Why Automation Matters To Your SME How to properly implement automation concepts to increase productivity in SMEs.

By Murtaza Manji

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Fiery debates are sprouting all over the globe around how automation is rapidly changing the landscape for business. Like the digital revolution and industrial before it, a rise in automation points to a new way of doing business for everyone. While major corporations shell out waves of cash to test this new industry -with driverless cars, delivery drones, and even pizza-making machines– how can SMEs best prepare to ride the wave to come?

A valuable indicator for entrepreneurs is an honest look into markets already being disrupted with incredible speed.

Below, we'll explore some brilliant innovations in five industries relevant to SMEs.

1. Delivery
Have you met DRU? Domino's Restaurant invested US$30,000 to construct the Domino's Robotic Unit. DRU is an automated delivery unit that keeps your pizza steaming hot and your drinks ice cold- and Domino's is so all-in about the concept they're already introducing DRU to the public as the next member of their delivery family.

Our key trend here isn't that a larger restaurant chain is testing new tech, after all this could be a marketing or publicity ploy. It's that larger companies are adopting automated delivery methods already proven successful by smaller businesses.

Starship Technologies has been using automated bots to deliver food and merchandise around places like London and San Francisco for over a year now. Their fleet of bots raked in $17.2 million in funding last year, earned a partnership with Mercedes-Benz Vans, and is currently delivering over one million packages a day.

Safe to say there's some faith in the model- and we may see automated delivery bots released/partnering with more companies.

Future quotables: "Where the hell is that bot with my shawarma?"

2. Medical
STAR, a medical service robot, has just performed its first successful surgery- stitching up the bowels of a pig without side-by-side human assistance. What's more, during surgery, STAR set sutures (connecting parts of the intestines) with more accuracy than its human counterparts. Also in the field, human organs -functioning human organs- are being generated via a 3D printing method called "bio-printing." Bio-printing works using a combo of human cells from the intended patient and a 3D printing material.

SMEs in the medical supply field may benefit from preparing if the next big wave could be supplying machines with what they need to heal, improve and sustain human life.

Future quotables: "Sir, your robot was late for surgery because he needed an oil change."

3. Real estate
A 3D printer building a house in a day isn't necessarily new. China successfully automated 10 houses in a day, back in 2014. What's new is that company Apis Cor has built the first on-location house, under 24-hours with a price tag of less than $11,000! What remained for the crew was to paint, pop in windows, add roofing materials, wiring and insulation. This represents serious industry-growth in efficiency, mobility and affordability.

SMEs who have a stake in any related industry -construction, development, supplying, contractors, staffing companies, real estate buyers, sellers, agents- may benefit from keeping an eye on exactly how quickly this tech may be integrated. Especially now, since this Apis Cor printer's been proclaimed "ready for mass market use".

Future quotables: "Habibi...was this house here yesterday?"

4. Customer service
Customer service has seen significant disruption from the automated phone service to online digital assistants. Now, with online shopping and fully automated grocery stores the phrase "how may I help you?" may become something more read than heard.

But, now automation is taking a curve in retail as places like Lowe's and Best Buy are testing automated customer service agents. Robots, like Chloe and Oshbot, now help humans in California and Manhattan find or access things they need in the store.

And not to be outdone, Pepper, a robotic customer service agent in Japan was just promoted to a Carrefour in France for superb performance.

Future quotables: "The Employee of the Month is… XP99765!"

5. Hospitality
Yotel, a hotel in New York, has adopted a 100% automated hotel check-in system- where the process can be managed top to bottom via touch screens and even robots that handle your luggage. While Yotel admits it wants to be considered a "tech hotel," history shows if this model proves cheaper, more efficient and accepted by patrons, Yotel might not be the only one seeking to blend this tech with their strategy.

Future quotables: "I promise, this cafe has some of the best bots you'll find in the city."

The takeaway
Truth is, business risks haunt either edge of the stratum. Early adoption could lead to anguish around financials, quality, safety and process. Yet, sluggish adoption could give competitors time to encroach on your market share, endear their service to your customers, and hurt your bottom line. Since we haven't yet a magic mirror with automation to predict how big of a splash these innovations will make and how quickly, here's what you should do. Learn from the dynamic boom of the car, cell phone and computer; the critical key is to be aware of the changes to come in both your immediate market and parallel industries.

[Remember: how the advent of video conferencing impacted the necessity of business travel. Or how email affected snail mail. Or how mobile payment options -and the benefits that come with it- are changing the way people shop. Consider how future innovations will impact your industry.]

Equip yourself with reliable, consistent information in regards to rising tech across industries, and you'll be able to re-position your firm (and yourself!) to ride the coming wave... or at least not be crushed by it. Lastly, make the most of your resources. Push yourself, become an expert in your field, and don't let the imminent changes take you by surprise.

Related: Four Things You May Not Know About Industry 4.0

Murtaza Manji

Founder, Kaizen Consulting Group

Murtaza Manji is an award-winning business coach and the founder of Kaizen Consulting Group (www.kaizen.ae). Over the last 10 years, Murtaza and his team have worked with over 950 successful CEOs, directors and business owners from a range of industries in the GCC, UK and East Africa to achieve sustainably higher profits, greater productivity from their teams, and attract high-value investments and acquisitions, by creating scalable systems and structures.

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