Where it all begins – identifying processes for automation

By Jamie T. on March 30, 2021

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In a previous article, I was quoted about some of the benefits and pitfalls involved with business automation (and why now is a great time to start using it).

Since this is such an important topic, we decided to create a regular monthly column around the idea. This will enable us to provide deeper insights and instruction to help you better utilize business automation.

As this is our inaugural article, we’ll start at the beginning. After all, before you do any work – and even before you plan how to do any work – you’ll have to choose what you’re going to work on. That means considering which processes make good candidates for automation, and which do not.

This crucial first step will help ensure you’re setting yourself up for business automation success.

Know what makes you special

Every organization has something that makes it unique – a quality that separates it from the competition. This could be anything: an internal process that enables you to move quickly and capitalize on trends, a uniquely creative approach to problem solving, or an extraordinary customer experience that simply cannot be reproduced by anyone else.

Whatever qualities define your business, they’re likely your key drivers of growth and profitability. So identify all these traits and processes, then remove them from your list of potential candidates for automation. They’re simply too important to automate.

Next, apply this same process to your personal tasks and responsibilities. Consider everything you spend time on throughout the day. If your personal participation in an activity is necessary and provides a clear benefit, keep spending your time there. You’ll find automation opportunities elsewhere.

Identify repetitive tasks

Alongside your necessary daily activities and unique competitive advantages, you’ll find activities that simply have to be done to keep your business running. While these are vital to your business, they may not necessarily have to be on your personal to-do list.

For example, let’s say you’re the primary fundraiser for a non-profit organization. And as such, you excel at meeting with potential donors, sharing your mission and vision, and securing financial support. That’s likely a great use of your time and talents.

As you go through that process, however, you’re likely gathering a community of contacts that you’ll want to communicate with later. Some may warrant a personal email, and others will benefit more from a drip campaign or newsletter. You may even need to manage a list of physical addresses for thank you cards, holiday cards and event invitations.

If a task can be done just as well by a machine – let the machine do it.

All these different applications require you to enter, store and maintain contact information for your contacts. You may even have to enter the same information into different systems for different purposes, creating even more administrative work.

Syncing all those names, emails and physical addresses is probably not a great use of your time. It can also be done just as well by a machine – as your time and effort adds no real value.
That makes it a perfect candidate for automation.

Avoid automating your humanity

While repetitive tasks are a great place to find automation opportunities, you’ll likely find that only parts of these processes make good automation candidates.

For example – while every organization recruits employees, few would say that’s the primary function of their business. So, many employers use automated tools and evaluations to help them more easily organize and qualify applicants. This automation provides immeasurable help with the repetitive administrative tasks around collecting and tracking resumes. However, it cannot replace the value of face-to-face interactions during the hiring process.

As Amazon discovered in 2018, some automated applicant evaluation systems can be unintentionally biased. Their research showed how they could lead to a homogenized workforce, a loss of diverse ideas and a reduction in innovative thinking.

Similarly, you may want to carefully consider automating any human parts of your customer service tasks. While there are plenty of tools available to provide automated responses to customer inquiries, you’ll have to decide if that experience is right for your brand.

At Cognito Forms, we use technology to track tickets and monitor customer satisfaction. All responses, however, come directly from our staff. And while we could automate some of the simpler interactions, we won’t. We believe this human touch is an irreplaceable part of our platform and not something we’d ever consider automating.

Finally, start small to build your confidence

Any automation project can quickly grow in complexity. As this happens, it often provides a greater value to your organization. But it can also delay results and become mired in details that cause the project to lose both momentum and direction.

Start by selecting tasks that are small enough that you can build a functional automation and have it working in a week. After you see it performing, you can iterate, elevate and expand upon what you built.


Jamie

Jamie is co-founder of Cognito Forms, an online form builder for organizations seeking to quickly and easily connect with their customers. In his free time, Jamie loves spending time with his wonderful wife and kids, training for triathlons, camping with boy scouts, singing in the choir, and trying out the latest gadgets.