Does Excel manage large parts of your business? Are there are 20 people on your staff when 10 should suffice? Is it getting harder for your management team to evaluate the health of your company, and harder to plan for growth? You're not alone.

Every growing business inevitably deals with the pains of managing more employees, customers and overhead. As this growth occurs, it becomes harder to keep track of operations. As they reach this point, one of the biggest shifts businesses have to make is to examine their existing management tools and figure out how to automate them.

Automation platforms exist at some level in every business. From homegrown software to a patchwork set of programs different departments use – all businesses use technology to automate. At Icreon, we implement automation platforms that will help you decrease overhead and maximize profit margins.

Automation Basics

  • Easier Data Entry

    Your business relies on data. From entering credits and debits into your accounting system to adding new sales orders – we see if there are technology solutions that reduce manual entry, employee overhead and chances of error.

  • Centrally managing employees

    Automation platforms rely on being able to track employee data. By utilizing a centralized employee management platform, we make it easier for you to track your employee productivity and better quantify your workforce.

  • Better Business Reporting

    The point of successful business software is to make it easier and more transparent for executives to make decisions. Capturing more data means making it easier to build better reports that effectively capture the health of your business.

  • Smarter Employee Incentivizing

    Performance reviews often rely on subjective data to reward performers. Better automated software allows your company to see your most efficient employees quantitatively based on their actions. It takes the guesswork out of your performance programs.

  • Data Discovery

    Automating your business through software gives your employees more time to analyze company data. Beyond your baseline reports, automation leads to capturing more data, giving your management team more time to find hidden trends in your business.

  • Leveraging Mobile

    Mobile in business is nothing new – but mobile devices like tablets and smartphones can be taken where PCs and laptops cannot go. We use this to our advantage to automatically capture new types of information about your business that were once manual and paper-based, from location data photographic analysis and mining.

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How ERP Systems Can Automate Business Processes

Are your departments stuck in silos? Do your workers waste time looking for the information they need to do their job? And does that specific job depend on timely completion of tasks by a multitude of moving parts?

If the answer to any of the above questions is 'yes', then your business may benefit greatly from Business Process Automation (BPA). BPA solutions involve implementing software applications that automate routine business tasks. For instance, a customer order system communicating with the warehouse system in order to automatically place orders for in-demand inventory.

Ideally this process leads to reduced cost expenditures and increased productivity. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are a core part of any strategy that aims for process automation. ERPs can best be summed up as a suite of integrated applications that allow for cross-departmental interaction. These sets of applications are used by companies to store, manage, and interpret data from various departmental activities.

Automating business processes with ERP systems allow for a more seamless operational environment for separate departments that need to collaborate. So let's take a look at the core features that enable a company to become a highly efficient and automated business.

Providing Business Automation and Integration Across Departments

ERP systems integrate pertinent data and software systems for businesses so that employees, regardless of department, can access the information they need to do their jobs. It involves the formation of a central database that works as a repository for information originating in different parts of the business. Subsequent software interfaces are then created so that each department's data can be accessed by another.

Different application modules support a particular business activity like the finance, HR, or warehouse and logistics department. Data originates at the module level, gets validated for consistency, and then gets stored in the database for wider access across departments. Once the data is stored, different users can access, combine, and manipulate data as needed.

Rainer Struppek, the head of Group Accounting at engineering firm GEA Group, said that their ERP setup provided "a data repository to create financial reports with standardized, transparent processes." He also detailed how well “the solution integrated into the existing software landscape." Ideally, an ERP system will integrate software systems and data across various departments while maintaining the value of existing software investments.

Increased Collaboration, Communication, and Business Intelligence

ERP systems implementation serve as a useful technique to break through the isolating barriers within an organization. They ensure that integrated applications are used in the same way by all departments to exchange data automatically. This automation increases reliability of business data and while simultaneously breaking down silos.

For instance, signing a contract by a sales department to sell an 'x' amount of units will automatically inform the manufacturing department system to check inventory. If inventory levels contain sufficient items, the job will automatically be scheduled from order to delivery. Workers from the associated departments will now connect and team up to mark successful order deliveries.

Automating information sharing will lead to faster, cost-effective, and timely delivery to the customer. ERP systems serve to increase business awareness within the organization. This is achieved by using integrated applications and understanding inter-dependencies between processes.

Automated Business Processes at Your Service

Through automation and ERP systems, management can establish real-time visibility and control of the business process. It helps to determine how the process is operating, where the bottlenecks might be, and highlight possible improvements.

Toine van Rooij, the Operations Director at Bruynzeel Keukens, said that their ERP setup was used specifically "to identify and resolve bottlenecks in our processes". He also detailed how they can "continue to minimize the costs of failure and to dissect all processes in order to coordinate them even better."

