Business Workflow Automation is here and it’s available to all, from the sole-trader to the multinationals. You are going to hear a lot about process and workflow automation in the next few years and for good reason. This really is a game-changer, especially for the smaller organisations.
The IT industry always moves at a fast pace but every now and again there is a mini-revolution, a marked shift, a game-changer. The dawn of the internet and email, high-speed internet made it practical for video calls and remote working, social media has changed the world, virtualisation led to huge cost reductions of hardware, cloud services are making systems, previously cost-prohibited for smaller organisations, now available to them.
We are currently in the middle of the SaaS (Software as a Service) revolution and at the beginning of the automation revolution. We are all aware of cloud services and most of us are making good use of them. Early examples of this are Hotmail, Gmail, Dropbox etc. These are software services that don’t require any company hardware to run, ‘backup infrastructure, capacity planning, business continuity and all the other components that we traditionally had to worry about with on-premises systems like exchange servers etc. Over the last few years, these cloud services have become the norm. We are now all using products like Office 365, One Drive, iCloud, Skype, Gsuite. These are just the start, we now have products like Trello, Slack, Teams, Evernote, Onenote, SalesForce, Hubspot, Toggl, Expensify, Xero the list is endless and growing by the day.
What’s unusual but not totally unique about this current shift is that it’s being driven by, and benefitting the smaller businesses.
Due to flexibility and minimal costs, often free in products like Gmail, Google Drive etc, small companies have started to use these products. These products were really consumer products, not really designed for businesses but they worked just fine for sole-traders, small companies and startups. Dropbox and google drive was fine for sharing a few files.
This has evolved and while larger organisations are stuck inside these huge systems such as SAP and running 1000’s of servers across the globe in some cases, smaller businesses are able to take advantage of products like Trello for small project management, Slack for communications, Expensify for expenses, Toggl for time management and billing, Xero or Quick Books for accounts, Hubspot for CRM etc. These are all great products that all run in the cloud and all focus on being good at one thing. These are affordable, some starting for free, and can expand as your company grows. larger organisations are starting to adopt this approach and companies like Microsoft are making good strides in this area with the Office 365 platform offering office but also Teams, task management, Flow, Sharepoint, Onenote etc. but it is the small companies that can pivot and change quickly.
The advantages are clear. cheap, flexible, no infrastructure required (apart from a laptop and phone) and don’t need a team of network engineers and developers. The problems at the moment are two-fold.
The first is the overwhelming options of cloud services out there, it is vast and growing exponentially. Anyone who can code is only restricted by imagination. The platforms to get a system up and running are easily available.
The other issues are how do I integrate these systems. If I use 5 different systems for 5 different functions in my company then I am doing 5 times the input, I have no overview of what is going on. If I get a new client I have to add to my Outlook contacts, my CRM system, my accounts package I have to add them into my mailing lists in Mail-Chimp etc.
Let’s take the first one. Overwhelmed with the choice. I walked into the supermarket last week to by some washing powder (not something I have done for a while) It was crazy, there was a whole aisle, both sides full with bottles, powders, sachets all claiming to do more than the next. I just wanted to wash my clothes.
Looking at software services feels the same. Now, no doubt Darwinism will help us here in time, the best will shine through, the worst will disappear but we will still be left with a lot of choices. Some companies will know what they want and have the time to look into it and implement but most won’t and it’s probably not a good use of their time nor will they have the interest.
This is where companies like Zensible Solutions can help. We are constantly listening, learning and using these services. We have good knowledge of the products and can work with you to understand your requirements and goals, help you decide what would work best for your business and which products that will increase your productivity.
The other issue I mentioned apart from option overload, is integration. Using multiple systems for different things is not only time consuming but it leads to duplication of input, out of sync data leading to wrong information but also doesn’t give decision-makers a real overview.
This is where automation comes in. A growing number of these services do allow you to have some integration with other products. They allow you to move data from one product to another.
Other services such as Zapier, IfTTT and MS Flow allow you to go one step further and connect to 1000’s of other platforms to create triggers and actions. For example, this allows you to take information a client fills in on a Webform or Google/Jotform form, import it into a spreadsheet or database, add to your contacts, create an appointment in your calendar, add to your accounts package and CRM before emailing the client for an attachment from Dropbox.
Once again, imagination is the limitation most of the time. Products like the Office 365 BI suite from Microsoft allows you to create reports and dashboards to make sense of all this information stored in multiple locations.
This is a reality now. If you can write down the workflow, define the logic, it can usually be done. This is the game-changer. This allows you to work productively, offload the tasks that are not worth your time, grow without capital and focus on what you and your company do best.