Using automation to give time back to your team

Think Progress Team

Thursday 21 September 2017

In our series of blogs looking at automation in the workplace, we’ve covered some big ideas. We’ve looked at why it’s the logical next step after digitalisation, why it’s good for job growth and how it’s inspiring people to take on robots at their own game. But what about the smaller ideas – the ones that are easier to put into action right now?

To begin an automation evolution, your business doesn’t have to wait for the arrival of sentient machines that can beat a Turing test. The point of automation is to help save time, drive down costs and boost productivity. There’s a range of apps, services and processes your IT team can implement to do exactly that.

For day-to-day tasks

For many people working in medium-sized businesses, an email client is a catch-all when it comes to communicating and organising. For the IT department, that means a relatively simple job in terms of governance and budget, while for employees it’s a highly familiar tool to open every morning.

But when you’re waiting hours or days for an email reply, or finding yourself triple-booked with meetings, progress on tasks stalls.

That’s why apps like Slack and Trello are becoming so popular with mid-sized enterprises. Establishing themselves with fresh-thinking startups, they’re now being approved by fresh-thinking chief information officers.

Slack is an intuitive instant-messaging platform that streamlines communication in and between teams. Conversations display as threads in channels dedicated to a particular topic – “Marketing”, “Design”, “General” and so on – and can be seen by anybody with access. It helps make conversations transparent, so someone can see how a decision was arrived at, or where after-work drinks will be.

Trello carries on the theme of collaboration. It’s a visual task-prioritising tool that lets everyone see what’s going on and what needs to be done. A project or team creates a board, adds cards to it with details and then moves it from “To do” to “Done”.

Both apps have basic packages that are free to use.

For the larger time-sinks

Customer relationship management (CRM) technology is crucial, no matter what kind of business you run. It’s also highly complex, involving the collection and analysis of customer data to drive targeted marketing campaigns. Salesforce is a suite of powerful tools that will boost your digital footprint. It also seamlessly integrates with other business apps thanks to AppExchange, its broad range of APIs.

IFTTT is one of the most useful automation tools around. It lets you create customised tools to do things like find and log contact information. Repetitive tasks are perfect for IFTTT. You create triggers that kick off specific actions and then your team is free to do something more creative.

For strategic, big-picture tasks

How can your mid-market company truly speed up its growth? One way is to look at robotic process automation (RPA). It’s a vastly scaled-up version of the IFTTT principle: repetitive, routine tasks are handled swiftly and error-free. It allows your team to step away from the more mechanical tasks and focus instead on decision-making and strategising.

In a series of studies carried out by the London School of Economics, Professor Leslie Willocks said that by using RPA to take “the robot out of the human”, businesses could see a return on investment of up to 200 per cent in the first year alone.

It’s clear that mid-sized businesses don’t have to recruit robot workers to become more profitable. By automating the more mundane tasks, you might even make your business a happier place to work.

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