How Automation Drives Business Growth and Efficiency … – HBR.org Daily

By Juan Perez, EVP and CIO of Salesforce
Summary: Business leaders are under immense pressure to deliver results in the face of market challenges. Automation is an immediate way to improve efficiency and productivity across every department. The technology is no longer a “nice-to-have”; it’s a must-have, because automation tools improve both business and employee performance. And automation can help combat burnout and improve work-life balance, which are critical retention strategies for companies adapting to a shifting labor market.
The C-suite is feeling extra pressure to deliver results. Protracted inflation, supply chain disruptions, market volatility, and recession fears are driving business leaders to trim costs and boost efficiency. Meanwhile, the imperative to provide better customer and employee experiences has not gone away. As a result, every company and organization must now strive to do more with the tools and resources at their disposal.
An investment in business process automation is one of the fastest ways to improve efficiency and productivity across every department: sales, service, marketing, commerce, IT, human resources, finance, and more. Automation reduces the repetitive and monotonous tasks humans have to do by relegating those tasks to software, which usually means a better experience for customers, reduced error rates, improved compliance, and lower stress for teams.
Prioritizing automation helps business leaders focus on increasing efficiency, improving results, and delivering value.
The Benefits of Automation
Automation is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. Adopting automation is especially useful in challenging economic times.
With real-time data, automation technology can now trigger immediate automations based on real-time changes in customer behavior or market conditions. Paired with artificial intelligence (AI), companies can use more advanced systems that are not only capable of performing repetitive tasks, but also use AI to learn, adapt, and make decisions based on real-time data. Together, real-time data, automation and AI enable organizations to deliver highly personalized customer experiences, at scale, while driving higher levels of productivity and efficiency.
Today, many employees and leaders view automation as a complementary tool. More than 90% of workers recently surveyed said automation solutions increased their productivity, and 85% said these tools boosted collaboration across their teams. Nearly 90% also said they trusted automation solutions to get more done without errors and help them make decisions faster.
Beyond the business advantages, the human benefits of automation are often under-appreciated. The technology performs the tedious tasks that few people relish, like filling out multiple forms to replace a lost credit card, and helps to lighten employees’ workloads.
Vonage, a global leader in cloud communications, sought to unify and automate how its workforce and systems work together to help accelerate growth. Vonage used automation technologies to consolidate customer data, making it easier and faster for sales teams to understand the needs of customers and prospects.
Automation technologies enabled Vonage to simplify quote creation and management, cutting account/phone provisioning time from four days to just minutes, while also reducing the risk of human error.
Business Results and Growth
In a recent survey, nearly 80% of employees reported that automation gave them more time to deepen relationships with customers and other stakeholders, take on challenging new projects, and learn new skills.
Automation tools also improve the overall employee experience: nearly 90% said they felt more satisfied with their jobs since they began using the technology, and 84% were more satisfied with their employer. Combating burnout and improving work-life balance through automation are critical retention strategies for companies adapting to a shifting labor market.
As a longtime CIO, I’ve gleaned best practices for getting started with automation. Here’s how you can adopt and scale automation tools to drive growth in any economic environment:
Succeeding with automation starts with what I call “business intimacy.” Developing an automation strategy in silos, without listening to stakeholders across the business, makes it difficult to choose the right technology and priorities for automation.
Instead, technology leaders must truly understand the needs and strategic objectives of every part of the company, including sales, service, marketing, commerce, and IT. By partnering closely with key business leaders, CIOs can help elevate core priorities amid budget constraints and deliver the right technology to achieve teams’ most pressing goals.
With efficiency and customer success as our goal, we apply business intimacy internally to support Salesforce’s transformation. We’re using automation and AI to increase efficiency and deliver transformative automated capabilities across the company. For example, we’re exploring how Slack can be used to increase sales productivity and help close deals faster by automatically delivering real-time insights to connect sellers, account teams, and cross-functional stakeholders. We use automation to drive faster decision making, streamline internal processes, improve the way we interact with our customers, and drive better performance, productivity, and profitability across the company.
A critical step to automating business processes and drawing useful insights from enterprise data is to bring together information locked away in disparate systems. Look for technologies that can connect and harmonize data from a variety of sources into a single platform that provides a seamless view of the business. Funneling all that valuable data into a single source of truth for each individual customer is what allows automation to enhance the customer experience by acting on intelligent insights to personalize every customer interaction.
Building out complex, multi-departmental workflows has traditionally meant substantial investments in development and tooling. With operational efficiency top of mind, companies need low-code solutions that give anyone — not just admins — the ability to build and deploy automation quickly.
Choose solutions with plenty of off-the-shelf components that allow business teams and end users to automate any business process quickly. Solutions should also give IT the tools to build customized automation components that the entire business can use. The ability to quickly and easily automate workflows helps companies achieve faster time to value, whether by reducing case handle time, boosting conversion rates, providing faster quotes, expediting client onboarding, or streamlining order processing.
Once an organization has deployed these solutions, it can consistently quantify, track, and publish the results to demonstrate value; generate investment for other automation initiatives; develop new ideas; and stop projects with little to no return.
Automation is often perceived as a mechanism to eliminate jobs and reduce costs, but humans are essential because they are uniquely capable of managing more strategic, relationship-building work. While the intrinsic purpose of automation is operational efficiency, the health of a business is really the driving factor behind adoption. An inefficient organization will eventually need to respond to business pressures or go out of business. Automation helps protect companies from the burden of inefficiency.
Encouraging team members to think about and share ideas on ways to remove inefficiencies and eliminate repetitive and manual processes can build an environment in which employees feel they are part of the automation strategy.
A Game Changer
Automation is a critical capability for any company looking to digitally transform. As organizations adapt to an unpredictable landscape, those that invest in automation are poised to reap significant cost savings and productivity benefits, while also increasing job satisfaction, work-life balance, and employee retention. Automation that enables companies to optimize processes and deliver personalized engagement at scale is a game changer for employee and customer experience.
Juan Perez is EVP and CIO of Salesforce.
Learn how Salesforce can help your organization drive growth and efficiency with Salesforce Flow.

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