AI and Machine Learning

Using automation to drive competitive advantage

How to realise automation’s potential to drive strategic initiatives, achieve corporate goals, and seize competitive advantage

In recent years, digital transformation initiatives have crystallised around a set of key technology areas, including cloud infrastructure, mobile and web applications, AI and analytics, and automation.

Despite offering clear benefits for streamlining processes, cutting costs, and accelerating delivery, automation remains one of the least mature aspects of most companies’ digital transformation strategies.

So why do automation initiatives tend to lag behind?

A problem of perception

Sluggish adoption of automation technologies is partly a problem of perception. In many organisations, automation is seen purely as an operational concern. It’s about squeezing greater efficiency out of everyday processes, delivering incremental percentage improvements in existing metrics, and making employees’ everyday lives that little bit better.

The problem is, those kinds of improvements don’t sound especially sexy or transformative, so it can be hard to gain attention and sustain support for automation projects from senior management. Even when the potential savings are huge, an initiative that aims at improving existing processes will often be trumped by an initiative that promises to win new business or expand into new markets.

However, this is a mistake. Done right, automation can be just as transformative as cloud, mobile and AI. Seeing automation as purely an operational concern massively underestimates its potential.

The strategy pyramid

The strategy pyramid is a well-known tool for visualising the relationship between objectives, strategy, and operations. The classic version has three layers:

  • At the top, the company’s overall goals, such as increasing revenues and reducing cost and risk. Selecting and pursuing these goals is the responsibility of the company’s board and senior leaders.
  • In the middle, the strategies and initiatives that are used to steer the organisation towards its goals. These are the responsibility of the project management office, change management teams, and executives.
  • At the bottom, the operations that run the company’s day-to-day business. This is the largest section because it contains the most employees and makes up the bulk of business activity.
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Today, automation technologies are typically seen as falling within the domain of the operations layer. They help employees execute routine tasks more efficiently, saving time and money.

However, their role in driving strategic initiatives and delivering on corporate goals is still not widely understood or acknowledged.

Automation’s strategic role

One of the commonly overlooked aspects of automation is that once you automate a process, you can measure, monitor, and analyse it—in real time, and at a detailed level.

This lifts automation from the operational to strategic level because it provides the insight that decision-makers need to identify opportunities for transformation initiatives, and to track the performance of those initiatives over time and steer them towards success.

For example, when Röhlig Logistics worked with Shipamax to automate its accounts payable (AP) invoicing processes, Shipamax’s reporting capabilities helped the company to identify bottlenecks in its complex, international process flows and create a culture of continuous improvement.

Similarly, at Green Worldwide, the additional visibility provided by Shipamax revealed opportunities to help operators clear their invoicing backlogs and launch projects to work with creditors to increase the quality of the data they provide on their invoices.

Seizing competitive advantage

Companies often refer to Porter’s 5 Forces when evaluating competition in their market, seeking to build competitive advantage through product differentiation and cost structure.

Automation provides a substantial opportunity for companies to do both and contributes directly to top-level corporate goals by making the organisation more agile and flexible, so that it can deliver services faster and win new business.

For example, one Shipamax client found that by using our commercial invoice automation solution to accelerate customs clearance, they were able to take on a major contract for one of their customers at very short notice. Automation proved to be a significant competitive differentiator for their business because they were able to scale their customs clearance capabilities much more quickly and at less cost than their competitors—something that they could never have achieved with traditional manual processes.

Climbing the pyramid

Automation isn’t just about operations—it can play a strategic role and help your whole business transform to achieve your top-level corporate goals.

By looking beyond incremental process improvements and taking advantage of greater transparency and insight, you can harness the power of automation to define, execute, and evaluate strategic initiatives much more effectively.

And as you climb even further up the pyramid, you can use automation to hone your competitive advantage by becoming agile enough to seize opportunities that would never have been possible before.

If you’d like to learn more about how Shipamax can help you make the case for strategic automation at all levels of your business, reach out to us today.

Helen CherrySenior Product Marketing Manager
May 2022
6 min read
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