ERP systems help to minimize cost expenditures due to manual errors and inefficiency. To err is human. Employees may forget payment due dates, approval deadlines or make a payment for services or goods never received. But not with a well-oiled ERP setup. These might result in direct financial loss. ERP systems effectively minimize these errors by integrating systems so that every moving part is on the same page.

Moving Forward with Business Process Automation

In today's competitive environment where every business is aiming to cut costs and increase productivity, ERP systems are able to meet countless strategic objectives. Automated business processes provide consistency in execution and safeguard compliance at the organizational level. ERP provides an easy way to automate processes, co-ordinate tasks and move data between process players. It also provides the flexibility and agility to support an ever changing environment.

6 Benefits of Automating Business Processes

1. Efficiency

Whether it’s putting together job schedules, generating detailed reports to give to your boss, or logging events that happen through a delivery process - automation makes any process faster than doing it manually. By cutting the amount of time your business takes to do everyday, manual tasks, you’ll easily increase the overall business efficiency which ultimately leads to profit.

2. Productivity

Employees who are performing repetitive tasks throughout the day could be better spending their time on more important processes.  By automating those processes, you enable employees to work on more strategic and valuable activities that add to the overall benefit of the company.  Automating processes allows more time for employees to spend doing valuable work, which makes for a more productive employee.

3. Visibility

It’s no secret - tasks that are automated are easier to track and monitor than manual tasks. Automating business processes allows your business to see areas where you could be improving, with automated reports and detailed dashboards that will provide updated information on the progress of any process. Your employees will no longer need to spend an entire day manually generate reports to update you on a weekly basis.  Everything going on in your business will be available at your convenience.

4. Reduced Training Overhead

With Business Process automation, you eliminate the need to train people on how to do certain processes manually. When everyday tasks are automated, managers and other employees spend a significantly less amount of time training individuals on how to use them, which saves time and money for business.  You also eliminate the human error of forgetting steps in the overall process.

5 Consistent Delivery

By having processes automated, the consistency and predictability of your business will increase.  Whether it’s your business customers expecting a fast and efficient internet, or bank customers expecting to have 24-7 access to their bank accounts - the consistent expectation builds trust and confidence in users.  With automating processes, not only does it make it overwhelmingly easier for your internal users to do their job, it allows for a consistent experience for your external users.

6. Know Where Your Processes Are

Whether you’re operating within a supply chain, or the manufacturing process, or even a large retail store - it pays to bring together automated tasks that enable your business to know exactly where everything is.  By connecting processes, you can check on real time, updated monitors and dashboards to get up to date statuses on any department in your business, instead of relying on managers to provide reports.

How Apps Are Driving Value for CPG Companies

The leading Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) operations in the world are embracing mobile at an explosive rate. Johnson and Johnson offers over a dozen mobile apps available across a variety of tablets and smartphones. Unilever also provides a selection of product oriented mobile applications, and even a dedicated app for investors to track company financials.

Companies are also developing custom apps for business processes that never even face the consumer. While not every business has reached the billion dollar threshold or possesses the resources necessary for in-depth development teams, mobile strategies benefit businesses of every size. For SMBs hoping to one day reach that milestone, incorporation of mobile apps into varying aspects of operations will invariably drive growth.

Particularly when it comes to Fast Moving CPGs (FMCPG) where stock is depleted by customers over the course of days and weeks, having access to real-time operational feeds on a smartphone can provide competitive advantage. With customers inundated with competitor offers and cheaper alternatives, maintaining a direct relationship and driving brand engagement via mobile apps is important in today’s CPG market.

By strategically using mobile apps for customer facing experiences and strategic internal decision making, up-and-comers in the CPG industry can help improve their chances of reaching the billion dollar club.

Mobile Apps for Customers Increase Brand Engagement

Companies like Johnson and Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have hundreds and thousands of different products being sold across a network of retail vendors. With such a diverse range of products, the main brand (i.e. P&G or J&J) behind the multitude of products (like Charmin or Rogaine) can become lost. Through the use of product oriented apps that provide value for customers, these brands can increase brand notoriety, engagement, and customer loyalty.

While not every business can afford a comprehensive in-house mobile development team, there are alternate economical options. When developing a branded mobile app it must aim to accomplish three things: accurately represent a brand, provide utility for customers, and act as a valuable source for marketing data.

Procter & Gamble developed a Charmin toilet paper themed app 'Sit-or-Squat' for finding restrooms near a user's location. Johnson and Johnson developed a Listerine '21 Day Challenge' app to help customers stick to an oral health regimen using their product. The company also developed a customer service and support app for Rogaine buyers. Strategically assessing the customer profile for specific products, is the key to delivering a branded mobile app that increases engagement.

Entrepreneurs and SMBs hoping to one day establish market dominance should look to leaders in the CPG space for guidance.

Visualizations and Data Analytics on a Tablet

A majority of apps the Google Play and Apple App Store are designated specifically for the public. In comparison, CPGs and other large organizations are developing custom enterprise apps specifically for employees. These lightweight mobile applications are ideal for augmenting paper driven processes or legacy applications (augmenting existing applications and eradicating paper driven processes).

