3. Data analytics and business intelligence:
Businesses must utilize data analytics tools to gather insights from datasets that seem to get bigger all the time. Gathering these insights aids in informed decision-making to improve performance all across the business. New AI tools can help businesses make real-time decisions when data comes at them quickly or massage massive amounts of data to find relationships.
Your business can implement business intelligence (BI) solutions like Tableau, Power BI, or QlikView to create interactive visualizations and dashboards for real-time performance tracking.
4. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems:
In the old days, salespeople managed their customer relationship with paper files. Every time they called on a customer, they entered notes to help them meet the customer’s needs, such as a promised quote, and to build the relationship, such as significant events in the customer’s life. After the call, the salesperson set up a return visit or phone call on a specific date by moving the file into a folder containing customers he/she planned to call on that day. Today, you can implement CRM software (e.g., Salesforce, HubSpot) to manage customer interactions, sales, and marketing efforts using a centralized system accessible to designated people within your team. Support staff can see a to-do list of promised actions such as sending a brochure or letter, salespeople have access to all the information about a customer, including their social media profiles, and metrics allow the company to evaluate their performance overall or with an individual customer. Nothing slips through the cracks.
CRM systems enable businesses to understand customer needs better and provide more personalized services.
5. Supply chain management:
For many firms, managing inventory, optimizing logistics, and reducing waste are major issues. For instance, an industry report shows that 8% of inventory worth $1.63 billion is wasted each year and that’s just part of the savings possible through effective supply chain management. We all saw during the pandemic how important effective supply chains are to consumers when stores ran out of toilet paper and the inflation resulting from stagnant supply chains in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Supply chain management software helps optimize inventory, order processing, and logistics, thus reducing lead times, reducing storage waste, lowering costs for storage, and minimizing stockouts.
Technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors provide real-time tracking of shipments and monitor supply chain conditions. Other technologies, such as GPS, allow transportation managers to track each truck in real-time and divert them around road stoppages or to customers who face stockouts. RFID technology reduces inventory storage costs by allowing warehouses to store inventory in any available space then providing a visual and auditory signal to show where the desired item is stored.
6. E-commerce and online payments:
E-commerce is a big business and getting bigger all the time, as you can see below. Efficient e-commerce relies on many technologies including:
- Website development tools like WordPress, themes, plugins, and other technologies allow businesses of all sizes to create websites quickly, cheaply, and without coding. Among the ones to watch are tools like WooCommerce, which sets up everything from product landing pages to shopping carts.
- Payment portals such as PayPal
- Encryption programs to ensure information is safe from thieves
- Supply chain management
- Social platforms and other digital marketing tools
- Electronic data interchange between supply chain partners
- Advanced analytics, including AI to fuel recommendation engines
7. Artificial intelligence and machine learning:
You streamline business processes by implementing AI and ML algorithms for predictive analytics, fraud detection, and to personalized customer experiences.
Chatbots and virtual assistants help you efficiently handle customer inquiries, freeing up human resources for more complex tasks.
Streamlining business processes depending on industry
Remember that the specific technology solutions you use depend on your business’s needs, size, industry, and goals. It’s essential to thoroughly evaluate and plan the implementation of technology to ensure it aligns with your business strategy and fosters the desired improvements.
