Updated: Oct 26, 2019
Published in the Business section of New Straits Times on 3 July 2019
IR4.0 is a buzz word these days and every organisation is looking to jump into the bandwagon.
While the benefits are clear, the question to most SMEs is what does it actually entail – i.e. what will actually change on a day to day basis?
Digitalisation – enhanced via mobile
As a retail clothing store business owner, on 8am on a daily basis, a notification will be sent to your mobile phone to view a dashboard of previous day to inform you of the amount sold per outlet , clothing stock availability and cash balances. The dashboard will also contain alert using predictive analysis, e.g. red signal indicating a declining inventory vs growing sales and therefore the risk of a stock out. This is the power of digitalisation, where you can get smart data fast, which will enable quick decision making.
Throughout the day, you will get an email notification of a Purchase Requisition on various purchases (e.g. new apparels) and you can either approve through a single button click or reject to obtain further information. All these online activities (e.g. approval by who and by when) are recorded within the system. This promotes better governance as well as spend control.
All in all- “Digitalisation means putting an end to paper shifting within our organisation” to achieve increased efficiency.
We can identify certain work processes which can be automated such as integrating Point of Sales system data with the financial system. A good application where automation can be widely used is in the F&B industry. For e.g., for healthy juice and bubble tea businesses, daily restaurant sales are commonly recorded within a stand-alone POS system. This information from the POS when integrated with the financial system will automatically transmit daily sales data to the financial system to enable the business owner to view sales amount for the day at any point in time.
Enter the Bot Workforce
However, let’s be realistic. Can digitalisation and automation replace all manual processes within your company? The answer is likely a no for most SMEs. This can be due to it being a transitional space towards automation, or investment constraint towards a full-fledged Enterprise Resource Planning. A newly emerged option which is less costly is through implementation of software robots also known as Robotics Process Automation(RPA). It is akin to having your own “Siri” except this virtual personal assistant does not need voice command every time it starts work, it can be programmed to execute the business processes at a specific time. An example is when businesses with multiple outlets (such as bakeries) handling high volumes of cash are required to match the daily cash banked in by their outlet staff vs the actual receipts reflected in the bank statement. A bot can be programmed to perform this arduous and repetitive task daily. Another useful example where bots can help us improve productivity is in industries where daily forex rates are required. For those with export businesses, the bot can download daily forex rates from different sources, save the rates into a folder and email it to respective personnel- instead of requesting an admin executive to perform this task daily.
The delegation of such transactional work to bots will allow your staff to resolve issues such as quickly holding a conversation with outlet staff on the discrepancies identified or negotiate a better forex rates with a specific party in procuring foreign currencies.
Best thing on having a RPA virtual assistant is that your “employees” will not take leave, neither will they resign! And they will work 24/7 if there is a need to.
Adopting the above should be done on “sunny days’ of the organisation as it is not without its challenges. Understanding what is the best future process for your organisation, and bringing your employees together with you in this journey will ensure success in implementing IR4.0. And with that, the sky’s the limit where you can explore business growth & expansion, potential IPO or funding and keep your competitors (current & future) at bay.