Specifically in the realm of tracking metrics and reporting, mobile apps are ideal for tracking total supply chain costs, inventory turnover ratios, and even things like machine downtime. Companies such as Microstrategy specialize specifically in enterprise mobile app offerings that empower business users to create their visualizations and dashboards for specific data reports.

Mobile apps that use visualizations and interactive dashboards for reporting complex data sets are quickly becoming an alternative to Excel sheets with hundreds of columns and rows. Rather than peruse through a dense and maze like spreadsheet detailing daily operations for a factory fleet, executives can access a visual representation of data to quickly surmise insight.

Using Technology to Adapt to Market Flux

A great deal of SMBs and global corporations alike are turning to mobile apps for processes such as customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), and fleet tracking. In fact leaders in the CPG industry like P&G are aiming to spend 25% of media budgets on digital. This trend is in part due to the staggering growth in consumption power from developing markets.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicts that, "by 2025, a staggering 4.2 billion people will be part of the consuming class." Due to the surge in market opportunity resulting from more consumers with purchasing power around the globe, mobile apps that deliver real-time analytics and reporting will be more attractive to CPG brands.

Every aspect of the value chain is being disrupted by digital technologies in a variety of ways, mobile being one of them. In fact, McKinsey specifically designated mobile as the top disruptor for CPG operations worldwide. For fast moving consumer packaged goods, mobile should be a major pillar of their IT, marketing and management strategy in the years to come.

How Enterprises Can Drive Value with Strategic Mobile Development on Android

According to Venture Beat, Android’s worldwide growth continues to outpace its mobile competitors, and consumers continue to purchase more Android devices than ever before. With such trends in mind many brands are aiming to strengthen their market presence by distributing brand specific Android apps.

They can attend to two specific areas of operations for a brand. There are also many internal business processes that can operate more efficiently when augmented or replaced by enterprise mobile apps. Other processes that are vital for conducting transaction with customers or marketing an advertisement can be delivered with customized consumer apps.

Brands can improve their performance internally as well as drive brand engagement with customers via mobile. But investments in app development must incorporate certain features and trends in order to offer a mobile experience that provides legitimate value.

Customer Facing Android Apps

Customer-facing Android apps are a marketing channel through which businesses can attract new customers.  Some of the business functions that external users (such as customers, suppliers and partners) perform through a brand’s customer-facing Android app include:

  • Buying products
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Promoting offers to customers
  • Conducting mobile payments
  • Checking delivery and shipment status
  • Viewing inventory
  • Accessing loyalty reward programs

A designated Android app can help brand’s use mobile-specific features like the accelerometer, push notifications or contacts list to extract marketing data. Many of today’s customers are more likely to respond to mobile notifications than email or other traditional forms of communication. Brands can also more accurately measure the reach and effectiveness of such campaigns compare static coupons and TV spots.

By using mobile geo-location data as well as demographic information, personalized advertisements can be highly targeted to a specific location and customer type.Brands can use apps to offer functionality that fosters a direct relationship with the customer. They can serve as advertisements for products while also providing a useful service, like the Charmin ‘Sit-or-Squat’ app that helps a user find restrooms via geo-location.In today’s competitive landscape customer-facing Android apps can help brands attract and retain and attract customers.

Custom Enterprise Apps for Employees

Enterprise apps are designed for employees to help them perform their daily operations, and are never seen by the customer. Enterprises across the board are creating custom apps to support their internal business needs. Almost every aspect of work can be digitized via apps (i.e. filing expense reports, securely signing documents, and filing for leave with HR). Customized enterprise apps can be broken down into two groups. Firstly, there are apps developed by vendors for a wide range of enterprises that are then customized for a particular brand. Secondly, there are the custom apps designed specifically for a particular enterprise. The main goal with these apps is to make complex desktop-oriented applications work seamlessly on mobile devices. With the right apps on Android enterprises can provide their mobile workforce with the tools to communicate effectively and instantly access the information they need.

When to Move Forward with Developing an Android App

Whether for the internal employee or the potential prospective customer, there is an app for everyone.  They are also being developed and used by enterprises specifically for the processes within their organization as well as to market a brand to customers. Businesses should consider Android apps as a part of their customer facing and internal employee mobile strategies depending on the circumstance.

When it comes to consumer apps brands should assess what type of device the average customer uses. Does a significant amount of their website traffic stem from Android devices as opposed to iPhones? If so, an Android would be a logical approach.

If a business is considering an enterprise app, the team in charge should consider the most popular devices used by their workforce. If a company recently distributed Android tablets to their workforce, a selection of Android apps should follow.

For businesses considering Android as a part of their mobile strategy, achieving ROI comes down to knowing your audience and envisioning a mobile experience that aligns with your brand.