The order came in at 3:42 on a Friday. With the click of a button – “This order is accepted and confirmed” – Jenny started a chain of events within her IT Managed Services provider. By 3:43, the contract and first invoice had been emailed to the client. By 3:44, the new account profile had been set up in the company ticketing system. At 3:46, the support team lead received an email confirming a Monday morning meeting to lead an on-boarding call for the new client.

Like dominoes falling over in sequence, one into the next, things were happening automatically and with almost zero friction. Jenny was pleased – just three months prior, each step would have been done manually. She used to fax contracts to clients, the administrative assistant used to create client profiles in a spreadsheet by hand, and the IT support manager used to write down the names and numbers of new clients on post-it notes. Things were changing, and Jenny knew that this change was for the better.

dominoes falling in line.

Process Automation is like dominoes falling in sequence.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your employees and the effectiveness of your existing technology is to add automated workflows to your day-to-day organizational activity. While many small business owners and operators acknowledge that there are places where their company would benefit from automated workflows, most are hesitant to relinquish control of even the most trivial process. Those that are willing to implement systems of efficiency often don’t know where to start. The good news is that process automation for technology companies and providers is a natural fit.

Almost all enterprise software includes automation tools that are underutilized by the vast majority of users. For example, most small businesses know how to set up a workflow rule in their accounting software that emails an account statement to each client on the first day of the month. Unfortunately, very few of those same businesses realize that the same software can run regular reports on cash forecasting and email those reports to the management team. Similarly, many IT services companies know that their remote management and monitoring (RMM) tool collects data and connects to their CRM (customer relationship management) software, but don’t know that the CRM can email customers an expected time for ticket completion based on the type of ticket submitted.

For the uninitiated, process automation means having computers, machines, or other tools in place to handle tasks and actions in your business. Most often, these tasks are frequently repeated so customization is not required. The most simple (and common) software automation is an out-of-office reply on an email account. If the account holder is out of the office or away from their computer and not able to answer email, the software automatically replies to the sender of any email message received.

While this may seem like a tiny and potentially negligible automation, without an out-of-office reply, a customer or client might send an email and have no idea that the person they are trying to reach is away from their desk. Perhaps they’ll start to lose patience and get frustrated, so they pick up the phone and call the company: “I emailed Jeff three days ago and he hasn’t replied!” Email auto-responders cut out the frustration and unnecessary interaction; the client would have already seen a reply email informing him that Jeff was not responding to emails at that time. In short, automation is about setting up a process or action that is initiated when triggered by a measurable and specific event, and it can save a good deal of time and frustration that might otherwise pop up in a number of your processes.

If you are using automated processes or considering adding them to your organization, these tips can help you get the most out of your tools:

  • Write it down.  How can you know what to automate if you can’t put it into words? Systems and computers can’t read your mind and certainly won’t respond to commands like, “Make sure we get paid on time.” Automation is a process and as such, each automated task should start with a detailed and well-thought-out process that you want to implement. My suggestion is to start by writing out the desired end result (i.e. “Invoice customers on the last day of each month”) and work your way backwards through all the steps required to make that happen.
  • One thing at a time.  Process automation will save you untold sums of money and time – eventually. For now, focus on implementing one task at a time and managing that task until you are 100% confident that it is happening as intended every single time. My suggestion is to write out everything you wish you could automate and start with the task that causes the most headache. If that task seems too complicated or contains too many steps to automate, save it for later and move down your list.
  • Go outside your walls for feedback.  Process automation is about making your business more efficient, but at what cost? If your customers or clients are impacted negatively, then you have to take a long hard look at how much you are gaining from automation. For example, customer service phone trees are an automated process that saves significant payroll expense for businesses. It also frustrates customers and clients a great deal. Top-tier customer service providers almost always have a human answer the phone. So talk to your clients and customers: is the process you automated improving their experience with your company or dragging it down?
  • Link it up.  If you write down processes and work to automate them one at a time, you will invariably see how they link together. This is where the real gains are made! In the example above, Jenny’s company linked sales processes to service processes and created a workflow that benefited the company (a better organized and faster on-boarding for the client) and client (not waiting for service to begin!). Don’t be afraid to link processes together.
  • Document it again anyway.  As you automate more and more tasks within your company, it is important to continue maintaining a broad view of the entire activity infrastructure of your company. At any time, you should be able to break the automation and interject a human element if a problem arises. Writing down how each process is supposed to function AND how each process is automated will help keep perspective within your entire organization.

As you might imagine, automation can be substantially more complex than email replies when it comes to business. From CRM tools that automate reporting to customers, to financial software that automates transfers between accounts when payments are received, there is a near limitless number of processes that are able to be automated for your organization. That said, jumping into the deep end and automating too much, too quickly, can lead to disorganization and limited visibility of what is going on behind the scenes of your business. Like most tools, automated processes can be a huge benefit when used correctly…and a big problem when used incorrectly. Click here to learn more about how Mosaic NetworX can help improve how technology, including automation, is working for your business!