As we head toward 2020, automation is becoming table stakes for any company to compete. Businesses large and small are embracing cloud automation technologies to help simplify business processes and deliver better experiences at scale. This trend is only going to accelerate in future.

With the right marketing, online shopping experience and shipping solution, companies of any size today can reach the world market. Consumers, in turn, expect instant gratification -- with an endless aisle of products and speedy shipping, regardless of geography.

To compete with Amazon and other behemoths, small and mid-sized companies not only need to differentiate their offerings, but also automate other parts of their business to succeed and thrive.

Here are three ways businesses can automate their business to gain a competitive advantage:

1. Automating e-commerce and retail sales.

The world of digital commerce continues to change at an astonishing pace. Next year, retail mega-giant Amazon will turn 25 years old. What started as "the world's largest book store" has, in the past decade, utterly transformed shopping. It's automated real-time commerce and instituted same-day and one-day delivery for thousands of products in thousands of cities worldwide.

To effectively compete, businesses today need more than differentiated products, competitive pricing, or even eye-catching experiences. They also need a strong multi-channel e-commerce strategy that delivers the convenience consumers have come to expect from Amazon. Dozens of other retailers are also reinventing their in-store experiences -- from automated checkout and mobile payment technology to augmented reality.

"Companies across categories are embracing automation to simplify repetitive, complex and tedious workflows and create efficiencies to deliver a consistent and stronger overall customer experience," said Elisha Tropper, CEO, Cambridge Security Seals. "Automation not only improves product delivery and response times, it also frees up time for business owners and employees to focus on that which can never, and should never, be automated - customer relationships."

2. Automating tax compliance as governments hyper-regulate.

With e-commerce sales expected to top $500 billion by 2020, according to research by Forrester, state and local governments have intensified efforts to collect tax on Internet purchases, which can be challenging for businesses to manage.

"We continue to see the complexity for businesses grow as local governments move to hyper-regulate and collect sales tax on Internet purchases," said Greg Chapman, SVP of Business Development, Avalara, a leading provider of global tax compliance software. "If I'm a business with multiple storefronts, suddenly I'm having to spend hundreds of hours filling out returns across multiple states. In line with this, we're seeing businesses around the world move to automate their tax compliance."

One growing business that recently automated its sales tax compliance is Dylan's Candy Bar. The popular candy retailer, with more than 21 store locations across the U.S., was having to devote more and more staff to the tax auditing process every year. This drained away precious resources at a time when the company is expanding rapidly into new markets with ambitious goals, including doubling its e-commerce business in two years.

"Automation is a key success factor for businesses today," said Lois Browne, VP of finance, Dylan's Candy Bar. 

Automation software is helping businesses with tax compliance to simplify what was previously a cumbersome process for employees, while also avoiding back taxes, interest and penalties as tax regulations become increasingly complex.

3. Automating business transactions.

How businesses buy and sell from each other is also changing radically with blockchain. The technology that broke on to the world stage with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has a much broader appeal, and can play a key role for businesses looking to automate in the future.

Blockchain acts as a distributed ledger that maintains a real-time list of every transaction across every network distributed across tens of thousands of devices. This makes it almost impossible to hack, changing the way banking is done.

Today the supply chain today is grossly inefficient for companies. Nearly all buying and selling between businesses involves a cumbersome and manual set of processes including purchase orders, invoices, exemption certificates, email, and approvals. In contrast, the open-ledger technology of blockchain can dramatically simplify the accounts receivable/payable life cycle though automation.

Blockchain technology could eventually be used to enhance tax reporting and impede fraud, among many other benefits across industries.

Once the stuff of science fiction, automation technology is now being used across industries to free employees from routine tasks, reduce costs and increase competitiveness for businesses of all sizes. Intelligent automation has not only become table-stakes for any business hoping to compete in the global marketplace, it continues to be one of the leading factors driving new innovation.