Here are some examples of technologies used in various industries:
- Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems
- Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring
- Medical imaging technologies (MRI, CT scan, ultrasound)
- Robotic-assisted surgery systems
- Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines
- 3D printing and additive manufacturing
- Industrial robots and automation systems
- Internet of Things (IoT) for monitoring and optimizing production processes
- Point of Sale (POS) systems
- E-commerce platforms
- Augmented Reality (AR) for virtual try-ons
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for personalized marketing
One industry you’d never expect to rely on technology is the agriculture industry. But, you’d be wrong. Many technologies allow you to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and save on natural resources. Other technologies help farmers more accurately produce the weather so they can protect their crops. Here are just some of the technologies used in agriculture:
- Precision agriculture technologies (drones, GPS-guided equipment)
- Automated harvesting and planting systems that reduce the costs of planting and harvesting
- Agricultural sensors for soil monitoring to determine when to add fertilizer and water to optimize yield
- Data analytics for yield optimization
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) experiences
- Streaming platforms for music, movies, and TV shows
- Video game consoles and PC gaming hardware
- AI-generated content for music, art, and writing, although this is part of what’s behind the strikes in Hollywood
Technology is a game changer when it comes to managing educational institutions. Things like
- digital attendance systems
- online grade management
- Learning Management System (LMS) allows teachers to easily share resources, assignments, and announcements with students
- ERP systems bring together different parts of the institution, like administration, academics, finances, and staff, into one place. This technology helps with sharing information easily, communicating better, and seeing real-time updates. With an ERP system, schools and colleges can handle everything from student admissions and records to staff payments and money matters in a smooth way. This reduces mistakes and the need for manual work while giving leaders a complete picture of how the institution works, helping them make smart choices based on facts. ERP implementation for colleges and schools can boost efficiency in educational institutions and provide better support to students, parents, and staff. On top of this, technology aids in communication between teachers, students, and parents, making it easier to keep everyone informed about events, progress important dates, school trips, fees, and more
- Online delivery was critical during the pandemic and remains a technology to deliver content during bad weather or to students who can’t attend class in person
Protecting your business technology
Protecting business technology is crucial to ensuring the security, stability, and competitiveness of a company. The major advantage of manual processes was their protection from unauthorized access, although even this wasn’t absolute. Here are some key protections and strategies to consider:
- Firewalls and network security: Strong firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and intrusion prevention systems help to safeguard your network against unauthorized access and cyber threats
- Data encryption: Encrypting sensitive data both at rest and in transit makes it harder for those who want unauthorized access. This ensures that even if data is intercepted, it remains unreadable without the appropriate decryption keys.
- Access controls: Enforcing strict access controls limits who can access certain systems, databases, and sensitive information. Use strong authentication methods like multi-factor authentication (MFA) to enhance security. Require users to change passwords frequently and use strong passwords. Immediately remove access once a user is no longer authorized. Train workers to protect against phishing (social engineering to gain passwords from unsuspecting users).
- Regular updates and patches: Keep all software, operating systems, and applications up to date with the latest security patches. Vulnerabilities in outdated software are a major issue allowing hackers access.
- Backup and disaster recovery: Regularly back up critical business data and have a well-defined disaster recovery plan. This ensures that in the event of data loss or a security breach, you can quickly restore operations. With the rise of ransomware, these backups are essential to maintain your operation.
- Endpoint security: Protect individual devices (laptops, smartphones, etc.) with endpoint security solutions such as antivirus software, anti-malware tools, and device encryption.
- Secure development practices: If your business develops its own software applications, follow secure coding practices to minimize vulnerabilities in your software.
- Vendor and third-party risk management: Assess the security practices of third-party vendors and partners who have access to your business technology. Their weaknesses could become your weaknesses.
- Physical security: Protect physical access to your technology infrastructure, such as data centers and server rooms, with measures like biometric access controls and security cameras. Ensure authorized users don’t copy data for ANY purpose. Many threats come when disgruntled employees share sensitive information or sell data to bad actors. And, ensure obsolete devices are thoroughly cleaned using magnetic wiping before disposal.
- Security audits and penetration testing: Conduct regular security audits and hire ethical hackers to perform penetration testing. This helps identify vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
- Remote work security: As remote work becomes more common, implement security measures for remote access to your business technology, including virtual private networks (VPNs) and secure remote desktop solutions.
Technology is important to streamline business processes but implementing the right technology and protecting your data are critical to avoid problems. Also, consider the human factor in changing technology. Implementing change is challenging and you must proceed using tactics that reduce resistance.
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