The benefits of data automation, particularly when integrated into a Wholesale Distribution business, are vast. This article will explore the benefits behind

The role of OCR in data integration
In order to save your business the need to manually enter orders, contracts,, forms, and other documents which hold critical data related to your business operations, you can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. OCR converts text found in images, scanned documents, or PDFs into textual information that can be easily and automatically input into digital processes. This, in turn, can help your business save valuable time and resources that would traditionally be necessary to process totally unstructured data.

If your business chooses to adopt OCR into its operations, it can then feed existing data into automated systems that accelerate the process of acting on that data. When coupled with Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) processes, your organisation can start to effectively automate your ongoing interactions with both customers and partners.

The role of EDI in B2B data integration
Businesses started to digitise their data as early as the 60s. Since this time, there has been interest in the concept of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) as a way of promoting high quality data flows between organisations. EDI operates on the basis of standards – technology “rules” that software providers agree to, which allow software-based systems to “talk” to one another, without human input. Rather than faxing a document EDI allows computer-to-computer exchange of business documents without human input in the data transfer.

Many companies now use EDI so that their ERP and accounting systems can exchange information with their suppliers’ interfaces, automating payments and supply processes.
The most well-known examples of EDI in operation are B2B electronic sales and supply chain management, where orders are being placed to manufacturers, distributors, and other partners on the value chain.

As more data within your organisation is digitised through OCR and other forms of automation, it becomes possible to integrate your systems into EDI processes, thus streamlining interactions with other business partners to an even greater (and more accurate) degree.

The benefits of data automation
When approaching tasks such as data entry, the act of completing this manually can be slow, and prone to human error. It’s also expensive, as manual data entry occupies every element of your staff’s time and space, including their workstations, computers and in some instances, additional training. However, automated data entry workflows, including those that leverage Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, exemplify just one way in which your business can invest in new opportunities for efficiency.

By removing the human element from the process, the risk of human error can be mitigated, and your business can enjoy cost control efficiencies by freeing your staff from manual tasks.

Automation benefits can also include:

• Reduced reliance on paper
With less paper being generated, handled, and managed, your business can improve its carbon footprint, requiring less office space dedicated to document storage.

• A more agile working environment
With manual data processing, an increase in demand could become unmanageable due to human limitation. In recent times, growing labour costs have shown that throwing more staff at the problem isn’t a sustainable practice. Automation occurs instantly and within computers that have an effectively unlimited capacity for processing, making it possible to adjust to periods of peak demand much more easily.

• More readily accessible data
Modern businesses rely on data analytics for making decisions and understanding how the business is performing. When documents are handled manually it can be difficult to collect all the data into one centralised location for analytics. Automation allows for the generation of instant insights based on environmental and business performance.

• Longer business hours
Humans need rest, but machines don’t. The more that an operation can be automated, the easier a 24/7 operation can be achieved.

Automation can also ultimately lead to new products and services. KPMG predicts that within the next year, 80 per cent of revenue growth will come from digital offerings and operations. Automation, as part of a broader digital transformation strategy, provides the underpinning reliability and technical depth that will facilitate your offerings and operations. Many business leaders don’t even realise what becomes possible until they’ve started down the digitisation and automation path.

The benefits of data integration
The key to realising the benefits of automation and digitisation is the integration of data sources. If you are operating like many other businesses, your customer relationship management system is probably operating as a tool exclusively for your sales team thereby creating a silo within the organisation: a pool of data that resides in one location and doesn’t interact with other sources of data.

These silos prevent your organisation from utilising data to its fullest extent, and can result in any number of inefficiencies and potential errors. Siloed CRM data could lead to spreadsheets of customer data being created and manually shared, or multiple different profiles of customers being created across the CRM, ERP and other systems.

Data integration breaks down these silos to allow systems to share data, so all staff can view and interact with ERP, CRM and other data sources. The benefits of doing so are significant, beyond further eliminating human error and improving productivity.

1) Better ROI
The more integrated sources of data are, and the more staff can access the data, and the more valuable that data becomes. This can allow for deeper insights and more accurate analytics and business decisions, resulting in an improved ROI from the investment into the software.
2) Improved competitiveness
Each customer service or sales professional can only address so many customers in a day. With a fully automated pool of data, customers’ full profiles are available to anyone in an instant, meaning that those customers feel like they’re being personally looked after by the business.
3) Better decision making
By maintaining the consistency and depth of data, your business is better able to leverage that data to drive insights about customer behaviour and expectations, as well as the performance of products and services.

Building a healthy, data-driven business
Data automation is not just about improving your productivity and business efficiency. Its benefits also extend to providing a lens into your business, your customers, and your processes—all critical for succeeding in an increasingly competitive business environment.

It’s also easy to get started. Depending on your appetite for technology investment, you can start with some small, simple integration projects. As the ROI and scale of your business escalates, so too can your investment into your company’s data. To prepare your business to be agile and competitive in a digital-first environment, you must learn how to leverage B2B data integration, in order to fully realise the benefit of automation and digitisation. The end goal? A fully-integrated system that has the capability to service your business now, and into the future.

For more information on data automation and integration, whether you’re just starting out or looking to deepen your transformation strategy, click here.