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New trends in automation that work for SMBs

Though automation is usually associated with large corporations, forward-thinking SMBs are discovering that it doesn’t have to be that way. As automation technology continues to grow, it becomes easier to access for companies of every size.

So what are some new trends in automation that SMBs can get on-board with, that don’t require huge investment or resource?

Get smart with the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (or IoT) is the way in which devices connect to one another and send each other information, essentially making them ‘smart’ devices.

One useful aspect of IoT is that it enables companies to gather data about their client base: how they behave, how they use products and even what motivates them. This treasure trove of information can be used to create new products and services which work better by anticipating and serving a user’s needs more efficiently.

The advantage for manufacturers is obvious, but service-providers can also see many benefits. If a service-oriented small business gets their clients to implement IoT in the workplace, they can use data to provide more efficient, intuitive service-offerings, personalised for the unique needs of each client.

It is also possible for businesses to install or monitor IoT devices on behalf of their clients, analysing end-user data for them and suggesting solutions on that basis.

IoT also has uses in-house, where it can streamline business operations and create a better working environment. Energy-saving smart devices, for example, can take a lot of money off bills over the long-term, while automatically-locking doors can provide extra security.

Streamline service with AI

Though AI may conjure up images of robots made in human image, the reality is much simpler. AI means using machines to imagine situations or carry out actions which are normally done by people. It’s basically a way of faking human thought.

In business, this is very useful for customer service and in some marketing automation programmes. AI is the technology behind chatbots, which can answer simple questions (and can even guide users through the purchase process), while making customers feel like they’re getting a personal response and engaging in a dialogue.

Many other support tasks, like employee onboarding, can also be automated by AI – removing the need to hire someone to do the job and eliminating the chance of human error.

Interact & engage with voice recognition

Modern voice recognition software has grown sophisticated enough to pick out full sentences, even when the speaker is surrounded by noise or has a strong accent. Voice recognition even enables devices to ‘talk’ back to a user and engage with them in a naturalistic way.

This has lots of advantages for service-providers of every size, including SMBs. Like chatbot AI, voice recognition is a useful tool for automating basic customer service. It can even be used for voice-activated ordering and voice-authorisation of payment transactions for example with Amazon’s Alexa.

Virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant and Nuance, are also helping businesses become more efficient in the way they operate. Allowing you to schedule meetings, order supplies, dictate emails and manage other elements of your business on the go.

As voice recognition continues to grow, these devices are becoming another marketing channel for businesses to consider, with promotion of specific product and services, though we are yet to see the true impact of this opportunity.

Open possibilities with Open Banking

As of 2018, UK regulated banks are bound by law to let customers share their financial data with authorised service providers. Online banking users are now able to manage their money in smarter ways by connecting with a variety of third-party services who aggregate their banking data or make bank to bank payments on their behalf.

Open Banking is not in itself a form of automation but it does enable the automation of financial admin.

When payments are automated, they become smarter. SMBs could, for example, ask service providers to automatically initiate payments only when there are sufficient funds in a customer’s account. Payments could be automatically delayed by a given period of time, or client accounts could automatically be referred to the customer service team.

The automated future

According to Intel, by 2020 there will be around 200 billion IoT-enabled devices in the world, which is around 26 per person. This makes one thing clear: automation is becoming central to the way we work, live and connect with one another.

Right now, evermore new services and features are leaving the experimental, developmental stage and becoming essential, not just for multinationals but even for the greenest start-ups. It’s an exciting time for SMBs, with more opportunities than ever before for streamlining and growth through automation innovation.

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