Everyone’s getting on the cloud and going mobile. You’d think these trends are as simple as pushing a button, when in reality they’re making for the most complex IT environments that have ever existed.
Big-data back-ends, APIs, CRMs, CMSs and marketing automation are just a few of the moving parts that make up the modern business. The result of having so many systems is that a lot of businesses find themselves mired in time-consuming details—logins, tracing glitches, copying and pasting documents, manually moving data—rather than focusing on proactive activities that make money, like selling things or marketing.
Manual processes, in other words, are taking the pay dirt out of the bottom line. In order to nudge workers away from manually pasting Excel documents into Google docs, or writing a new script for every QA test, you must put automated systems in place. It might sound like adding complication to an already head-scratching IT conundrum, but the effort will be well worth it. You’ll save your workers from being distracted by manual tasks, and the environment, for all intents and purposes, will largely tend to its own needs.
Here are three places that you must automate, for the sanity of your business, your workforce and your bottom line.
1. Shipping code
Shipping code used to be a manual process of sending a program “over the wall” to an operations team, which would then test and deploy it. If ops found problems, they’d send the code back to developers to find the bug.
This slow, inefficient process has developers spending more time finding bugs than creating new programs (the programs that make money for the business). It’s also why automated processes now exist to remove the wall between developers and ops. While larger companies are implementing processes like agile and continuous integration, even smaller players with in-house or contracted programmers should take a few simple steps to automate the deployment process. At the very least, use version control (available in platforms, including Github) and automate the simplest manual tasks that are necessary for shipping code, including the clearing of caches and server restarts. Your programmers will thank you.
2. Embedded analytics
If anyone in your company is still making charts out of Excel spreadsheets, it might be time to consider leaving that task to the machines. Everything from website traffic to program bugs can now automatically be crunched and demonstrated by analytics software, and it should be. The operative business goal today is to be data-driven, and in order to do that, you need to have easy access to useful embedded analytics whenever you want to know anything.
While we’re still a few years away from the glory days of analytics on everything (cue the Internet of Things and food safety readings embedded into your refrigerator), a few standard business functions have become thoroughly “datafied,” include customer support (through companies like Zendesk), marketing (HubSpot, Marketo) and sales (Salesforce, SugarCRM). Small businesses should look for the low-hanging fruit, those fields where your competition and peers are already using data analytics software. Once you see how automated charts give you oversight into certain corners of your company, you’ll find it hard to live without them.
3. Content creation and proliferation.
Create PowerPoint slideshow. Present slideshow in meeting. Attach slideshow in email. Upload slideshow into Google Docs, realize it doesn’t work right, manually paste it in and reformat it. Reformat it again for the company’s WordPress blog. Cut and paste each slide onto Slideshare. Cut the words from each slide and format the type to appear nicely in your company’s project management wiki.
You may do tasks like this one all the time. They can take hours, depending on the complexity of the documents and where you need to put them. As the number of tasks and types of software the average company uses increases, take the time to figure out how to automate at least some pieces of your content development lifecycle. As always, it’s easier to automate some things than others. You can easily automate web page updates, edits and even translation and localization into your CMS workflow in CMSs like Acquia. Dropbox will integrate with all kinds of programs, from Asana to WordPress, to automate the information backup process. Make sure to link together as many of your software apps as possible, so that you can avoid the cut-and-paste, drag-and-drop manual workload.
To sum it all up, automation isn’t just a word for techies anymore. If you’re using software, you should be paying attention to automation. Take every chance you get to reduce redundancy and human error in your business. Your workers’ brainpower will be spared for higher-value pursuits, and your business, or at least the technological parts of it, will largely run itself.
About the Author: Calvin is a dedicated executive with over 18 years of experience managing products, sales, marketing, operations, and personnel. His experience ranges from work with a Fortune 500 company to small start-ups.
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