What and How to Automate in Your Business
The steps for identifying processes in your business that can or should benefit from a more technological automation generally follow the same pattern. Follow the roadmap below to uncover automation opportunities in your organization.
Find and evaluate your options
This is a common dilemma: You have a good hunch that something can be automated, but you’re not sure of the best or right way to go about it. Unfortunately there is no single directory of inefficiencies and their solutions. but here are a few strategies you can employ to find the best fit for your needs (the first of which — reading this book! — you’ve already taken care of):
Ask around. Definitely seek input from the current process participants, who may have done their own independent research already, but also ask colleagues in other companies (at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, for example). Sometimes simply learning what didn’t work for another organization — and why — can shortcut your own research.
Search the Internet. Peruse vendor websites peddling potential solutions, but also look carefully for messageboard and forum postings on sites like Quora and LinkedIn, where others in your shoes sought advice for similar problems. This provides a wealth of places to start.
Hire a consultant for an hour. After making recommendations for over a decade, I can rattle off the pros and cons of most solutions out there off the top of my head. That’s what consultants are for. Don’t reinvent the wheel and spend a week getting up to speed on all your options when an hour or two of a consultant’s time can help you pinpoint the best solution. After that first hour, it’s up to you if you need a consultant to help with the implementation.
Compare custom versus off-the-shelf solutions
When surveying the array of available tools on the market ( off-the-shelf solutions even though many are available online and therefore never see an actual shelf), it’s often tempting to throw up your hands and decide to hire some programmers to build a custom solution that matches your exact business needs.
If you find yourself with this inclination . . . stop right there!
Few things are underestimated more than the amount of time and money that goes into a truly functional custom system, whether that be a custom point-of-sale or even something as straightforward as a custom-built Web-to-lead form. This is very rarely the most appropriate, most efficient solution for any organization.
If a given solution doesn’t work for your company as-is — perhaps it doesn’t integrate with another system you use, or it can’t quite replicate the particular way your organization does something — then the next-best thing is to customize an existing solution. To do this, the solution has to offer something called API access and the majority of offerings today do have APIs.
An API (short for Application Programming Interface) is a technical means for interacting with an existing piece of software or a Web-based application. Although every API is different, you can generally use an API to send information into the system (such as sending a Web form directly into your CRM), display details (such as creating a dashboard of the top open customer support requests), or connect two systems (such as sending sales information directly to order fulfillment).
When you see plug-ins or add-ons available for services, these are built on the API, and if there’s an open API, you can build plug-ins for yourself! You might even re-sell your own custom solutions to other companies facing the same dilemma.