Cognito Forms CEO Discusses Business Automation

By Ace E. on February 19, 2021

How can business leaders leverage automation to increase operational efficiencies? Our CEO and cofounder, Jamie Thomas, recently spoke about this topic and why now is the best time to get started.

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Thomas presented as part of a panel discussion at the annual Growth Summit in Columbia, SC. Alongside two other tech leaders, Fivable CEO Bryan Murdaugh and Krumware Lead Engineer Colin Griffin, he led a down-to-Earth conversation exploring the benefits and potential pitfalls of automation.

Here are some of the highlights.

Why automate?

Every business owner – and every business – is special for its own set of reasons. Maybe customers really like interacting with you and your employees. Maybe you’re able to deliver new products faster, or at a lower price. It could be any combination of traits that makes you and your business special and unique.

But those traits are only part of operating your business. You still face countless hours of other – often repetitive – activities that take up large amounts of your time.

From processing timesheets to reconciling invoices, you could probably list countless activities that demand your time without differentiating you from your competition.

And while these things must get done, they don’t have to be done by you.

When you turn these tasks over to automation, you ensure they get done while freeing your time for activities that make your business special and help it grow.

Why now?

There’s never been a better time to automate your business, and especially your operational and administrative work. First, the tools for doing so have never been more accessible, more affordable, or easier to use. (We’ll humbly offer up our Cognito Forms platform as an example of that.)

Also, these new tools make developing new systems easy by eliminating the need to partner with internal IT staff or outside contractors. As no-code and low-code platforms, you can get up and running with them in minutes – often with little to no upfront costs.

Plus, when you build and deploy tools yourself, you can begin experiencing the rewards immediately. It’s just a matter of identifying inefficient or repetitive tasks, then finding a way to improve them through digital tools.

Automation tools abound

There are a plethora of tools out there to help you automate your work. For example, Power BI can help with your business analytics, so you can gather and utilize data from every corner of your organization. Cloud services such as Office 365 and Google Workspace can free you to work from anywhere. And Xero and Quickbooks online accounting systems can deliver efficiencies such as app-based management for employee expense reports.

It’s easy. In fact, we recently closed our own monthly figures in just one hour using one of these applications. That’s a process that formerly occupied more than a half-day each month.

To get started, all you have to do is look for these applications. You’ll soon start seeing them everywhere.

Automation is a mindset

If you’ve become comfortable using paper-based processes and simple workarounds, it’s time to reach outside your comfort zone and break these habits. Instead, try to constantly recognize inefficient processes and identify them as opportunities for automation.

You may be surprised how many opportunities you find, and how quickly you can develop automated processes with a real ROI. Adopting and embracing automated tools as a rule creates many benefits in terms of efficiencies, effectiveness, and often accuracy.

And most importantly, you’ll free yourself up to do the things that really make you special and separate you from your competitors.

So, begin by thinking of a small task you can automate and let it grow from there.

If you’ve become comfortable using paper-based processes and simple workarounds, it’s time to reach outside your comfort zone and break these habits.

Mitigating the risks of automation

When you’re ready to automate some of your repetitive tasks, it’s important to start right. Think about exactly what you want to achieve through automation, and write a comprehensive requirements document. This will serve as your roadmap for development and measuring stick when determining success.

Some things you’ll want to consider are:

  1. Know your stakeholders. Understand their needs. Seek their input and feedback. Know what they want from the automated task, what their objectives and restrictions are. After all, any new system you develop has to meet the needs of the people who will be using it.

  2. Define your scope. To be successful, you’ll have to commit to the project as you define it. Scale your project to be something you can fully deliver on, or you’ll risk losing focus.

  3. Conduct requirements gathering. Identify all the little details about what your new system must do, and how it needs to function. Do this in a structured way, such as in a checklist. This will enable you to see what you have and haven’t done as you work through the development process.

You’ll also want to be sure that you have determined who will manage your newly automated system, ensure it’s working properly, and create any enhancements or updates. This person will help your new process constantly improve and evolve alongside your organization.

But – don’t let that person be the only one who understands the system. While one team member may be the core user and beneficiary of the automated process, you’ll want to ensure that multiple people can log into the system and understand how it works. You certainly don’t want to lose your carefully crafted system should one key employee leave.

Don’t overdo it

With your new automation mindset, affordable apps and a process for implementing solutions, you’ll be off to the races. But, please, start slow.

While you may find countless tasks you can automate, vet each one carefully and create it properly. By leveraging a thorough development process, and ensuring each new automated process is optimized for your organization, you can minimize your risk and maximize your return.

So, take your time. You’ll soon have a good bit more of it.

About the Growth Summit

The Growth Summit provides a full day of programming to help business leaders grow themselves, their network, and their company.

“The 2020 Growth Summit featured 19 of the best and brightest founders, CEOs, and SMEs in the Columbia Metro area and delivered world-class content to 150+ local entrepreneurs and business and community leaders. Columbia will greatly benefit from the continued growth of the Growth Summit conference. The event has the potential to educate and inspire thousands of entrepreneurs and become a signature attraction for the city.” Erin Morris, Program Manager, GrowCo.

Launched in 2015, the annual event attracts forward-thinking professionals to learn directly from noteworthy experts. Now conducted by GrowCo, the event has become a flagship component of their vision to 10x the number of Inc. 5000 companies in the Midlands of South Carolina.


Ace

Ace is the Marketing Communications Manager for Cognito Forms. When not at the office, you can find him volunteering with the American Advertising Federation (and soon on stage with his band: the Cottontown Soul Society).